Reflecting on odd space

November 04, 2022
Delegates for the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences pause for a time of discussion.

By Rev. Donna Dempewolf

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.

The lyrics to David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” have been playing and replaying in my head. Bishop David Bard sang them yesterday in the opening of his Episcopal Address, wherein he riffed on the theme of “Odd Space.”

“It’s odd to hold our 2020 episcopal elections in 2022; it’s odd to experience a denominational splintering; it’s odd to be part of a delegation for six years; it’s odd to be in-betwixt a delayed 2020 or a new 2024 General Conference; it’s odd to see 10 episcopal candidates lift one another up in prayer (amidst a political culture that tears one another down); it’s odd to recognize retired bishops two years after they retired.”

Later in the day, when we were celebrating our retired bishops, including Bishops Dyck and Ough who retired in 2020, I found myself in a reflective space. Both served the Minnesota Conference and have influenced each one of us, I imagine, with their wisdom and wit.

I was particularly struck when Bishop Dyck commented, during her mini-message, “I’ve given my entire ministry—we’ve given our entire ministries—to create a more inclusive church.” I smiled, with a tear. I am grateful to have heard her energetic preaching that called for an expanding circle. She led with a prophet’s voice. I am also grateful to have witnessed Bishop Ough’s tireless commitment to church unity. I doubt that anyone has worked harder organizationally to create space within the United Methodist Church for all people. 

I am deeply grateful for both of them and for all clergy within our conference who have or will be retiring in the next few years. Our bishops are not the only ones who saw the biblical vision of an open and diverse table. You leave a legacy for all of us—one that is rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all, and engaged in the work of reconciliation and justice. 

In the odd space of the retirement service, Bishops Dyck and Ough were on one side of the dais; our newly-elected bishops were on the other. My heart was filled with gratitude. Our newly-elected bishops—Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Lanette Plambeck, and Dan Schwerin—bring a commitment to co-create beloved community, along with the organizational bandwidth to walk alongside annual conferences. It felt like a passing of the baton, with the next generation, engines on, ready to run the race set before us. 

In our emerging space as an annual conference, with a transitional table at work, with retirements of conference staff on the horizon, I am thankful that we have so many strong episcopal leaders in the North Central Jurisdiction. I am also thankful for the leadership of all of you!

Bishops Dyck and Ough—along with Bishop Bard and our conference staff—have prepared the way for the next generation to take the baton. When I look around me, I see so many leaders developed and equipped—ordained and licensed, clergy and lay. I am excited to be in this odd space with you.  

Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.

Rev. Donna Dempewolf is pastor of First UMC in Austin and is a clergy reserve delegate to the 2022 North Central Jurisdictional Conference.

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