By: Christa Meland
While most delegates and visitors in St. Louis are laser focused on what is happening at the 2019 General Conference, at least one group is looking ahead to 2020.
Nearly a dozen Minnesota and Dakotas United Methodists came to St. Louis to work, volunteer, observe, and learn so they can provide the best possible welcome when United Methodists from around the world come to Minneapolis for General Conference 2020, which takes place May 5-15. They are members of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area’s 2020 Host Team, which has been meeting since 2016. The Host Team aims to provide radical hospitality that exceeds expectations to every individual who comes to Minneapolis.
“General Conference is a wonderful opportunity for us to see that Methodism is global and that it brings in a wide variety of different cultures and languages and understandings that we have to be open to understanding,” said Carol Haun, a member of Spirit of Hope UMC in Golden Valley who serves on the Host Team and oversees convention services. “Some viewpoints might be quite different from ours, but the hospitality piece is universal. We want to show all of them that in our part of the world, they’re welcome.”
The Host Team invites other United Methodists to join them in 2020. They are seeking thousands of volunteers to do everything from greeting people to providing translation services to assisting with group outings and administrative tasks. There will be opportunities for all ages and abilities. (Learn more by checking out the host website; volunteer sign-ups will begin this spring.)
In St. Louis, Haun has been working for the General Conference business manager’s office, and her observation has inspired numerous ideas for 2020.
For example, members of the St. Louis Host Committee greeted delegates from the central conferences, where temperatures are much warmer, with warm jackets when they arrived at the airport to help them be as comfortable as possible in this new setting. Haun hopes to do the same thing in Minneapolis. Additionally, Haun hopes to designate a room at the Minneapolis Convention Center where central conference delegates can rest and receive a gift bag after they arrive and before they register.
The Host Team is also working to be able to provide transportation for every visitor, not just delegates, from the airport to the primary hotels in downtown Minneapolis.
Becky Boland, a member of Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, is also part of the Host Team and spend the week working for the business manager’s office. In that role, she’s doing everything from handling problems with credentials to editing the Daily Christian Advocate to supervising some event staff. (She logged 29,470 steps in a single day of work—and that was the day before General Conference began!)
“I’m here because it was a unique opportunity for members of the 2020 Host Team to not only execute 2019 but to get some context for 2020,” she said. “I’m here to make sure that every person at General Conference has a phenomenal experience.”
Boland, who has never before attended a General Conference, is particularly thankful for the opportunities that General Conference provides to see the global connection at work. One day, she spent 15 minutes working on credentials for two delegates from the central conferences.
“After that, we were friends,” she said.
Jan Russell, known by many Minnesota United Methodists as their Cokesbury representative, was recently selected as volunteer coordinator for the Dakotas-Minnesota Host Team. In that role, she’ll be responsible for both recruiting and communicating with several thousand hospitality volunteers.
Russell, a member of Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, has used her time in St. Louis to ask lots of questions of volunteers: What was clear to you? What was helpful? If you did it again, what would you want to know? She wants to ensure that volunteers are equipped to handle anything that comes their way, and that there’s someone they can call when any unanticipated questions or challenges arise.
“We want to provide that bold north hospitality,” she said. “And I want to make sure the volunteers feel appreciated and loved, and hospitality is shown to them as well as the delegates and other visitors.”
Bea Stucke, coordinator of ministry operations for the Dakotas Conference and a member of the Dakotas-Minnesota Host Team, is in St. Louis observing the volunteer structure and assisting Minnesota and Dakotas communications staff. She looks forward to introducing visitors to a region of the country that isn’t a typical tourist destination.
A number of Dakotas United Methodists have already indicated interest in volunteering, she said, and many are at home watching the live stream to learn what they can to prepare for 2020.
“That’s what we do in the Dakotas—you stop and help without being asked,” she said. “It’s our culture.”
Rev. MaryAnne Korsch, a deacon who is working with Haun on convention services and serves First UMC (The Coppertop) in Duluth, was in St. Louis for a couple of days to observe and appreciated the opportunity to see firsthand what a General Conference is like.
She said her goal for 2020 is to “provide sacred space for people to do the work of the church.”
Her key learnings from volunteers she spoke with: Be hospitable and be flexible.
“This is messy work but if we can keep ourselves spiritually grounded, we can do it in a respectful and whole way,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to prepare in Minneapolis too: give people a chance to worship deeply and be together as a global connection, and realize there is so much more that unites us than divides us.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church