Church Notes 2019 conference highlights to share with your church Wondering how to condense three full days of worship, learning, discerning, and celebrating into a succinct report you can bring back to members of your congregation? Here are some highlights to consider sharing: Theme: Drawing on John 4:1-26, the theme of the 2019 Annual Conference was “Dare to Reach: Love Boldly!” At our gathering, we explored ways in which Jesus calls us to step out of our comfort zone and reach those around us with the love of God in ways beyond our imagination. We learned about and discussed the importance of sharing our collective story of how God’s love quenches our thirst and claims us, and inviting everyone to drink from the well so that their thirst may be quenched. Missional Report: We started our Annual Conference by celebrating a variety of Holy Spirit breakthroughs in our midst—ways in which Minnesota United Methodists are daring to reach new people and love boldly. A few examples: The small congregation of Lydia Zion UMC in Jordan started a new bilingual worship service to welcome Hispanic people in its community; it has resulted in several new professions of faith. Many churches are spreading the gospel by offering online worship and seeing fruits from their efforts. And Simpson UMC in Minneapolis is closing its doors and donating its property to Simpson Housing Services, which will build a new state-of-the-art facility to serve the homeless. (Access printed missional report.) Inclusive vision: After spending much of Wednesday discussing The United Methodist Church’s changing landscape and engaging in respectful conversations, Annual Conference members voted 491-86 to adopt a vision for Minnesota that names a commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. The vision says that “we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons,” expresses a commitment to center marginalized voices, and vows to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment about whether to officiate same-sex weddings. Separately, members voted 446-108 to adopt a resolution that formally recognizes that the Traditional Plan that the 2019 Special Session of General Conference approved in February “does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church.” Other key votes: Several other key decisions were made as well. Annual Conference members elected 12 delegates to represent them at the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences, approved a flat 2020 budget, adopted a resolution supporting campus ministry, and decided to send two petitions on to the 2020 General Conference for consideration. One of the petitions would amend The Book of Discipline so that complaints can only be filed against clergy from within their own annual conferences and the other would allow licensed local pastors who have met minimum requirements to serve as clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional or Central Conferences. Bishop’s Episcopal Address: Pointing to the story of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman told in John 4, Bishop Ough delivered a powerful Episcopal Address in which he reminded us that to reach new people, we must cross boundaries, remove barriers, and overcome fears to enter into conversations that we or someone else believes should never take place. He reminded us that each of us has a God story, and each of us is God’s intended evangel to at least one other person. “Go to the well; tell everyone you can where they can find the living water,” he said. Teaching sessions with Mark Teasdale: Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale, the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of the book “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists,” delivered two teaching sessions in which he reminded us that we have what it takes to be evangelists. Effective evangelism is about fully formed Christians sharing with others the goodness of God that we’ve experienced and where we see God at work in our lives. We must be faithful to the teachings of the Christian tradition and contextually aware—meaning we listen to those around us to find out how God is already at work in their lives and ensure that what we’re sharing is meaningful to them. “You can do the work of evangelism and the Holy Spirit is right there beside you to transform the lives of those God puts before you,” he told us. Sermon by Rev. Bill Eaves: Rev. Bill Eaves, this year’s conference preacher, delivered a moving sermon in which he said he believes the kind of church the world needs today is a “both/and” church. His conviction: We can listen deeply to our scriptures and study them with best tools available to us, and we can work for the liberation of our LGBTQ neighbors. We can put our full trust in Jesus and follow His word, and at the same time stand up against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. He pointed to former NFL players Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick, known for two very different ways they have lived out their Christian faith, to illustrate his point. Recognizing those entering new phases of life and ministry: At a Celebration of Life in Ministry worship service Tuesday evening, hundreds of Minnesota United Methodists gathered to remember 28 friends and colleagues who have died over the past year, honor 20 retiring clergy, and celebrate four people being ordained, one person being restored for the work of an elder, 26 newly licensed local pastors, and two licensed local pastors finishing their course of study. Thanks be to God for this group of dedicated leaders! Love Offering: As of the end of Annual Conference, more than $80,000 had been given to the 2019 Love Offering. The recipients of this year’s offering are: Lao Samphan Methodist Church in Laos (60 percent), the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which provides free civil legal services to low-income Minnesotans (20 percent), and Volunteers in Mission scholarships (20 percent). Thank you for your generosity!