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2015 Minnesota Annual Conference

 

“It is time to take and pass the final exam—it is time to do something.”

That was the key message from Bishop Bruce R. Ough’s episcopal address to members of the 161st session of the Minnesota Annual Conference. He said the question Jesus said would be put to us in the final judgment is haunting: “When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not care for you?” (Matthew 25:44).

“The final exam is whether you and I will fully, sacrificially, extravagantly engage in Christ’s mission to transform the world,” Ough said. “The final exam question will not be about what we professed but what we did when we saw the least of these hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or in prison.” God is calling us to build bridges out of poverty, to be externally focused, and to heal a broken world.

The theme of the 2015 conference session was “God’s Vision, Our Mission—Unleashed.” Attendees celebrated the ways in which we are answering God’s call to heal a broken world and were encouraged and inspired to find new ways to share God’s love with their neighbors.

The Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s Native American Comprehensive Plan, reminded attendees through a Bible study in worship that God calls us to reach out to the strangers among us and that we are united in Christ with brothers and sisters of all ancestries and geographies. She talked about repentance toward indigenous peoples as a process that’s ongoing.

“There are many, many Native American brothers and sisters who have become alienated from what God created us to be, strangers in our own land,” Phillips said. She encouraged Minnesota United Methodists to open the deepest part of themselves and think about a time when they felt like an alien or were dehumanized. “Your native brothers and sisters need you…to understand, listen, acknowledge our history, confess that even if you and your family did not directly have a hand in the oppression of native peoples, you now stand on ground and you live lives that are made available to you through genocidal actions toward Native Americans in our past,” she said. “We each hold the key to each other’s humanity and healing.” Phillips listed four questions to ponder on the journey toward repentance: Can you see us? Can you hear us? Can you find Christ in us? Will you claim us as part of yourself and your community?

Phillips’ message about reaching out to strangers was reinforced when members worshiped with two congregations in Vietnam through an online connection. The three groups sang together and celebrated that we are brothers and sisters serving one Lord. The Minnesota Conference recently formed a partnership with missionaries in Vietnam to help expand Grace Children’s Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

At conference, attendees spent part of a morning at a mission fair that allowed churches to learn from each other and share the ministries that are making a difference in their communities. Participants showcased their innovative ministries through science fair-type displays that other attendees visited. Lots of ideas and best practices were exchanged.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor at the multi-site Grace Church in southwest Florida, led two teaching sessions on faithfulness and fruitfulness. “Our lack of fruitfulness is the direct result of our lack of faithfulness,” he said. “You cannot give what you do not have.” He said faithfulness requires rich, authentic relationships with other Christ-followers; training to be Christian (instead of simply trying to be Christian) through daily devotions and other practices that connect us with Jesus; and pruning—cutting things in life that keep us from fruitfulness. Then to be fruitful, we must find a niche that works in our own setting (Grace’s niche is special needs ministries) and use it to connect with new people who we can then help connect to God. And as we do good works in our communities, it’s critical to tell people why we’re doing them and relate them to our mission as churches.

“There are 7.3 billion people on this planet who are crazy about Jesus, and about 5 billion of them don’t know it yet,” Acevedo said. 

The 2014 Minnesota Annual Conference session marked the formal launch of a congregational development initiative to start new churches and grow existing churches. One year later, $3,038,968 million had been pledged to this congregational development initiative that aims to raise $3.7 million. That money will be used to start seven new churches across Minnesota, enable 140 churches to go through transformational processes to position them for vitality, and expand seven churches to additional sites. Many individual donors and roughly a quarter of churches have thus far made pledges.

Members of the 2015 conference session voted to approve a 2016 apportioned budget totaling $6,120,770. That’s roughly $121,000 more than the 2015 apportioned budget and $90,000 above the budget “ceiling,” the maximum allowed under conference standing rules. Members approved going $90,000 above ceiling in order to continue two critical leadership development initiatives: Soul Leaders, a clergy peer group program, and the Exploring Leadership Internship Project, an internship program for college students exploring a call to vocational ministry. Eight students began the program in late May; it includes one week of orientation and eight weeks of hands-on experience at a host church.

With an “uncollectible contingency” of $605,000, the total amount to be apportioned in 2016 is $6,725,770. The uncollectible contingency accommodates anticipated shortfalls in some churches’ apportionment payments.

During the legislative session, members voted unanimously in favor of nominating and endorsing the Rev. David Bard for the office of bishop. The nomination will be forwarded to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, which will take place July 13-16, 2016 in Peoria, Illinois.

Bard, who serves at First United Methodist Church in Duluth, was also nominated for bishop in 2008. Members also discussed and debated six petitions for the 2016 General Conference—and ultimately voted to send all of them on to be considered by the global church body when it meets next year in Portland, Oregon. The petitions were about avoiding investments in petroleum, coal, and natural gas; renewing a resolution that goes on record as opposing the introduction of faith-based theories (like creationism or intelligent design) in public schools; and calling on the nation of Israel to provide access to water and electricity in the West Bank and to recognize land titles that Palestinians hold in the West Bank.

At the 2015 conference session, four people were ordained for the work of an elder (one of whom is part of the Iowa Conference), one person was ordained for the work of a deacon, six people were commissioned as provisional elders, and two people were commissioned as provisional deacons. Additionally, 18 licensed local pastors were recognized, and 17 clergy retired. Twenty-three people who have died within the past year were remembered at a celebration of life in ministry worship service.

The number of professing church members within the Minnesota Conference as of the end of 2014 was 66,286, down 2 percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stood at 29,577, down 4 percent. In 2014, 946 individuals were baptized and there were 1,269 new professions of faith. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 7,638 in 2014.

— Christa Meland, Director of Communications, Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church