By: Christa Meland
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday marked the first time in nearly three years that members of the Minnesota Annual Conference Session were able to worship, learn, and celebrate together in-person. In addition to catching up with friends and colleagues, more than 500 clergy and lay attendees heard about the ways in which God is at work in the Minnesota Conference, approved three pieces of diversity, equity, and inclusion-related legislation, and worshiped with two special guests.
State of the Church
“Look at what we’ve done together,” Rev. Cynthia Williams, River Valley District superintendent, said in a “State of the Church” report that included a video highlighting some of the things our conference has accomplished over the past year. “In the midst of a pandemic, a denomination separating, upheaval, and uncertainty throughout our world, you have not stopped. You did not give up. God has been faithful and you, the people of God, have stepped out in faith.”
During that same report, attendees celebrated two churches that will soon be chartering: Embrace Church in Lakeland, a satellite congregation of fast-growing Embrace Church in the Dakotas that is becoming a standalone congregation under the leadership of Rev. Austin Walker, and New City Church in Minneapolis, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation with a deep commitment to environmental justice that’s led by Rev. Tyler Sit.
Rev. Ben Ingebretson, director of new church development, also recognized several churches and individuals that have multiplied ministry by helping to plant a new faith community: The Grove UMC for parenting The Grove’s Cottage Grove Campus (Rev. Jeremy Peters, church planter, First UMC in Worthington for hosting Cristo En Tu Ayuda (Angel Franco, church planter), Resurrection UMC in Hastings for partnering with All Peoples Project (Elisa Fonseca, church planter), and Rev. Riva Tabelisma for planting Bayanihan Fellowship in Minnesota.
Racial justice legislation
Annual Conference members overwhelmingly approved three pieces of legislation focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), all submitted by Minnesota Methodists, a grassroots movement of Minnesotans working toward the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. One charges to the conference to contract with an outside auditor who has experience in DEI work to perform an equity audit of human resources at the conference level in order to increase equity in hiring practices, employee compensation and procedures, and employee recruiting and retention at the conference level.
Rev. Jin Hur, associate pastor at Fairmount Avenue UMC in St. Paul, who spoke in favor of the motion, noted that he is the first appointed clergyperson of color in the more than 165 years of his congregation’s history. “In that time, we have had the most diverse class of new membership in recent years,” he said. “Inclusiveness and diversity can make a safe space for new people to engage the church not only for a local congregation but also the whole Annual Conference.”
Another piece of legislation that members approved, this one with no discussion, charges the Cabinet to prioritize the recruitment of candidates of color and LGBTQIA+ candidates for open positions in order to create a more diverse conference leadership team. And a third piece of approved legislation, which attendees spent more than 30 minutes discussing, stipulates that the conference’s part-time racial justice organizer position will be made into a full-time, director-level position on the Extended Cabinet by January 2023.
“We can envision a future where well-meaning people of faith no longer find ourselves throwing up our hands saying, ‘We care about this and want to help, but we don’t know what to do!” but instead receive training, tools, and resources to take meaningful action for justice wherever we live, work, and play,” said Rev. Rachael Warner, an elder appointed to extension ministry who spoke in favor of a full-time racial justice organizer.
Meanwhile, Rev. Chris Carr, a deacon who serves as pastor of youth ministries at Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis, said racism is a problem that white people must confront. “If we claim that we stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and discriminated against…then we have to live that not just in the shadows or the text messages of affirmation. We have to live it out loud.”
Opening worship and banquet
Attendees came together at the beginning of the day for an opening worship service and banquet that included table conversations and two special guests: artist, educator, and speaker Joe Davis, and singer Rachel Kurtz. During the banquet, those gathered discussed over lunch at their tables of seven: What promise of Psalm 23 has held you up in this past year? What have you or your church discovered was possible in this past year that before you did not think was possible? Davis talked about “turning pain into power and words into wisdom” and charged attendees to “rise up together, take action now.” And Kurtz sang several songs about inclusion and the belovedness of those on the margins, and she got people clapping their hands and singing aloud with her when she belted out, “I want my life to make a difference, I want my life to make a change.”
During that opening worship, Annual Conference members also gave thanks for clergy and spouses who have died within the past year: Janice Baker, Hartlen Leonard Boche, Bruce David Christie, Thurman Lee Coss, Jean Ione Dunn, Marilyn H. Evans, Jane Firstbrook, Carole L. Germain, Ruth S. Henk, Robert E. Hoeft, Dixie Lee Hull, Vida Hume, Faye A. Ingelin, Robert John Lowe, Glenn W. Martin, Elizabeth Nagel, Betty Jean Passer, Lois L. Propp, Gene Rick, Miriam Rogers, Shirley McConnell Utzman, and Florence Georgina Bender Wittstruck. Attendees also remembered Steve Knight, who served as the Camp and Retreat Council Chair and was a key leader in conference camping ministries for many years.
To close the day, attendees participated in the Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination at which 19 clergy were recognized for milestones in ministry.
Williams ended the State of the Church report by inviting those gathered to read Psalm 23 together. She told them: “There is much changing in our communities, in our world, in our church. But we have no need to fear, for God is with us, God is for us, and God is leading us, and God’s goodness and mercy pursues us and goes after us all the days of our lives. And so we begin our work together, to be the people called the United Methodists, called and sent to be people and communities changing the world in this great state of Minnesota.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church