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2014 Minnesota Annual Conference

May 28-30, 2014 in St. Cloud, Minn.

“Am I too late to get to know Jesus?”

Every one of our communities has individuals who are asking this question, Bishop Bruce R. Ough said in his episcopal address to members of the 160th session of the Minnesota Annual Conference when they gathered in St. Cloud, Minn., from May 28 to 30. Everywhere we have United Methodist churches, there are people hungering for something or someone who will bring meaning and purpose to their lives. “God is calling us to re-evangelize the Minnesota Conference,” to introduce more people to Jesus, said Bishop Ough. Referencing the theme of the 2014 annual conference session, he said the keys to unleashing fearless, Spirit-led churches are hearts that break for the poor, the lost, the forgotten, and the excluded — and a passion for turning the church inside-out to embrace the needs of those outside the church. Bishop Ough encouraged conference members to share their God stories with others.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, who led three teaching sessions at this year’s conference, explored what it means to “lead beyond the walls” through effective leadership, inspirational worship and preaching, and intentional evangelism and outreach. He is founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. — which has grown from four people in 1990 to more than 18,000 in 2014 and has the largest average attendance  of any United Methodist church in the United States. We must do whatever it takes to make people feel welcomed at our churches, inspire them and teach them something new when they come to worship, and be able to articulate and share why we love the church we attend and what difference it has made in our lives, he told attendees. “People don’t come to church because of your superior theological arguments,” said Hamilton. “They come because you care about them. … It’s all about the people.”

On the first day of conference session, attendees celebrated having raised $2.7 million to date for Imagine No Malaria, a denomination-wide effort to eliminate malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. That amount translates to 270,000 lives saved. The Minnesota Conference has raised more than any other annual conference to date and far exceeded its initial $1.8 million goal.

Additionally, Minnesota United Methodists celebrated having collectively packed 2,091,077 meals to date through the “Million Meals Marathon,” a conference-wide effort that launched in February and that challenged Minnesota congregations to pack at least 1 million meals this year through Feed My Starving Children. The 1 million meal goal was surpassed in early April, and the number of meals packed to date is enough to feed 5,728 children once a day for a year. Thousands of volunteers took part in the packaging, and they ranged in age from 5 to 90-plus. Eighty percent of this year’s Love Offering for missions will go to Feed My Starving Children to help pay for the meals packed; 10 percent will go to Project AgGrad (which supports students from developing countries as they pursue a degree and then return home to work on food production); and 10 percent will go to Volunteers in Mission scholarships. As of May 30, $81,759 had been collected for this year’s Love Offering.

The 2014 Minnesota Annual Conference session marked the formal launch of a congregational development initiative to start new churches and grow existing churches. Through this initiative, each year for the next seven years, the Minnesota Conference will start one new church, assist 20 churches in revitalizing their ministries, and partner with a vital parent church to multiply its ministry beyond its current site. This initiative aims to raise $3.7 million over the next few years. A total of $929,216.03 had been pledged as of May 29, and a $200,000 lead gift was presented on Thursday before conference attendees.

In legislative session, members voted to approve an open letter to Minnesota Conference leaders; the letter asks them to support ministry that’s “unshackled by those rules inscribed in our Book of Discipline that continue to exclude and discriminate against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) as well as place barriers between them and our clergy persons seeking to minister to all.”

Additionally, members approved a resolution to reduce the carbon footprint of our church buildings, a boycott of SodaStream products (in accordance with a resolution passed at the 2012 General Conference), and a resolution that encourages Minnesota residents and United Methodists to support a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would change the way judges are elected to gubernatorial, merit-based selection followed by retention elections.

Members also approved eight General Conference petitions related to homosexuality. Seven of them call on the legislative body for the global United Methodist Church to remove all “discriminatory language about homosexuality” from the Book of Discipline. The other one calls for a change that would allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages and for such ceremonies to be performed within United Methodist churches when authorized by vote of the annual conference where the clergy person is appointed or the church is located — or by a two-thirds vote of the church conference where the clergy person is appointed.

Session members passed a 2015 apportioned budget totaling $6,000,008, about $250,000 less than the 2014 budget. With the “uncollectible contingency,” the anticipated shortfall in local church remittances, the total to be apportioned is $6,600,008.

Members also elected delegates for the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Lay delegates to General Conference are Faye B. Christensen (McGregor) and Sara Ann Swenson (Brainerd), and clergy delegates to General Conference are the Revs. David A. Bard (Duluth) and Judy A. Zabel (Twin Cities District Superintendent). All four will also represent Minnesota at the Jurisdictional Conference — as will Dave Nuckols (Minnetonka) and Leslie Hobson (Brainerd), both laity, and  the Revs. Woojae Im (Osseo) and Carol Zaagsma (Mankato), both clergy. Lay reserves are Walker Brault (Winona), Karen Thompson (Oakdale), and Shirley Durr (Minneapolis); clergy reserves are  the Revs. Jeffrey Ozanne (Glenwood), Amy Jo Bur (St. Peter), and Paula Colton (Minneapolis).

At the 2014 conference session, two people were ordained for the work of an elder, three people were commissioned as provisional elders, 14 licensed local pastors were recognized, and 14 clergy retired. Eighteen people who have died within the past year were remembered at a service of life in ministry.

The number of professing church members within the Minnesota Conference as of the end of 2013 was 66,342, down 2 percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stood at 30,960, down 4 percent. In 2013, 1,021 individuals were baptized, and there were 1,381 new professions of faith, down 1 percent from 2012. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 8,343 in 2013, down 1 percent.

— Christa Meland, director of communications, Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church