By: Christa Meland
Participants at the 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference session in St. Cloud were inspired to live into this year’s theme “Dare to Reach: Love Boldly!” and many shared specific ways in which they see the Holy Spirit breaking through in their congregations and communities.
Each individual received a perforated sheet with tools to help them live out the theme, and one section invited people to record a way in which their congregation is daring to reach new people or loving boldly. Dozens of people turned in responses by placing them on a display board for others to see.
Some named innovative ways in which they are connecting with neighbors. For example, members of Federated Church in Morris are mentoring those involved in a local “treatment court” and forming relationships with people living at low-income apartment complexes in the community. This has resulted in four new families attending worship—and in 2018, the church had 21 new professions of faith, seven baptisms, and 17 new children.
Some forms of outreach named by other attendees: “Marvel movie Mondays” and a “backyard Bible club” offered by Main Street Church in North Branch, a grocery giveaway hosted by Community UMC in Monticello, Ely UMC’s “Gift of Giving” program through which members purchase holiday gifts for nursing home and assisted living residents, and a party in the park organized by Buffalo UMC. Others talked about welcoming unchurched neighbors to enjoy their community gardens and Vacation Bible School.
Meanwhile, some Annual Conference attendees lifted up new worship experiences they are offering. For example, Aitkin UMC is organizing a weekly “Bible and brew” gathering at a newly opened brew pub—and Mount Bethel UMC in Inver Grove Heights is launching an informal and contemporary Wednesday night worship service called “Forge” that focuses on conversation around the Bible.
Many attendees named ways in which they are sharing God’s love with the children in their communities. Hope UMC in Duluth is opening a childcare center that will serve 66 children; the hope is to build loving and supportive relationships with each of their families. Wesley UMC in Hibbing offers a free after-school program on Wednesdays that includes playtime, a snack, a Bible lesson, a craft, and worship; it has grown to 58 participants over the past two years. Similarly, Sauk Centre UMC hosts K-5 students for breakfast and activities on late-start days during the school year; it averages 30 kids each time. Common Ground UMC in Cambridge is hosting a free event for children at a local park each month this summer—the first will be a carnival day, the second will have an engineering theme, and the third will be about music and theater. And First UMC in New Ulm collects and donates diapers and other baby hygiene items to families in need through its “Blessed Bottoms” diaper assistance program. Others mentioned Holy Spirit breakthroughs in the form of partnerships with local schools, after-school programs, and trunk-or-treat events.
Some attendees shared ways in which they are working to be inclusive of those with special needs or challenges. For example, one person mentioned installing a T-loop electronic hearing system in worship and fellowship areas so as to bring announcements, prayers, scripture readings, and sermons directly into the ears of those with hearing aids. Another wrote about creating a Dementia-friendly worship service. And someone else talked about live streaming worship to reach those unable to attend in person.
Last, some Annual Conference attendees highlighted ways in which they are healing a broken world in tangible ways. For example, Hubbard UMC has been raising money to build wells and provide clean water in Africa. This year, the church made a five-year, $50,000 pledge to this effort.
As Rev. Susan Nienaber, Big Waters District superintendent, told attendees at Annual Conference: “Whatever the future of The United Methodist Church…we create that future with how we are being church with one another, in our communities and all across the state of Minnesota, right here, right now.”
Thanks be to God for all of the ways in which you are reaching new people for Christ and boldly loving the people in your lives and mission fields!
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church