By: Christa Meland
Wondering how to condense three full days of worship, celebration, learning, and conference business into a succinct report you can bring back to members of your congregation? Here are some highlights to consider sharing:
• Theme: The theme of this year's annual conference was “God's Vision, Our Mission—Unleashed.” We celebrated the ways in which we are answering God's call to heal a broken world and we were inspired to go out into our mission fields and find new ways to share God's love with our neighbors.
• Bishop’s Episcopal Address: “It is time to take and pass the final exam—it is time to do something.” That was the key message from Bishop Ough’s Episcopal Address. He said the question Jesus said would be put to us in the final judgment is haunting: “When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not care for you?” (Matthew 25:44). “The final exam is whether you and I will fully, sacrificially, extravagantly engage in Christ’s mission to transform the world,” Ough said. “The final exam question will not be about what we professed but what we did when we saw the least of these hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or in prison.” God is calling us to build bridges out of poverty, to be externally focused, and to heal a broken world. (Click here to see video of Episcopal Address.)
• Love Offering: As of Friday morning, the Love Offering totaled $74,735. The Minnesota Conference recently formed a partnership with United Methodist missionaries in Vietnam to help expand Grace Children’s Center in Ho Chi Minh City, which is currently providing education and daycare for about 20 orphaned children. Sixty percent of this year’s Love Offering for missions will be put toward this effort. Another 30 percent will be used for grants for local churches to develop long-term partnerships with schools. And the remaining 10 percent will go toward Volunteers in Mission scholarships for first-time participants. Before the offering was taken, we worshiped with two United Methodist congregations in Vietnam and were reminded that we are united in Christ with brothers and sisters of all ancestries and geographies. We also folded paper airplanes as we prayed aloud for Love Offering recipients; after the planes were folded, we wrote on our planes the name of a person or ministry we treasure and wanted to hold in prayer. Then, 800 paper airplanes were simultaneously released into the air in a sea of colors.
• Jorge Acevedo on faithfulness and fruitfulness: Faithfulness precedes fruitfulness, said Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor at multi-site Grace Church in Southwest Florida. “Our lack of fruitfulness is the direct result of our lack of faithfulness,” he said. “You cannot give what you do not have.” He said faithfulness requires rich, authentic relationships with other Christ-followers; training to be Christian (instead of simply trying to be Christian) through daily devotions and other practices that connect us with Jesus; and pruning—cutting things in life that keep us from fruitfulness. Then to be fruitful, we must find a niche that works in our own ministry setting (Grace’s niche is special needs ministries) and use it to connect with new people who we can then help connect to God. As we do good works in our communities, it’s critical to tell people why we’re doing them and connect them to our mission as churches. “There are 7.3 billion people on this planet who are crazy about Jesus, and about 5 billion of them don’t know it yet,” Acevedo said.
• Rev. Anita Phillips on repentance: Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s Native American Comprehensive Plan, talked about the process of repentance toward indigenous peoples as a process that’s ongoing. “There are many, many Native American brothers and sisters who have become alienated from what God created us to be, strangers in our own land,” Phillips said. She encouraged us to open the deepest part of ourselves and think about a time when we have felt like an alien or been dehumanized. “Your native brothers and sisters need you; we need you to understand, listen, acknowledge our history, confess that even if you and your family did not directly have a hand in the oppression of native peoples, you now stand on ground and you live lives that are made available to you through genocidal actions toward Native Americans in our past,” she said. “We each hold the key to each other’s humanity and healing.” Phillips listed four questions that she suggested we think about as we journey toward repentance: Can you see us? Can you hear us? Can you find Christ in us? Will you claim us as part of yourself and your community?
• Laity session: In childhood, everyone seems to want to be the leader. But in adulthood, it sometimes feels like we have to convince people to lead. It’s time for each of us to step up and say “yes” to God’s call, conference Co-Lay Leaders Janet Beard and Bob Kutter told lay members of annual conference. Beard said there was another Simon many years ago who was called and also hesitated to be a leader. In the biblical story near the end of John, Jesus asked Simon Peter to feed his sheep. Peter could have made all kinds of excuses for why he was not capable of feeding Jesus’ sheep, but he didn’t. “How many people are out in the world, waiting for us to do away with our excuses and answer God’s call?” she asked. “How many sheep is Jesus waiting for us to feed?” She said the greatest qualification for being a disciple, for being a leader for Christ, is to love Him! (The Minnesota Conference also offers certification to equip laity to become a lay servant, a lay speaker, or a lay minister. Learn more on the conference website.)
• 50 Ways to Love Your Neighbor: On Thursday morning, we were invited to a mission fair that allowed churches to learn from each other and share the ministries that are making a difference in their communities. Churches showcased their innovative ministries through science fair-type displays that other attendees visited. Information provided by churches that showcased ministries has been compiled on the conference website. Check out these ideas for ideas about new ways to fulfill God’s vision and our mission to heal a broken world. View ideas
• Reach • Renew • Rejoice: To date, $3,038,968 million has been pledged to this congregational development initiative that aims to raise $3.7 million. That money will be used to start seven new churches across Minnesota, enable 140 churches to go through transformational processes to position them for vitality, and expand seven churches to additional sites. Many individual donors and roughly a quarter of churches have thus far made pledges. (Watch a two-minute video to learn more about what we’re achieving together.)
• Recognizing new pastors: On Thursday evening at a Celebration of Life in Ministry, we remembered United Methodist friends and colleagues who have died over the past year, honored clergy who are retiring, and celebrated licensed local pastors as well as those who were commissioned and ordained. We honored 19 new licensed local pastors—and we celebrated eight clergy who were commissioned and five who were ordained. The commissioning and ordination class is the biggest since 2010. Thanks be to God for this new group of dedicated leaders!
• Legislation: On Friday, we discussed and debated six petitions for the 2016 General Conference—and ultimately voted to send all of them on to be considered by the global church body when it meets next year in Portland, Oregon. The petitions were about avoiding investments in petroleum, coal, and natural gas; renewing a resolution that goes on record as opposing the introduction of faith-based theories (like creationism or intelligent design) in public schools; and calling on the nation of Israel to provide access to water and electricity in the West Bank and recognize land titles that Palestinians hold in the West Bank.
•Missional report: Click here to view (and print) a missional report that highlights key conference initiatives from the past year and celebrates some of the Holy Spirit breakthroughs in our midst.
• Photos: Click here to view photos from all three days of annual conference session, and the day before it officially started (which included pre-conference sessions).
• Articles: Click here to read all the articles about key news and events during annual conference.
• Videos: Click here to view videos shown throughout annual conference.
*ORDER VIDEO OR AUDIO OF CONFERENCE SESSIONS: The teaching sessions, worship services, and Episcopal Address from the 2015 Annual Conference are available for purchase as Mac/PC downloads, DVDs, CDs, or MP3s (you can order by mail, by phone, or through an online store): Order form
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church