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2016 Minnesota Annual Conference

It’s time to become more intentional in our manure spreading—metaphorically speaking.

That’s what Bishop Bruce R. Ough said in his episcopal address to members of the 162nd session of the Minnesota Annual Conference, in which he reflected on the plan for living generously set forth by Jesus in Luke 13:6-9. In this parable, a gardener pleads with the owner of a vineyard not to cut down a fig tree that hadn’t produced any fruit for three years.

The gardener offers to spread manure on the soil around it in the hopes that in one more year the tree would bear fruit. “The point is clear,” said Ough. “The time is short; you have one last chance to put things right before the judgment—one last chance to bear kingdom fruit…You had better get your manure together before it is too late. Be fruitful or perish!”

Unleashing generosity

The theme of the 2016 conference session, which took place June 21-23 in St. Cloud, was “Living Generously—Unleashing God’s Gifts.” Attendees celebrated the ways in which Minnesota United Methodists are reaching new people and sharing God’s love—and explored new ways they can unleash God’s gifts and make a difference in the world.

Many churches brought youth and young adults this year, and annual conference was designed with those groups in mind. Attendees spent one afternoon engaged in small-group “open-space” conversations to discuss social justice issues and explore how Minnesota United Methodists can be a good gift to the world. Topics included climate care, reaching the next generation, renewing the church, creating a safe and just world, unity in The United Methodist Church, and radical hospitality. 

They also spent an evening at Lake George Park, enjoying fellowship, listening to live music, participating in a fun run/walk, packing health kits for refugees, playing games, and listening to a brief program at which they met the conference’s 2016 ELI Project interns and blessed those who have been confirmed within the past year.

Teaching session speaker Sara Miles reinforced the conference theme by talking about her experience of finding Christ and later starting a food pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where she now serves as director of ministry. The former journalist-turned-author was raised as an atheist, but everything changed the day she entered a church at age 46, ate a piece of bread, and took a sip of wine. She was later baptized, and the food pantry she founded now serves hundreds each week.

Everything we do says something about who we are and how we understand God, Miles said. “If we’re choosing to follow the example of Jesus, our service must be an imitation of his service,” she said. That’s why the food pantry doesn’t require people to produce papers or proof of income in order to receive food. “If we’re just going through the motions, so does our activism and service work,” Miles said. She said stories evangelize us, and just like Jesus’ parables, our own stories have the power to share the good news.

Celebrations

Throughout annual conference, attendees heard lots of stories about Holy Spirit breakthroughs in our midst. One involved the brave and selfless act of St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church in Lakeland—a congregation that had become older and smaller in recent years. Last summer, members gave up their building, their identity, and their way of being church so that fast-growing Embrace Church could launch a new campus in their space and reach the next generation; the day the new campus opened, 438 people attended worship.

Attendees also celebrated some of the ways in which we’re reaching new people through new church starts and revitalization processes that are helping established churches try new things and increase their vitality. To date, $3,759,055 has been pledged to Reach • Renew • Rejoice—a congregational development campaign that launched in 2014 and aims to raise $3.7 million. The amount was announced to applause, dancing, and clappers flailing in the air. Funds given to this effort will be used to start seven new churches across Minnesota, enable 140 churches to go through transformational processes, and expand seven churches to additional sites.

At the 2016 conference session, two people were ordained for the work of an elder, seven people were commissioned as provisional elders, and two people were commissioned as provisional deacons. Additionally, 15 new licensed local pastors were recognized, and 14 retiring clergy were celebrated. Meanwhile, attendees remembered 22 United Methodist friends and colleagues who have died over the past year.

At various points throughout the three days of conference, attendees celebrated three significant milestones taking place this year: the 160th anniversary of the Minnesota Annual Conference, the 20th anniversary of the order of deacons, and the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women.

Legislative session

During legislative session—after much discussion and several alternate proposals—conference members approved a resolution in response to the recent Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. The resolution is a commitment to repent for ways that our words and United Methodist Church positions toward LGBTQ people have been used to discriminate, to find timely avenues toward resolution, to practice humility and gentle conversation with those whose convictions differ, and to pray for Bishop Ough in his new role as president of the Council of Bishops.

Members of the 2016 conference session voted to approve a 2017 apportioned budget totaling $6,106,460. That’s roughly $14,300 less than the 2016 apportioned budget but $109,549 above the budget “ceiling,” the maximum allowed under conference standing rules. Those voting approved going $109,549 above the ceiling in order to continue to provide grants to churches for new ministries and during appointment transitions.  

With an “uncollectible contingency” of $725,000, the total amount to be apportioned in 2017 is $6,831,460. The uncollectible contingency accommodates anticipated shortfalls in some churches’ apportionment payments.

The number of professing church members within the Minnesota Conference as of the end of 2015 was 64,262, down 3 percent from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stood at 28,967, down 2 percent. Last year, 830 individuals were baptized and there were 1,304 new professions of faith. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 7,152 in 2015.

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