Click on the categories below to get your questions answered about this season of change within The United Methodist Church and what the Minnesota Conference is doing to prepare to move forward together. Find resources for moving forward here.
The 2020 General Conference was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What does this mean for us?
United Methodists around the world, including many Minnesotans, have been waiting for a very long time to resolve The United Methodists Church’s longtime impasse over LGBTQIA+ inclusion. The postponement until 2021 means we're entering yet another season of Advent preparation. While that presents some challenges, the positive in this is that the postponement gives us more time to have conversations about human sexuality with our congregations; more time to clarify, articulate, and live into our vision and values; and more time to prepare and plan for the various outcomes that could result from the next General Conference. By doing all of these things, we will ensure that we are strong as an annual conference and ready to make thoughtful and appropriate decisions later on. It is important to remember that we as the Minnesota Annual Conference have the ability to claim and chart our own future by continuing to live fully into our Journey Toward Vitality strategic plan and the aspirational vision adopted at the 2019 Annual Conference. This extended liminal time does not change who we are as the Minnesota Annual Conference or who we are in Christ.
What is the Minnesota Conference doing before General Conference to prepare for whatever is next?
Bishop Ough convened a strategy team that’s working to help the Minnesota Conference move forward and stay together in this season of change within The United Methodist Church. He also assembled a task force to develop a process for churches wanting to disaffiliate. Numerous resources have been created to help congregations have conversations around what is happening in the denomination and the aspirational vision adopted at the 2019 Annual Conference, and the finance office and Minnesota Conference Council on Finance and Administration have been monitoring changes in apportioned giving and making plans to reduce the 2021 budget in order to account for the structural changes that are likely to come for The United Methodist Church.
How should my congregation prepare for General Conference?
Spend time exploring who we are as the Minnesota Annual Conference and how we understand our vision for full inclusion within that broader identity. Use this study guide or congregational exercise to have a conversation about the Minnesota Conference’s aspirational vision and how your local church sees itself in or related to that vision. Additionally, inform yourself and your congregation about key legislation coming to General Conference so you know what the possibilities are and can help dispel myths and disseminate accurate information.
How can I channel my energy/take action before General Conference?
One suggestion is to share your perspective with the Minnesota delegation to General Conference by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Another is to share how you and your congregation are living into our aspirational vision by emailing email@example.com so that it can be lifted up and inspire others.
What can we expect to happen at or come out of General Conference?
Given the widespread support for the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, it seems increasingly likely that this legislation could be approved at General Conference. However, legislation is often changed and amended before it is passed, so we can’t know what the final plan might look like or how it might change from the original recommendation. It is also possible that delegates won’t agree on a single plan for moving forward and a plan for moving forward would not be approved.
What is our plan B (if specific legislation does or does not pass)?
If the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is adopted, the continuing United Methodist Church commits to the full inclusion of all persons, and the prohibitive language in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons is removed, this would align with the aspirational vision adopted at the June 2019 Annual Conference and the intention is that the Minnesota Annual Conference would remain part of The United Methodist Church. If General Conference does not make progress toward a fully inclusive church and ends in a stalemate, our expectation is that the Minnesota Annual Conference will chart its own future that is committed to our values of being rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation. Either path would take time to implement.
Will our congregation have to take a vote and make a decision after General Conference? If so, how will that work?
No. If the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is adopted, the intention is that the Minnesota Annual Conference would remain part of The United Methodist Church, and congregations wouldn’t need to do anything to stay. If the protocol is not adopted and space for congregations to be in ministry with LGBTQIA+ persons as they feel called isn’t afforded, the expectation is that the Minnesota Annual Conference work to form a new, fully inclusive expression of Methodism. The hope is that we would stay together as an annual conference and join this new expression. The only situation where a congregational vote would be required is if the congregation chose not to continue with the annual conference once the annual conference made its determination of its future.
Who are we as the Minnesota Annual Conference at this critical time within the life of The United Methodist Church, and how does our aspirational vision fit into our identity?
Jesus’ ministry was to extend abundant life to all God’s beloved children. We have consistently called each person and congregation to be part of this abundant life movement by being a vital expression of the gospel imperatives to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world. At the 2019 Annual Conference, we adopted an aspirational vision that envisions a Methodism rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation. It names and articulates what an abundant life movement looks like and the values we will hold as an annual conference as we live into who God is calling us to be. This “vision and values” document shows how our Journey Toward Vitality and aspirational vision together form our identity.
If I don’t fit in the “progressive” or “traditionalist” bucket, where will I go? And is there a place for traditionalists in the Minnesota Conference?
We understand that faithful people come to different conclusions on theological and political matters and resolve to unite in love as John Wesley preached in his sermon on “Catholic Spirit,” in which he said: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.” In Minnesota, we have created space for each other’s beliefs and different ways of doing ministry that are relevant for our unique contexts. No matter what happens at the next General Conference, that will not change. We are better and stronger together, and we are committed to our evangelistic task while also helping every congregation—whether more traditional, more progressive, or more centrist—find a place within the Minnesota Annual Conference. The Minnesota Annual Conference has named a commitment to full inclusion, and while this commitment remains strong, we will continue to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment in officiating wedding ceremonies for any prepared couple that comes to them. At the same time, we recognize that there is a significant amount of hurt within our conference among people across the theological spectrum, and we have much work to do in building bridges and repairing relationships as we chart a new way forward together.
Will we need to make a decision about our future at the 2020 Annual Conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (assuming it can still happen)?
No. So much is dependent on the outcome of the next General Conference, which has been postponed until 2021. After we know what is decided there, we will be able to make an informed decision, as an annual conference, about how to best live into our aspirational vision and identity—and whether that means staying part of the continuing United Methodist Church or entering a new expression of Methodism. It will likely be at our regular 2021 Annual Conference, or a special session next year, when we would come together to make a decision about our future.
How can my congregation steward funds during this time of change? What should we do about apportionments?
We understand that there are significant uncertainties within our denomination because of the unresolved matter of human sexuality and the current COVID-19 pandemic, and we realize that your commitment and enthusiasm for funding the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church might have decreased. You are not alone, and we want to walk alongside you in finding faithful and fruitful ways for you to live out and stay true to who God is calling you to be. However, we would urge you not to hinder strategic investments we’re making in developing leaders, expanding our mission field, and reaching new people in Minnesota. The Minnesota Annual Conference has always sought to be a welcoming, diverse, loving church—and at our 2019 Annual Conference, we adopted an aspirational vision that names our commitment to these values. Our commitment has always been and will always be to love boldly. Please know that we need your partnership to be able to continue to make new disciples of Jesus and transform lives and communities in our shared Minnesota mission field, and for us to be strong and well-resourced as an annual conference as we prepare for the future that is unfolding.
After the next General Conference, what will happen to ministries receiving conference funding? What will happen with our conference’s rich network of resources— administrative, camps, missions, etc.?
We are proposing a 2021 budget that reflects continued support for new church development, camp and retreat ministries, and ministries of compassion and justice. We are presuming that we will continue forward as an annual conference, either as part of the continuing United Methodist Church or as part of a new expression of United Methodism, dependent on what is decided at the next General Conference. If an individual ministry such as a new church plant seeks to disaffiliate from the Minnesota Annual Conference and affiliate with a different expression of Methodism, then conference funding for it would cease as it would no longer be part of our annual conference.
If there’s a separation, what assurances do local churches have that the Minnesota Conference will honor their decision to leave and allow them to take their property and assets?
Legislation that is passed at the next General Conference would most likely specify how property and assets would be divided, and the Minnesota Conference would adhere to that process. Most of the separation plans call for each church to retain its own property and assets, as well as its own liabilities (which includes each congregation’s unfunded pension liability).
How will the appointment process be impacted by whatever is to come?
The Cabinet commits to consulting with clergy and congregations during the appointment process to ensure the best possible missional fit and to position each clergy and congregation to thrive and bear kingdom fruit. All clergy and all congregations will be valued and respected, regardless of their theological perspective, and appointments will reflect that.
Are pastoral appointment changes taking place in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. District superintendents continue to facilitate introductory meetings through video conferencing. Moving companies (including the one we use, Mayflower) are considered essential services. So June 28 is still scheduled to be the first Sunday for clergy transitioning to new appointments. Superintendents will work with clergy and churches needing adjustments to that schedule as necessary.
Can clergy who choose to transfer to another denomination be appointed in the Minnesota Annual Conference?
Other denomination appointments are currently permissible by The Book of Discipline. They are made on a case-by-case basis and require approval by the Cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry. Missional need and fit within the context are important criteria for those considerations.
What will happen to our Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area?
The simple and most straightforward answer is: We don’t know. If legislation is adopted at the next General Conference that provides space for congregations to be in ministry with LGBTQIA+ persons as they feel called, and both the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences stay part of the continuing United Methodist Church, our episcopal area could potentially stay intact in the foreseeable future. If either or both conferences leave the denomination based on what happens at General Conference, our episcopal area would likely need to shift.
How do we create or shape a viable annual conference as we look to the future?
The best thing we can do to keep our annual conference strong and viable is to stay together. By pooling our wisdom and resources, we are able to accomplish far more collectively than we could as any single congregation.This includes everything from creating a vibrant camp and retreat ministry to starting new churches to deploying emergency response teams to disaster-torn areas to providing training in areas like leadership development, congregational revitalization, communications, and financial management.
How would disaffiliation work?
We have created a process based on the legislation that came out of the 2019 General Conference. That process could be changed by the next General Conference. Currently, the process is for the leadership of a local church to ask its district superintendent to meet with its leadership team to outline the steps for disaffiliation. A discernment process is required, and a disaffiliation agreement would need to be created and then approved by the local church, the conference Board of Trustees, and the Annual Conference Session. A church that is approved for disaffiliation can leave the annual conference with its building and assets after meeting its unfunded pension liability and any other outstanding liabilities to the annual conference, including the previous year’s and next year’s full apportionments.
What’s going to happen to our pastor? What’s the process for clergy (active and retired) who want to leave the denomination/transfer their credentials?
All clergy who are currently credentialed in the annual conference would remain members of the annual conference in whatever expression of United Methodism we are part of. A clergyperson who wishes to leave the denomination of the annual conference would need to withdraw their credentials for the purpose of transfer, and the new denomination would then need to credential them for ministry. That said, the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation could create a pathway for clergy to easily transfer to a new denomination without having to withdraw their credentials.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church