By: Christa Meland
After spending much of Wednesday discussing The United Methodist Church’s changing landscape and engaging in respectful conversations, Annual Conference members voted 491-86 to adopt a vision for Minnesota that names a commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.
“As a diverse body of Christ, we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons,” the vision says. “Consequently, we are committed to inclusiveness in all aspects of the life of the Church, by embracing the richness of diversity found in sexual orientation, race, physical or mental ability, national origin, marital status, gender identity, ethnicity, economic status, and age.”
The vision expressed a commitment to value, amplify, and center marginalized voices in denominational and local church conversations—and to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment about whether to officiate same-sex weddings. (View full resolution.) It was written and submitted as a piece of legislation by Minnesota Methodists, a grassroots movement of Minnesotans working toward the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.
“I’m just so pleased to see this vision adopted by the Minnesota Annual Conference today,” said Rev. Carol Zaagsma, a member to the Minnesota Methodists Steering Team who submitted the vision for consideration. “With such broad support for it, now we can begin the work of actually living into it together. I think there are exciting times ahead for the Minnesota Annual Conference.”
Zaagsma, who serves Portland Avenue UMC in Bloomington, pointed out that a collaborative process produced the vision, which in recent weeks was shared at a series of gatherings across Minnesota to introduce it to voting members and invite their feedback about it before coming to St. Cloud. That feedback was incorporated into the vision as adopted.
Before voting on the vision, trained facilitators from the Minnesota Council of Churches led attendees in a “Respectful Conversations” process to engage in conversation about how the full inclusion of the gifts of our LGBTQIA+ siblings in all aspects of life and ministry of the church fits into a shared vision for our annual conference. The process was designed to build empathy and understanding, and to give people an opportunity to share their perspective without trying to convince or persuade others. In small table groups, those gathered explored and were invited to share what in their life experiences and deeply held beliefs informs their perspective on the vision presented, and to name their hopes and fears about the conference affirming that vision.
Attendees then engaged in a process of “holy conferencing” about the vision. Holy conferencing is a means of grace that involves entering into community (in this case, conversation) with the purpose of thoughtful, prayerful, respectful discourse and discernment while seeking spiritual encouragement and instruction.
Responding to the Traditional Plan
Separate from that vision, members also voted 446-108 to adopt a resolution that rejects the Traditional Plan that the 2019 Special Session of General Conference approved in February. That resolution “formally recognizes” that the Traditional Plan “does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church” and vows that “the Minnesota Annual Conference will not perpetuate this harm in any form.” (View full resolution.)
The resolution indicates support for the Minnesota Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, which recently named its commitment to examining all ordination, licensing, and candidacy applicants solely on the basis of nine characteristics of faith and leadership. It also affirms that Minnesota United Methodists commit to avoiding trials related to any aspect of ministry with and for LGBTQIA+ siblings.
“Silence is often harmful and serves to perpetuate discrimination,” the resolution reads. “We will no longer remain silent. We say to our LGBTQIA+ siblings: you are beloved children of God, and you are beloved by us. We celebrate the many gifts and graces you bring to the church. We humbly seek forgiveness. We commit ourselves to creating the inclusive church God intends us to be.”
Setting the stage for these conversations and votes was a morning presentation that reminded participants of our shared journey to be a “love first” conference and that provided some background on the current state of The United Methodist Church.
“Jesus’ love—that is a love that goes to the edges, is a love that is radically inclusive,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough told those gathered. “It is love that seeks out the lost, the least, the lonely, the left out and the left behind. It is love that listens and learns and commits to doing no harm. It is a love that admits we do not always get it right and says ‘I am sorry’ and works to do better.”
Bishop Ough asked attendees to name the one thing they wanted people to know about Jesus and to share it through an interactive platform they could access on their computers or mobile devices. A word cloud containing all the responses appeared on screen—and the words love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness were most prominent.
Dave Nuckols, a 2019 General Conference delegate and the conference’s lay leader, described several strategies emerging across the country in response to General Conference 2019. Among them: amicably dividing and forming one or more new expressions of Methodism, trying one more time to re-structure the denomination to create more regional autonomy, and staying and continuing to work to define the ethos of The United Methodist Church.
While we don’t yet know the way forward for The United Methodist Church, leaders and ministry teams within the Minnesota Conference are monitoring the situation, doing research, and preparing for whatever may be next. (Read about the preparation taking place.)
Given where things stand, Rev. Cindy Gregorson, the conference’s director of connectional ministries, described the key question for the conference during this in-between time as this: “How, then, shall we live?”
“If God is love, and if God loves all people, and if the church is to be the visible body of Christ in the world, then how do we be a love boldly church?” she asked. “What will we commit to [in order] to actually live that out?”
Her conviction: “If we are going to be a love first, love boldly church, conference, movement, it starts with how we are with one another. It does not matter what we tell the world about God if in us they do not see God. That is what I want more than anything: I want a church that does not just talk about love, but commits to living love with one another!”
The morning session ended with each person picking up a wristband containing the words “Love Boldly” and placing it on the arm of the person next to them while saying, “I see you. You are a beloved child of God. Together, we will love boldly!”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church