On the second and final day of the 2022 Annual Conference, attendees worshiped together, looked ahead at where we’re going and shared their hopes and dreams, approved the 2023 budget and legislation calling for storytelling space to begin LGBTQ+ reconciliation, acknowledged some churches that are closing and others that have chosen to leave the conference, and thanked retirees for their faithful years of service.
Worship with conference preacher and Love Offering
The morning began with worship that included a beautiful message from Rev. Bruce Kronen, who serves Pilgrim UMC in Plymouth and was randomly selected as this year’s conference preacher. He talked about some of the times he’s been privileged to watch Jesus’ healing and recounted a story in which a family’s vehicle flipped over on a vacation after the dad fell asleep at the wheel; an 18-month-old child was trapped under the vehicle for 45 minutes, and still lived. That baby, he revealed, was his daughter. “Jesus can heal us in ways we don’t even understand we need healing,” Kronen told those gathered. “He wants us to be well.” The question is, just as Jesus asked in John 5:6: Do we want to be whole? “Many things will happen in the year ahead, the days ahead, many opportunities for healing and speaking blessing into each other’s lives,” he said. “What God is doing is for our well-being, even if it goes against what we think is right. May all of us come with an answer to that question…with a humble, open heart that says, ‘Yes, Lord. Have your way with me.’”
During morning worship, conference members, on behalf of their churches, also gave $27,206 to the 2022 Love Offering, which will address food insecurity by supporting three Minnesota United Methodist food ministries, and assist those in need in our nation and world by supporting Red Bird Missionary Conference in Appalachia and Volunteers in Mission trips.
Additionally, Carolyn Winslow, Cindy Saufferer and Nicole Weydt were commissioned as deaconesses, and Louis Porter II was commissioned as a home missioner. The office of Deaconess and Home Missioner, a division of United Methodist Women, “enables laity to respond to a vocational call to be Christ in the world through consecration for lifetime servant ministries of love, justice, and service.”
In the morning plenary session, those gathered also watched a video in which members of the 2022 Clergy Leadership Academy talked about what an abundant life in Jesus movement looks like and what their personal hopes and dreams are for the Minnesota Conference. At table groups, attendees shared with each other their own hopes and dreams, and which step God is calling them to take in living and offering the abundant life movement to all. Many of their hopes and dreams, which they entered into an app and were shown on-screen, focused on love, connection, unity, being bold, diversity, inclusion, and growth.
Legislation on LGBTQIA+ storytelling
During the afternoon plenary session, voting members approved by a margin of 339-36 a piece of legislation that calls for the Minnesota Conference to hold a storytelling space before the 2026 Annual Conference that would allow Minnesota United Methodists to tell stories that resulted from the Book of Discipline policy stating that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The legislation was submitted by Minnesota Methodists, a grassroots movement of Minnesotans working toward the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. It stipulates that stories from this storytelling may be recorded, at the discretion of the storyteller, and released publicly as a historic artifact. At least a dozen members spoke in favor of this resolution.
“Storytelling, especially truth-telling by those who have been marginalized, is a critical first step toward healing and reconciliation,” said Rev. Dana Neuhauser, a deacon serving New City Church in Minneapolis, and as the conference’s racial justice organizer. “Those of us who have been marginalized, whether by institutions or society at large, carry stories and truths that are often hidden or suppressed. Those narratives must be unveiled if healing is to happen.”
Meanwhile, Emma Close, a lay member of Hamline Church in St. Paul, told those gathered: “What is the power of a story? What is the power of communal history? Our conference doesn’t know the history behind the LBGTQ community. We need to listen to each other, hold space for each other in our hearts and in our arms. Storytelling is a prime way of human connection…that is how we hold love.”
Discontinuing and disaffiliating churches
Also on Wednesday afternoon, attendees voted to ratify the terms of disaffiliation agreements made between the conference Board of Trustees and three local churches that have discerned that their path goes a different direction from the Minnesota Annual Conference: Crossroads Church with campuses in Lakeville and Inver Grove Heights, Redeeming Grace Community Church in Lake City, and HillSpring Church in New Prague. Rev. Rachel Morey, chair of the Board of Trustees, explained that in 2019, an amendment was added to the Book of Discipline allowing churches to disaffiliate through December 2023 over disagreement about human sexuality. All three churches are working with the Board of Trustees regarding property disclosures and paying for both their unfunded pension liabilities and their current and next year apportionments. Revs. Paul Marzahn and Phil Schmidt, the pastors serving Crossroads and Redeeming Grace, respectively, spoke to the body and expressed appreciation to the Minnesota Conference and their colleagues in ministry, and wished blessings upon the conference as we part ways. Bishop Bard expressed his hope and prayer for us to bless one another as we seek different paths and told those gathered, “We have sharp disagreements about the shape of ministry, but we can trust one another to God’s grace.”
Meanwhile, five churches that have discontinued over the past year, and whose ministries and legacies of faith were lifted up, were: Lanesboro UMC, St. James UMC, Spirit River Community in Isanti, Sunrise UMC in Mounds View, and West Bethel UMC in East Bethel. “They have been God’s gift for a season, and we are thankful for the ways they have served the mission given the Church by Jesus Christ,” said Bishop David Bard. The legacy of one discontinued church, Spirit River Community, was highlighted in a video about its Matthew 25 food distribution, which has found a new home at Coon Rapids UMC.
2023 conference budget
In the afternoon, conference members approved (with no discussion) an apportioned budget totaling $5,855,000, which includes an uncollectible contingency of $375,000; this represents a $45,000 reduction from the 2022 approved budget. Members on Tuesday approved moving the part-time racial justice organizer conference staff position to a full-time, director-level position, which increased the 2023 budget recommended by the Council on Finance and Administration by $80,000.
In the closing worship service on Wednesday, attendees recognized and gave thanks for 18 retiring clergy who have together contributed 496 years of faithful service: Revs. Paul Baker, Wesley Gabel, Brian Hacklander, Jeffrey Hansen, Brenda Lea Kramer King, Steve Koehne, Elizabeth J. Macaulay, Clifford Mays, Susan Mullin, Mickey Olson, Beth Pérez, Mark Rader, Steve Richards, Kevin Shannon, Jo Anne Taylor, Nancy M. Victorin-Vangerud, Gary Walpole, and Cynthia Yanchury. Retirees were invited to submit videos reflecting on their ministry and looking ahead to what’s next, and conference attendees received a booklet with their written reflections.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.