Friends in Christ in the Minnesota Conference,
I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
I am David Bard, United Methodist Bishop, and for 2021 the interim bishop of the Minnesota Conference. As I sit down to write this letter to you all, the line from a song comes to mind: “You say goodbye, and I say hello.” FYI, it’s The Beatles.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we said goodbye. I was born in Duluth, where I grew up and went to high school and college. I attended United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and was ordained a deacon in the Minnesota Conference in 1984 and an elder in 1987. That’s how things were done back then. I served a number of appointments in the Minnesota Conference, taking some time to go back to school to earn a Ph.D. from Southern Methodist University in the field of Christian ethics. My dissertation dealt with Christian social ethics and democratic political theory, and right now I think I could write an entirely new chapter. My service in Minnesota included appointments on the Iron Range and at First UMC (the Coppertop) in Duluth. I was superintendent of the Northwest District, the district in which I began my pastoral ministry, from 1998-2005. For many years, I served on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In 2016, I was elected a bishop and assigned to the Michigan Conference. We said goodbye. Now we say hello. For some of us, it will be a meeting of old friends. For others, new friends.
What brought us to this place? With the postponement of the meeting of the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ), no election of new bishops, and the retirement of two bishops—including Bishop Ough—our jurisdiction needed to make changes in providing episcopal leadership to the conferences in the NCJ. I was asked and agreed to serve as the interim bishop of the Minnesota Conference while continuing my responsibilities as the resident bishop of the Michigan Conference.
As I think about the year ahead, I am genuinely excited by the ministry we might do together and the lessons we might learn together. The Minnesota Conference has solid leadership and a strong sense of direction. As interim bishop, I want to continue to help the conference focus on living into its vision and future, face the adaptive challenges in living into the vision in a time such as this, monitor the temperature/set a tone, and foster hope.
In a sermon made available to the Minnesota Conference earlier this month, I said: “We will share journey together in the coming year, and I am committed to working with you toward a more vital and vibrant Methodism here in Minnesota. I will keep before us our aspirations for deeper discipleship; for more vibrant congregations where people are growing in love of God and neighbor, where they are reaching new people and inviting them to the adventure of discipleship, where they are working to heal a broken world; and for a Methodism rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation.” I also preached that the journey will be step by step, with some potholes along the way, but also grace upon grace.
What might all this mean more concretely? I will be working with the Appointive Cabinet to make clergy appointments. I will be working with the leadership of the conference to help us continue to live into its vision while also addressing the realities of a pandemic and post-pandemic world. Most of my meetings will be virtual, at least for the coming months, just as most of my meetings in Michigan are currently virtual. As travel opens up during the year, I will travel to Minnesota some. My work in Michigan will continue—working with the Michigan Appointive Cabinet to make clergy appointments, and working with conference leadership to continue to live into Michigan’s vision while addressing the realities of a pandemic and post-pandemic world.
These changes mean I will be working harder (or maybe better, longer) and I plan to also work “smarter.” I consistently work to return messages promptly, and know that the definition of “prompt” may change. Minnesota Conference leaders will be assuming some new responsibilities in relationship to the bishop’s office. It may take longer to schedule an appointment with me, and I may have to say “no” to some things I might have once been able to accommodate. I will not be able to preach often and might need to send a video greeting rather than share a celebration with your congregation in person. I have also shared these expectations with the Michigan Conference.
I will write something for you every month, and some months it will look like what I am also sharing with the Michigan Conference. I call it “The Joyful Journey.” I will be working with conference leadership to offer advice about in-person gatherings as we emerge out of the coronavirus pandemic. We remain in the red phase, and know that even as cases begin to decline, wearing masks and social distancing will be with us for some time. I will hold you in prayer as we are in ministry together.
I ask for your patience and prayers. I am surrounded by wonderful leaders here and in Michigan who will help us make this new arrangement work. There are unanswered questions right now, and questions we don’t even know we need to ask. I remain confident that we will all make this work together, and as we do we will be helping The United Methodist Church think about creative ways to offer episcopal leadership.
I’m with you on this joyful journey along well-traveled roads that are also ever new.
Bishop David Bard is interim bishop for the Minnesota Conference, a role he began Jan. 1, 2021. He also serves as resident bishop for the Michigan Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church