The Transitional Table is a 14-member think tank that was called together in June 2022 by then-interim Bishop David Bard. Consisting of a cross-section of clergy and laity, the team has explored how to position the Minnesota Conference’s staffing, structure, and resources as we move ahead. At the 2023 Annual Conference Session, several members of the team reported on what they have discovered and which ideas are bubbling up.
Members of the Transitional Table are: Amelia Buschena, Clergy, Common Ground UMC (Cambridge); Sharon Fields, Laity, Hamline UMC (St. Paul); Genia Garrett, Clergy, First UMC (Redwood Falls); Kevin Gregory, Clergy, Detroit Lakes UMC; Laura Hannah, Clergy, Hennepin Avenue UMC (Minneapolis); Michelle Hargrave, River Valley District Superintendent; Woojae Im, incoming Southern Prairie District Superintendent; Laurie Kantonen, North Star District Superintendent; Kathleen Keller, Laity, Minnesota Annual Conference Controller; Lee Miller, Clergy, Hope UMC (Blue Earth); Rachel McIver Morey, Clergy, Northfield UMC; Dana Neuhauser, Clergy, New City Church (Minneapolis); Brenda North, Clergy, Glendale UMC (Savage); and Tyler Sit, Clergy, New City Church and Northeast UMC (Minneapolis).
Here’s a recap of what they told those gathered (watch video of report being presented):
· The group was tasked with exploring the question: Where do we want to be in five to 10 years as an annual conference? Before its first meeting, members had already interviewed 70 people inside and outside the conference. They compiled feedback and started noticing some distinct themes: Many value the conference vision statement adopted in 2019, there is lots of energy around anti-racism and LGBTQ+ inclusion, regionalism is a significant concern—some rural clergy feel disenfranchised, and there is an equity divide between the cities and outstate, and there is a desire for collaboration to reduce the duplication of efforts.
· The group divided into two teams. One focused on research and another continued the work of engaging with stakeholders. The research team took the emerging themes and began to see how other places and people were doing the type of work and ministry the team began dreaming up. This team read articles, researched data, and contacted individuals and organizations in and beyond Minnesota. Meanwhile, the stakeholder team continued having conversations with people in the Minnesota Conference, surveying groups within the conference, speaking with youth and laity, and connecting with conference staff. Both teams listened and learned.
· Four focus areas that encompass the Transitional Table’s hope for the Minnesota Annual Conference for the next five to 10 years are:
- The Minnesota Annual Conference will be better equipped to do life and ministry with Gen Z and Gen Alpha and future generations. Gen Z are folks in our country who were born in between the mid 1990s and the beginning of the 2010s, while Gen Alpha is the current generation of elementary school-aged children. Priorities for people in these generations are support systems related to mental health and trauma, integrated and updated technology, and a full spectrum of social justice issues including climate change, racism, and gender and LGBTQ+ justice. The hope is for the conference to engage in work, create resources, and support those engaged in working with these folks to be able to meet them where they are on their terms.
- The Minnesota Annual Conference will have defined roles and responsibilities that support a mission-shaped structure from the conference level down to the local church. Much of the team’s discussion about this priority centered around roles and responsibilities of the district superintendent and redistricting, with the desire being to free up pastors, local churches, district superintendents, and conference staff to focus more on the work of ministry as opposed to the work of maintaining and managing the institution.
- For the sake of the gospel and the integrity of our witness, the Minnesota Conference will have engaged in the work of confession, repentance, and repair toward becoming the beloved community, with particular attention to racial justice and LGBTQ+ justice. The conference must name and confess the harm done to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks in our churches and communities, as well as the harm done to clergy of color and LGBTQ+ clergy. There is a need for repentance and creating processes of accountability, along with working to create systems and structures that center marginalized voices in their construction so that all truly means all.
- New and existing ministries in the Minnesota Annual Conference will be accountable to the 2019 vision statement, relevant to the community and culture, iterative in the constant cycle of learning that meets the moment, intentionally collaborative, and Wesleyan in practice. In other words, let’s try a bunch of new things and resource and evaluate accordingly. The hope is for every church to be a mission-driven movement. Things to try might include new configurations of structuring churches, hub church models, satellite campuses, virtual connections, folks experimenting with building use or having no building, flourishing small group ministries, each congregation having its own discipleship pathway, clergy cohorts, and regional gatherings to combat clergy isolation and loneliness. The desire behind these experiments would be an annual conference of collaboration vs. silos. Being a connectional church means using one another’s gifts, talents, strengths, and expertise to live into this future together.
· The Transitional Table spent a great deal of time examining the question of redistricting, gaming out many scenarios: What if we had eight districts? What if we had one district? What if we had districts by church size? The team evaluated all of them based on the feedback that conference constituents provided. Of all of the options, and with Bishop Lanette Plambeck’s guidance, the team has most recently been coalescing around the possibility of four districts, each of which encompasses both rural and urban churches—and renaming the role of “district superintendent” to “conference superintendent.” Wonderings are: If that happened, might the regionalism in the conference soften? Could we deepen and enrich our approach to justice and solidarity if districts are organizing together? Could we capture the attention of foundations and grantmaking organizations that are also eager to address regionalism in broader society? The team realizes that the design choice in itself will not solve regionalism, and it may even be a source of conflict. But conflict handled well can transform into belonging, and belonging across difference builds the kingdom of God.
· The Transitional Table explored various ideas for creating teams at the district level. District superintendents are currently putting out a lot of fires, which does not create the best conditions for leadership. The team asked district superintendents and district administrative assistants about the most time- and energy-intensive questions they receive. They are:
- “Do you have a job description for _____”?
- “What is the process for congregational strategic planning?”
- “What is single-board governance, and how would my church transition to it?”
- “How do we determine our pastor’s compensation?”
- “Where can I get technical support for live streaming?”
The team noted that none of these questions require a district superintendent to answer—and the conference’s MNsource platform
has the potential to bridge some of this gap. MNsource is an online space where Minnesota United Methodists can upload resources they want to share with the rest of the conference and use resources posted by others. Later this year, based on research and feedback from the Transitional Table, MNsource will pilot how church leaders might direct messages to other users and have groups to problem solve church leaders’ burning ministry challenges.
· Questions that the Transitional Table posed to Minnesota United Methodist leaders:
- Where do you see ministries that are bearing fruit in the four areas of focus that the Transitional Table has named? What do you dream for the conference’s future in those areas?
- How could we increase collaboration within districts? Specifically, how could technology and a team approach to district superintendency improve the everyday experiences of congregations?