The Dakotas Conference
The Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church was created in June 1994, with the merger of the North Dakota and the South Dakota Conferences, which had been separate conferences since their beginnings in the 1880s. The merger meeting was held at Aberdeen, SD.
Methodist Predecessor Conferences
The North Dakota Conference had its beginnings as a mission conference organized in October 1884 at Fargo, in what was Dakota Territory until 1889. In October 1886 at Grand Forks, the mission conference was elevated to full conference status as the North Dakota Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The South Dakota Conference had its beginnings on two fronts in 1880: In August, the Black Hills Mission (of the western part of southern Dakota Territory) was organized at Deadwood; in September, the Dakota Mission Conference (of the eastern part of Dakota Territory that would become South Dakota) was organized at Yankton. The Dakota Mission Conference was elevated to full conference status as the Dakota Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at a meeting in Blunt, SD, in 1885.
The Black Hills Mission was elevated to mission conference status in 1888 and then to full conference status as the Black Hills Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at a meeting in Hot Springs, SD, in 1896. However, because of prolonged drought and the resulting poor economic conditions, the Black Hills Conference reverted to mission conference status in 1901. In 1913, at a meeting in Redfield, SD, the Black Hills Mission Conference merged with the Dakota Conference of eastern South Dakota that wouldn’t officially be called the South Dakota Conference of the Methodist Church until 1953.
During the above organizations and mergers of conferences in the Dakotas, three branches of the Methodist Episcopal denomination merged in 1939 and dropped Episcopal from the name, which would be only Methodist until 1968.
Evangelical Predecessor Conferences
At a meeting at Big Stone City, SD, in 1884, the Dakota Conference of the Evangelical Association Church was organized for all of Dakota Territory. Thirty-six years later, the conference was divided into separate conferences for North Dakota and South Dakota at the 1920 meeting in Jamestown. After 31 years as separate conferences, the North Dakota and South Dakota Conferences met again in Jamestown in 1951 and reunited as the Dakota Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
It should be noted that the Evangelical conference for the Dakotas (existing between 1884-1920 and 1951-1968) was always known as the singular Dakota Conference (as opposed to the present-day plural Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church).
During the organization, division, and re-merger of the above Evangelical conference/conferences in the Dakotas, two branches of the Evangelical denomination merged in 1922, creating the Evangelical Church. In 1946, the Evangelical and United Brethren in Christ denominations merged, creating the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist denominations merged in 1968, creating the present-day United Methodist Church.
United Brethren in Christ Work in the Dakotas
“United Brethren” work in the Dakotas was carried on by conferences headquartered in Iowa and Nebraska.
History of The Dakotas Conference Archives Collection
The Archives and History Library was established in 1969 by Dr. Matthew D. Smith in the Parker United Methodist Conference Center (PUMCC) in Mitchell, SD. Previously, the "Methodist Collection" was housed in the Layne Library of Dakota Wesleyan University, the campus of which is across the street from the PUMCC.
The Archives and History Library started in one room, but the growing collections soon required a second room that is now at capacity, with the facility collecting materials from North Dakota since the 1994 merger of conferences.
In 2002, three years of planning came to fruition with the Dakotas Conference and Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) signing an agreement for the creation of a joint archives in the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Public Service. The new library and archives building opened in the fall of 2006. With the retirement of long-time archivist Pat Breidenbach, the Dakotas Conference Archives and History Library officially moved to the McGovern Center in March 2007.
History of the United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church includes three distinct predecessor denominations:
The Evangelical Church (including the Evangelical Association Church and the United Evangelical Church), the Methodist Church (including the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church) and the United Brethren Church.
The Evangelical and United Brethren denominations united in 1946 to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist denominations merged in 1968 to become the United Methodist Church.
Written by Conference Archivist Pat Breidenbach
Learn more online at umc.org.