By: Karla Hovde
More than 60 Minnesota United Methodists recently participated in a two-day conference focused on shaping an inclusive church of the future—and another 82 served in various volunteer roles. (View photos from event.)
The Our Movement Forward (OMF) summit—the first major national gathering of its kind—was designed to center the voices of people of color, and queer and transgender individuals, in discussions about the future of The United Methodist Church. More than 300 United Methodists from across the U.S. gathered May 17-18 at Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis to worship, learn from each other, and collaborate on action plans that will create change. The collective work of the summit has been crafted into “Loved and Liberated: A Proclamation from Our Movement Forward Summit,” a declaration that can be signed as an individual or on behalf of a congregation.
Rev. Dana Neuhauser, a deacon in the Minnesota Conference and a member of the OMF planning team, describes OMF as a creative and healing outlet for the energy and hurt brought about by General Conference 2019.
“There is a deep well of hope, rooted in the gospel, even in the face of harmful and oppressive policies and systems,” she said. “Many of us may have been activated to oppose the Traditional Plan, but the core commitment is more than just opposition—it is love and affirmation. We are called and motivated to embody God’s love in the world and in the church.”
The event began on Friday with community-building discussions. On Saturday a panel of five, including Rev. Tyler Sit, spoke on “Moving Our Movement Forward.” (There is a video of the panel discussion; it begins at the 10-minute mark). Attendees then broke into three large groups or tracks. One track was focused on resisting from within the current system, another (with by far the largest group of attendees) focused on birthing a completely new expression of Methodism, and a third was for those interested in a hybrid approach. Attendees in each track crafted various actions plans, and those who were excited about a particular plan signed up to form teams after the summit that will bring the plans into fruition.
Lilly Dunk, a 2019 ELI Project intern at Centennial UMC—St. Anthony Park in St. Paul, was excited to attend OMF because of OMF’s intentional effort to center the voices of queer and trans people, and people of color. “This is a really good opportunity to make something new,” she said. “As a young queer millennial, I feel like I’m the exact type of person the church needs, and I want to be here for it.”
Centering marginalized voices
A common theme heard at OMF is that the future of the church must center the experiences, wisdom, and gifts of those currently on the margins.
Katie Matson-Daley, a candidate for ordained ministry in the Minnesota Conference, looks forward to a joyful future of the church that is “rooted in a community of diversity where each person is able to lead out of their gifts.” She is concerned when she sees conversations in the church about LGBTQIA+ folks and people of color that don’t actually include them and that lead to “us-and-them thinking.” She appreciated that OMF invited everyone to “put the wholeness of who we are, what we bring, and the experiences that we’ve had into this conversation.”
Rev. Laquaan Malachi, who serves North UMC in Minneapolis, echoed that sentiment.
“Marginalized voices don’t really have weight in our system, unfortunately,” he said, adding that the benefit of the OMF gathering is having “a critical mass, a lot of us in one place to raise our voices together to make a bigger impact.” “It’s nice to be around queer people and people of color because we’re often not the majority where we are,” he said. “The questions and imagining that’s going on here can’t really go on anywhere else.”
Hopes for the future
Minnesotans who attended OMF came from many different backgrounds and attended the summit with different hopes for the future of the UMC. Some are ready to start a new church, while others want to work to create change from within the existing United Methodist Church structure.
Sherry Jordon, an associate professor and assistant chair of the theology department at the University of St. Thomas, is committed to staying within The United Methodist Church and helping it become a place that shares “a gospel of love, justice, and inclusion.”
Jordon’s husband, Rev. Bill Eaves, who serves White Bear Lake UMC, added that he is learning there is not complete agreement about what should come next. But he believes there are core values that many hold in common, like “diversity and inclusion, a commitment to living out our baptismal vows, and the theology of grace that we as Wesleyan Christians have inherited.” “As long as we stay united and focused on those things, we’ll find our way together,” he said.
Malachi envisions a new church that does no harm. “My hope for the church is a system in which all people are welcome and there are no institutional avenues by which to do harm to people,” he said. “More than anything in Methodism, I believe in do no harm.”
Rev. Melanie Homan, who serves Lake Harriet UMC where the conference took place, said offering the church's space for the event was “an opportunity for us to live out our Wesleyan beliefs.”
“As a denomination, I believe we have dropped our anchor in the hopes of keeping everyone in the boat,” she said. “Ironically, that desire to keep everyone together in the boat has meant that we are no longer moving with the winds of the Holy Spirit and we are causing incredible harm to God’s people. The storm we are trying to ‘survive’ is a storm of our own making. My hope for the future is that we will be courageous enough to pull up anchor and let the Holy Spirit lead us into something new.”
Optimism and opportunity
Minnesota attendees generally felt optimistic and hopeful at the end of OMF.
“I feel lucky to be able to hear so many people’s revolutionary visions for what the church can become,” said Dunk. “If we can nurture these brilliant people who have amazing ideas and amazing connections and amazing enthusiasm, that makes me a lot more hopeful for the future of the church.”
Sit, an organizer of OMF who also attended the UMC-Next event this week, said that “we are entering an age of opportunity to remember Jesus’ fundamental commitment to center marginalized voices. By listening to LGBTQIA+ people and people of color, we’ll be able to build a church that is more faithful, more inclusive, and ultimately a greater community for all.”
What he most wants people to know: “If you are frustrated with where the church is right now, just know that you are not alone, and there is a critical mass of people who are ready to build a new future of the church with you.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church