By: Christa Meland
“These next years as we are together…I invite you to be beautifully ordinary in the way that you live and love and offer Jesus to one another,” Bishop Lanette Plambeck (referencing Romans 12:1) told those gathered at Hilltop UMC in Mankato. “I know God’s very best work is through you.”
Throughout February, Bishop Lanette delivered hope and inspiration to more than 500 Minnesota United Methodists at six churches across the state (and online) while greeting clergy and laity and helping them get to know her heart and passion. (See photos from Mankato gathering or Watch Duluth gathering.)
Bishop Lanette was elected at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in November and became the Dakotas-Minnesota Area’s new episcopal leader on Jan. 1.
Each gathering was a bit different, but much of what Bishop Lanette shared was similar. She talked about the significance of her baptism at age 9 and how she knew her life was forever changed in that moment. She shared her heart for rural ministry. And she lamented the division within The United Methodist Church. She also noted some important practices in her own life—including the time she carves out from 4:30 to 7:30 every morning to read scripture and center herself.
Many attendees said they were encouraged and excited by what she had to say.
“I appreciated her obvious heart of prayer and care,” said Rev. Roger Grafenstein, who serves at Riverside UMC in Park Rapids.
“I liked that she said she wants us to be one annual conference and stop using the language of Twin Cities and outstate,” said Rev. Jeanine Alexander, who serves at First UMC (the Coppertop) in Duluth. “I like that she gathers information with more than her ears…I like that she models self-care with both sabbath time and day off.”
Bishop Lanette also communicated some of her hopes as we look ahead.
“We really need great intentionality around what it means to develop and deploy our lay leadership in the Minnesota Conference,” she told those gathered in Duluth. “The Wesleyan movement has always been at her very best when clergy and lay leadership have been partnered and postured in mission and ministry.”
That sentiment struck a chord with some laity in the conference.
“I appreciate her strategic vision to take us into what is next and her focus on equipping and empowering lay people,” said Becky Boland, a certified lay minister who worships at Hamline Church in St. Paul. “We want to be partners with clergy in leading church!”
At the Mankato gathering, Bishop Lanette shared a powerful story from her early days as a pastor. A man who would “perhaps partake a little too much” in the dry community of Cainsville, Missouri was somewhat of an outcast and spent most of his days sitting on a bench alone outside of a combined gas station, grocery store, and pool hall. One day, Bishop Lanette sat next to him and struck up a conversation: “How are you? Who are you? What is your name?” They talked a bit, and she learned that his name was Tommy. After that, she began sitting with him regularly and getting to know him little by little, often as others passed by without saying a word. One day Tommy asked: “What would it take for me to be part of your church?” Bishop Lanette talked to him about God, grace, and baptism—and Tommy decided he wanted to be baptized. So on Easter Sunday, Bishop Lanette baptized him in the waters of the Thompson River. Immediately afterward, church members circled around him and began to sing, and there was an obvious change in Tommy in that moment. Before he left, someone said, “We’ll pick you up next week for church” and another added, “And we’ll see you at the pool table this week.”
“Something shifted because of the power of baptism,” Bishop Lanette said shortly before walking around the sanctuary, splashing water on those gathered and inviting them to remember their own baptism.
When asked about her vision for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, she said she is more excited about walking with us than casting a vision for us: “[I want] to hear your dreams, to hear your hopes, and I trust in the midst of that that if God shows up the way God has historically shown up in my ministry, this vision—this way of doing life together—is going to emerge, and we will build on the things before us and the things behind us and the things beside us and the things within us to become the church that God needs us to be for this current age, for this current time.”
Many attendees appreciated Bishop Lanette’s love of Jesus and her emphasis on partnership, discipleship, and Wesleyan theology.
“I like that she’s down to earth, emphasized working together, and has a passion for Jesus and the church that’s refreshing,” said Rev. Nick Scutari, who serves First UMC in New Ulm. “And she has cats!”
Bishop Lanette told those at each location that they are family.
“I’ve been praying for you every single day—that you might have hope in those places where things feel hopeless, that you might have courage when you need to dig deep and find your voice to speak out for justice and truth, that you might have joy in your faith and in your relationship with Jesus Christ, that God might grant each of you a vision of possibility…of what it will look like when kingdom on earth as it is in heaven is fully known in the Minnesota Conference,” she told those in Mankato. “I believe that we not only can work toward it but we can claim that possibility right now. So won’t you do that with me? Won’t you claim in this moment that the very best days of The United Methodist Church are ahead of 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