It is time to take leave of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area. Char and I are very ambivalent. We are eager to embrace the additional personal and family activities retirement affords. Yet, we will miss the people we love and the shared ministry we have enjoyed across the Area. Leave-taking has never been easy for me.
I am seeking to take my cues from the dynamics evident in Jesus’ leave-taking activities. His post-resurrection appearances and ascension were characterized by (1) compassion and companionship, (2) collaboration and handing-off, and (3) commissioning and blessing. Jesus “fell-in” with those who were trying to make sense of or doubted Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus prepared the apostles to “feed my sheep” and carry the movement forward. And, Jesus commissioned all his disciples, in every generation, and blessed them with authority “to go” and teach, baptize, and form additional disciples.
I am grateful beyond adequate expression for the privilege and blessing it has been to accompany the clergy, lay leadership, and congregations of the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences on our shared mission of making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. You have been faithful and fruitful partners in implementing our Journey Toward Vitality strategic plan. You have extended grace when I have fallen short in my episcopal leadership. And, you have cheered me on and elected to follow when my leadership urged and challenged us to take greater kingdom risks. Thank you for the many messages, cards, and emails congratulating me on my retirement and extending words of appreciation for our ministry with you. Thank you for the contributions to the Ough Scholarships at Dakota Wesleyan and Hamline Universities. Your generosity and thoughtfulness are without measure.
I only hope I have, in some small fashion, fulfilled the ancient definition of a bishop—“the servant of the servants of Christ.”
The North Central College of Bishops spent many hours discussing and discerning how to provide the very best interim episcopal leadership for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area following my retirement. It was a Spirit-led, collaborative process; every active bishop in the jurisdiction offered their services if needed. I could not be more pleased that I will be handing off the episcopal leadership mantel to Bishops David Bard and Laurie Haller. As you know, Bishop Bard will have primary oversight of the Minnesota Conference, and Bishop Haller, the Dakotas Conference.
As interim, non-resident assignments, Bishops Bard and Haller have agreed to partner closely with the respective conferences’ leadership teams to build an effective, innovative bridge from where we are currently to the end of 2021 when the Jurisdictional Conferences are scheduled to meet to determine the model for episcopal leadership for our North Central Jurisdiction. Once again, this is an opportunity for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area to lead the denomination as we explore new models for episcopal leadership.
This interim model will require considerable patience, openness to experimentation, and very intentional communication. Rev. Cindy Gregorson, our Minnesota director of connectional ministries, and Rev. Cynthia Williams, dean of the Minnesota Appointive Cabinet, will meet regularly with Bishop Bard to facilitate communication and help him leverage his leadership effectively and efficiently. Rev. Rebecca Trefz and Rev. Bob Ruedebusch, the Dakotas Conference director of ministries and Cabinet dean, respectively, will follow a similar pattern with Bishop Haller. The Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences are blessed with outstanding leadership teams. You will be in good hands. Trust them; rely on them; pray for them.
And, of course, the Area episcopal office, faithfully and effectively managed by Sheilah Kyburz (until April 1 when Janet Beard will move into the administrative assistant role) will continue to facilitate communication and calendaring related to the episcopal office.
During my final Episcopal Address delivered to the respective virtual annual conference sessions, I urged all Dakotas-Minnesota Area United Methodists to remember they are God’s people for this particular time and particular place. I Peter was my inspiration:
I leave you with this commission—remember you are God’s people called to proclaim the mighty acts of Jesus who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Go forth, make new disciples, and be the light rising in the darkness of a lingering pandemic, racial injustice, economic displacement, and political turmoil. Remember, you are God’s people for this particular time and place. Continue to imagine and enact God-sized dreams. Stay strong and stay together for the sake of Jesus’ mission.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.” ~ I Peter 2:9 (CEB)
I pray for you and the Dakotas-Minnesota Area a happy New Year filled with hope, peace, love, and joy!
“Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy.” ~ Acts 20:32 (CEB)
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church