By: Christa Meland
Members of the Transitional Table say it’s been holy and humbling to creatively brainstorm ideas to help the Minnesota Conference live into a future with hope and possibility.
This 14-member group was called together last June by then-interim Bishop David Bard. Consisting of a cross-section of clergy and laity, the team is exploring how to position our staffing, structure, and resources as we move ahead. The group isn’t a decision-making body but rather a “think tank” to reimagine and suggest possibilities for the conference.
“We are not here to solve problems,” said Rev. Woojae Im, who serves Church of Peace in Richfield and will step into the role of Southern Prairie District superintendent later this year. “We are here to imagine how we can prepare for ministry in five to 10 years. We have a kind of freedom to imagine and explore the wild dreams.”
The Transitional Table has identified four key focus areas that represent its overall vision for the conference in the next decade:
1. Becoming better equipped to do life and ministry with Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and future generations
2. Creating defined roles and responsibilities that support mission-shaped structure at the conference level
3. Engaging the work of confession, repentance, and repair toward becoming the beloved community with particular attention to racial justice and LGBTQI justice
4. Establishing new and existing ministries that are accountable to the vision, relevant to the community and culture, iterative in that constant cycle of learning that meets the moment, intentionally collaborative, and Wesleyan in practice
The Transitional Table formed two sub-groups: a research team that has investigated innovative models for ministry, and an interview team that has sought input from stakeholders across the conference. A plethora of ideas have emerged based on the findings of both teams.
Rev. Rachel McIver Morey, who serves Northfield UMC and chairs the conference Board of Trustees, said the second focus area related to structure is where she feels most called to spend time and energy.
“Reaching younger people; righting historical wrongs through confession, repentance, and repair; and establishing new and existing ministries are, in some sense, the blood, breath, and heartbeat of the conference,” she noted. “The skeleton that supports all that work needs to be strong enough to hold the body together, but lightweight enough to transition quickly when called to do so.”
She is excited about some ideas that have surfaced regarding governance and finances—specifically, thinking through ways that the Board of Trustees and the Council on Finance and Administration might better coordinate efforts.
Im, meanwhile, is intrigued by new models of district superintending and passionate about finding ways to better support BIPOC clergy, working to achieve racial equity, and increasing diversity. The work of the Transitional Table has also illuminated for him the importance of engaged laity.
“The UMC is a movement of the laity but that somehow got lost,” he said. “We need to find a way to develop the leadership of the laity. That voice is key for the future.”
Rev. Lee Miller, who serves Hope UMC in Blue Earth, especially resonates with the first focus area related to engaging with future generations.
“As the father of an almost 2-year-old, I know the church will be entirely different for him and…I want my son to have a life-giving relationship with Christ,” he said. “I also believe if we find ways to be in ministry with younger generations, we will accomplish the other three focus areas. We shouldn’t be concerned only with those here but with those who will inherit and join this Jesus movement.”
Another idea that’s emerged and that intrigues Miller is embracing a bi-vocational model for ministry throughout the conference.
“As many of our churches are facing financial struggles, the way forward may be to look backward: a model in which our churches are more lay-run and the pastor is supported not by the church but by other work,” he said. “We know many are doing this type of work, so how do we make it not unique but maybe even the model of pastoring in the Minnesota Annual Conference?”
An outside facilitator is guiding the Transitional Table in its work. Newly assigned Bishop Lanette Plambeck will also take an active role with the group, and Rev. Cindy Gregorson, director of connectional ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop, provides staff support and helped shape the design of the team’s process.
In recent weeks, the Transitional Table met with the Extended Cabinet to explore how the two teams’ work intersects, and the Transitional Table will update Minnesota United Methodists on its work at the 2023 Annual Conference Session.
“One of our members is faithful in asking us, ‘Where is the Holy Spirit?’” said Miller. “In every plan and discussion, this member reminds us and focuses us on the need for the Spirit. And I believe that’s excellent advice for all of us as we look to make changes to better position us for the future. This is the work of the Spirit. We are doing this not to create a new system that looks pretty. Not even to make a system that functions smoothly. The goal is to create a system and conference that is active in making new disciples and is led by the Spirit.”
Im says there is an important way that all Minnesota United Methodists can support the work of the Transitional Table.
“I ask the conference members to pray for us and our work and dream together with us for the future,” he said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church