Those were the words I used to describe a house I was viewing with my realtor. He said, “It’s okay, you can tell me what you really think. The owners aren’t here!”
In Minnesota, we know “that’s different” is code for “What were you thinking?!?” It is rarely a compliment or a statement of curiosity. Instead, it is a “Minnesota nice” way of being polite while questioning choices made.
So let’s put it out there: As you experience annual conference this year, you may find yourself muttering, “That’s different”—and you are right, it is going to be different. For those who like the known and familiar, it may feel a little disconcerting. So let me give you a heads-up as to what we were thinking.
New dates: People asked for annual conference to be later in June when school was out so we could involve more young people. We listened. So the first thing different is annual conference is June 21-23—way later than usual because that is when we could get into the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. We know it is summer, and summer days are precious in Minnesota, and we also know these dates are part of the traditional moving week for clergy changing appointments. Just think of it this way: Back in the days of John Wesley, clergy came to annual conference with a suitcase packed, heard their appointment, and the next day, off they went to the new circuit. Well, we get to do that again, except the moving truck will have already moved the stuff!
Open-space conversations: Because we changed the date to engage more young people, we knew we could not do things the same way we’ve always done them and expect young people to want to come. So we designed the whole first day to be participatory. On Tuesday afternoon, we will have the opportunity to experience an open-space conversation. Our hope is to create space for everyone to be able to have a voice in exploring the big questions of our day and discussing how we as United Methodists can be a good gift to the world. What we know is there is a lot of interest around diving in and talking about how we live out our faith when it comes to concerns like racism, immigration, and climate change. Legislation offers a limited way to do that with a few voices coming to the microphone, and Robert’s Rules of Order do not always provide an opportunity for robust dialogue or holy conferencing. Open space gives everyone an opportunity to dialogue and provides a way to harvest the ideas that we dream together and that could be difference makers. Yes, it is going to be a little chaotic and noisy, and it will also be energetic and engaging and much more young-adult friendly.
Opportunities for all ages: There will be something of an old-fashioned tent revival feel to our time together. There will be camp experiences for youth and families: Youth can be a part of STORM the Conference, where they go out each day and serve the community. There’s also a day camp for elementary-age kids that involves field trips in the area. The band Boiling Point will be headlining a party in the park on Tuesday night featuring a blessing of recent confirmands from all over the state. Annual conference session will be fun! And yes, you can wear shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops!
It’s is going to be different! And we hope that is a good thing. So if you have been wondering about annual conference session and whether you should give it a try, this is the year for you!
Come for a day. On Wednesday, you can hear Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak, tell her story of conversion and ministry of feeding the hungry, and you can explore a ministry fair featuring churches showcasing ways they are reaching new people, growing in love of God and neighbor, and healing a broken world.
Or come for an evening. Bring some young people to Tuesday’s party in the park, and show them a church that is alive and for them.
Or come for all three days and join the movement to unleash God’s good gifts into the world! Bring your curiosity, a willingness to try new things, and an expectation that you’ll be delighted and surprised.
When you leave, I hope you are exclaiming, “Well, that was different! I have to tell others about it because God is doing some amazing things among the people called United Methodist in Minnesota!”
Learn more about conference session
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church