Our Changing Church

Dear Friends,
 
As I sit down to write this blog, I do so on the evening of the final day of the annual three-day conference gathering of the MN Annual Conference in St. Cloud. As always the conference was filled with uplifting worship, inspiring speakers, challenging preachers, and a strong connective network of United Methodists clergy and laity from throughout our state. Video and other highlights of the conference are posted here.
 
The joy of Minnesota Methodists being together stood out for me, once again, this year. However, what set this annual conference apart from previous ones was that it was the first one following the Special General Conference gathering that was held last February in St. Louis. It was in St. Louis that the UMC as a whole voted to continue its ban on LGBTQIA+ marriages and ordinations, as well as voting to strengthen disciplinary procedures, tighten restrictions, and increase the enforcement of any who choose not to abide by this ruling. So among the joy of being together at this annual conference, there was also an increased tension and level of anxiety among clergy and delegates in attendance.
 
Since the rulings of St. Louis in February, through broadcast, social, and print media, it has become widely evident that the majority of American UMC congregations and members are not in agreement with the St. Louis ruling and many have chosen to begin the process of visioning what God might have in store for a more inclusive UMC. The conversations and debates at this year’s annual conference in St. Cloud made it abundantly clear that the shape of the United Methodist Church will change considerably in the next couple of years. What was also made clear is that nobody knows exactly how that will look. Change will happen, for sure.
 
This is why, after spending much time this week discussing our denomination’s changing landscape and engaging in respectful conversations, MN Annual Conference members voted 491 (85%) – 86 (14%) to adopt a vision for Minnesota that names a commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of our denomination. Ours is not the first or the only conference within the denomination to take such a stand. Most United States Annual Conferences have been passing similar statements.
 
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, had three simple rules that he lived by. 1.) Do no harm, 2.) Do good, 3.) Stay in love with God. Nearly 300 years later these are still good rules to live by. Note number one, however – “Do no harm.”
 
What this commitment that was adopted this week at the conference gathering says is that we, as the MN Annual Conference, acknowledge the harm and the pain the decisions in St. Louis have caused among our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ throughout the world. It acknowledges that too often our silence has contributed to their pain and their harm. This commitment says to our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ that we acknowledge them also as beloved Children of God and that they are beloved by us. It says that we celebrate the many gifts they bring to society and to the Church. It says we are committed to being and (re)creating the kind of inclusive church that God (and Wesley) intended us to be and that we will engage in the hard work of undoing any harm caused by any exclusion and discrimination they have experienced from us.
 
This is a big task, but one that our annual conference is committed to take on. While an overwhelming task, it is encouraging to know that some very gifted and faithful Minnesota Conference leaders are already preparing for whatever might happen within our denomination. Our conference’s five district superintendents are staying in close conversation with the clergy and congregations in their districts, and encouraging them to enter into thoughtful conversation with one another about how they will continue to be the church God has called them to be in their communities now and into the future. Our own district superintendent, Susan Neinaber, has already committed to join me in facilitating such a conversation following worship (10:00 a.m.) on Sunday, August 4.
 
Until then, I urge you, do not become discouraged. Remain hopeful. Remain faithful. Be patient as the Holy Spirit continues to reveal to us what is next for the United Methodist Church as a whole and for First United Methodist Church in Lindstrom. I am encouraged that, in the midst of such levels of uncertainty, our denomination is still strongly rooted in Jesus, is grounded in the love and grace and inclusivity of Wesleyan theology, and remains engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation both on the local and global level. I am hopeful that within our congregation we will remain united by hearts of love, grace, forgiveness, and a passion for inviting others into the abundant life of Jesus that we each have experienced here.
 
As always, I am thankful for you and your commitment to Jesus and His Word. I appreciate hearing from many of you, but I again, extend the invitation to any of you who would like to talk with me about Jesus and His Word and how your understanding informs your faith. Wesley called this “Holy Conferencing.” Luther called this the “Mutual Conversation of the Saints.” Sharing the joys and pains of our hearts is most certainly important and holy work.
 
Let’s talk soon. Peace.
 

Pr. Dale