By: Christa Meland
“I believe Minnesota can stay strong and stay together in spite of our differences, and I’m hopeful that we will remain a globally connected church focused on making disciples and transforming the world.”
That’s what Dave Nuckols, leader of the Minnesota Conference’s General Conference 2020 delegation, said after attending a pre-General Conference briefing in Nashville last week. More than 400 United Methodists from around the world attended the Jan. 22-24 event to worship, learn about key legislation, hear various reports, and gather information to prepare for this year’s General Conference, taking place May 5-15 in Minneapolis. Nuckols is among several Minnesotans who participated in the briefing.
Reflecting on legislation
Participants heard presentations about five specific pieces of legislation related to the future structure of the church: the “New Denominations of Methodism” (The Indianapolis Plan), “New Expressions Worldwide” (UM-Forward), “Next Generation UMC” (UMC Next), “Protocol of Grace & Reconciliation Through Separation,” and “U.S. Regional Conference” (Connectional Table) proposals. These presentations were followed by a panel of Central Conference speakers, and reports on legal considerations and the denomination’s budget process. (Read more about the content of the briefing here.)
Nuckols said as the key legislative proposals come into focus, he’s encouraged by efforts to create regional autonomy in the U.S. and other “co-equal” regions to support greater contextualization in ministry.
“My big takeaway from the briefing, arising from my conversations with many leading delegates, is the American church is making progress to resolve our impasse over the way we’ve been treating LGBTQ persons and headed toward the vision that we in Minnesota have already embraced,” said Nuckols, a member of Minnetonka UMC. “I’m more hopeful for a fully inclusive church in America to match the vision passed at our Minnesota Annual Conference Session.”
Rev. Cindy Gregorson, Minnesota Conference director of ministries, who was also at the briefing, said one of her key takeaways relates to the recently released Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation Through Separation, which would preserve The United Methodist Church while allowing traditionalist-minded congregations to form a new denomination. The separating group would get $25 million in United Methodist funds and would keep its local church properties.
Gregorson noted that while many have responded favorably to that proposal, “what I heard in the briefing is that is predominantly a U.S. and maybe European sentiment, and delegates from Africa and the Philippines are still holding out for unity in the church and holding steadfastly to the current Book of Discipline prohibitions around LGBTQ clergy,” she said. “What I came away realizing is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done between now and May if we are going to enter into a General Conference with some shared sense of the realities before us and how to navigate them.”
Additionally, Gregorson said she was disheartened to learn that the structure and legislative process for the upcoming General Conference will be business as usual. “I was hoping for a bit more creativity and flexibility in how we come together to do our work, acknowledging these are unique times, and if we are going to get a breakthrough, we might need to be willing to change our process to get there,” she said.
Other key takeaways
In addition to hearing about key proposals for the future of the church, attendees also heard reports on The United Methodist Church’s ethnic initiatives, the status of women in the church and the world, young people’s voice in the church, a proposal to revise the denomination’s Social Principles, and proposed legislation on social issues including racism, immigration, and voter suppression.
Rev. Carol Zaagsma, the Minnesota Conference’s clergy delegate to General Conference, said she especially appreciated hearing about the ethnic initiatives, which include Native American, Pacific Islander, Korean, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American ministries, as well as a plan for strengthening the Black church for the 21st century. Zaagsma said she finds herself continuing to reflect on this quote from that presentation: “Unity is not a divine miracle. It is the result of honoring the distinctiveness and the context of each ethnic collective. It’s the result of embracing the differences the Creator has imbued in all of us and to nurture it with unlimited benevolence and care.”
“It urges me to consider God’s call to embrace such differences and to evaluate my own efforts of nurturing these differences with unlimited benevolence and care,” said Zaagsma, who serves Portland Avenue UMC in Bloomington.
Other reports were illuminating to her as well, and she noted that “a lot of ministry is taking place across the United Methodist connection that aligns with many of our Minnesotan values.”
For example, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is taking an active role around issues of sexual misconduct, pornography, and sexism in the church, while United Methodist Women is raising awareness of 34 million girls of primary school age around the world who lack access to education. The General Commission on United Methodist Men is concerned with gender-based violence, and the General Commission on Religion and Race is calling for cultural competency training and support for multi-cultural ministries.
Highlighting the Dakotas-Minnesota Area
At the beginning of the briefing, Rev. Jim Haun and Becky Boland, who chair the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Host Team, gave a presentation welcoming United Methodists to Minneapolis and sharing the Host Team’s goal of being “kinder than necessary” to all who visit.
“We want to go above and beyond to make each and every one of you know you are welcome,” Boland, a member of the General Conference 2020 delegation, told those gathered. “We know this is no ordinary General Conference. This is an unprecedented time in our denomination, and a lot is at stake when we gather in May. We, as Dakotas and Minnesota United Methodists, intend to demonstrate through our actions that loving our neighbor isn’t about on agreeing on all the things we care about. We want you to know that no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, you are welcome in Minneapolis.” (Watch “Welcome to Minneapolis” video shown during presentation.)
The Dakotas-Minnesota also hosted an exhibitor booth where attendees could learn about Minneapolis through interactive games, ask questions, and win prizes. Dakotas and Minnesota attendees wore Lydia Project scarves at the briefing to highlight this Dakotas-Minnesota initiative to provide radical hospitality to all visitors.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough preached at the briefing’s opening worship, addressing the question “Is the Lord among us or not?” based on Joshua 1:9 and Exodus 17:1-7.
Minneapolis is likely to be our Massah—our testing place, he told attendees. Minneapolis is likely to be our Meribah—our quarreling place. But Minneapolis can also be our desert rock—our source of living water. Minneapolis can be the place where God pours out God’s extravagant love and grace on a hurting, broken, anxious church and liberates us from our conflict.
“A fundamental spiritual question confronts everyone in this room, every delegate to the 2020 General Conference, every person who will assist in leading or hosting or administering or communicating about the General Conference,” Ough said. “Will you—will we—say ‘yes’ to God’s command to ‘go on ahead of the people … and strike the rock … so that the people may drink’ of God’s life-giving, life-altering, life-sustaining, life-resurrecting mercy, justice, and love? God is commanding you—commanding us—just as he did Joshua when he anointed him to take the Hebrew tribes across the Jordan. And, the command, the commission, the plea is this: ‘Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’”
“Is the Lord among us or not? Yes! Yes! Yes! Always, yes,” Ough concluded. (Read full sermon.)
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church