One of my convictions about the church is we are the place and people that can show the world how to live together in peace. We don’t always get it right, but it is always a worthy pursuit. I like the fact that I am part of an intergenerational community that gathers because we are all seeking a life of meaning and purpose and know we can’t go it alone. Some days it is incredibly hard and messy. And other days it is oh-so-beautiful. I think what the world needs most from us right now is to see diverse people coming together, loving one another, and working hand-in-hand for the common good.
At our annual conference sessions, we try to model what we hope every local congregation embodies and lives out. So hang on to your hats…we are going to shake things up. We are planning for our 2020 Annual Conference session to be held June 10-12 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in conjunction with the Dakotas Annual Conference.
I can hear some of your reactions now! From those of you in the Southern Prairie District, there is cheering because annual conference session is coming closer. From those in the northeast part of the state, there is groaning as you think of the drive. And others of you are going “Huh? Why we would ever do that? We like being in St. Cloud. Why do we want to mess with a good thing?”
I know this will stretch us, but I am confident the effort will be worthwhile. When we were first assigned to join the Dakotas as part of the same episcopal area, I groaned as well. How could it possibly be beneficial to share one bishop between an already large geographic area that would double in size? I kept thinking we’d see our bishop less and have decreased focus on what we were trying to do here in Minnesota. Why would we ever want to be a part of a shared episcopal area?!? And yet, over these past six years, there have been blessings way beyond my imagining. We have been able to partner to expand our staff and ministry impact in camping, communications, church planting, congregational revitalization, and leadership development. We were able to secure a $1 million dollar Lilly Grant by working together. We share best practices on a regular basis. The leadership teams of each conference have built great relationships on shared mission experiences and retreats.
What I have discovered is that it’s easy to get comfortable doing what you have always done. By leaning into our being an episcopal area, we have found new partners in ministry who turned out to be really fun, interesting, and deeply spiritual friends! We are all growing and learning together. We want to share more widely what we have experienced: the spark that comes from being together. And in the midst of all that is going on in our world and in The United Methodist Church, we want to demonstrate that our strength comes from our diversity and we that are indeed united around what matters most: offering the world a life-giving and life-transforming experience of Jesus Christ. It will probably be a little bit messy, but it also holds amazing possibilities, and I am excited for what will happen when we bring nearly 1,500 people together in worship, learning, and shared witness in the Sioux Falls community and to The United Methodist Church.
So why are we waiting until 2020 for this new shared experience? Well, first of all, it takes planning to do this well, and we did not want to do it in a year when we will vote on delegates for General Conference. But more importantly, 2020 will be the end of Bishop Ough’s tenure with us as the first bishop of this new episcopal area so it seemed like a great time to celebrate our eight years together as well as his eight years with us. And, if you did not know, in May of 2020, we will be hosting the denomination-wide General Conference in Minneapolis (and recruiting and working with thousands of volunteers to provide hospitality to visitors from around the world), so letting the Dakotas take on more of the hosting for the annual conference session a month later made a lot of sense.
You might be wondering how this would work in terms of getting each conference’s individual work done and addressing conference-specific legislation. We’re looking at having the first day be Minnesota Conference only, working on our specific agenda. Days two and three would be shared days of learning, worship, and celebration. And day four would be Dakotas Conference only, working on its specific agenda. By combining our resources for this one-time joint experience, we will be able to create two days of outstanding speakers, music, and worship that exceeds what either conference could do alone.
It is a couple of years away, but we will be talking about it at annual conference session this year and taking action to confirm the location for the 2020 session. By the way, if you have not been to Sioux Falls recently, it is a growing, vibrant community with a wonderful downtown area.
Minnesota United Methodists, this is where I remind you that we are a church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors, so let’s be open to a new idea and get the party started. I am excited to see what God will do when we come together as the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area, committed to live out our 2020 theme of Be the Light! Live Hope!
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church