On March 3, 2022, the Commission on the General Conference announced that General Conference 2020 would be further postponed to 2024. Many emotions and thoughts are swirling at the announcement that the twice-postponed General Conference must wait until 2024.
Bishop Laurie Haller, who serves as the interim bishop to the Dakotas Conference, wrote this in a statement to the Dakotas Conference, “This is a decision that will be disappointing to everyone. While unfortunate, it is hardly surprising given the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world, the inability of many elected delegates to receive visas to enter the United States, and the current state of world affairs.” Read Bishop Laurie’s complete statement here.
Meanwhile, leaders of a planned new theologically conservative denomination announced that they are moving up the launch date without waiting for General Conference to act. The Wesley Covenant Association has announced the Global United Methodist Church launch on May 1, 2022.
What does this mean for churches and individuals throughout the Dakotas Conference?
The Dakotas Conference Cabinet is discussing and researching the best ways forward. Meeting together, the members of the Cabinet, who include Revs. Kris Mutzenberger, Bob Ruedebusch, Rebecca Trefz, and Joel Winckler stated, “At this point, we are discussing and researching best ways forward for the churches and pastors of our Conference. With the official formation of the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022, the reality of separation has come to us sooner than we had been planning.”
Plans are underway for the 2022 Dakotas Annual Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. The budget, fixing of clergy appointments, nominations, proposed resolutions, and petitions—including separations and disaffiliations of congregations, are part of the business meeting agenda at the Annual Conference.
In preparation for appointments, Annual Conference, and other matters, the Dakotas Conference Cabinet said, “We’ve been preparing for a variety of scenarios related to appointments and always take into consideration the best fit of pastors and churches. Leadership groups such as the Conference Council of Finance and Administration (CCFA), Sessions, and Common Table, will have to wrestle with some specifics and share information accordingly. We anticipate specific legislation related to this development at this year’s Annual Conference.”
Pre-Conference gatherings will have more information and opportunities for more discussion. As the details for the 2022 Annual Conference and next steps become more explicit, we will continue to share through Conference communication channels.
Jesus, Mission, Connection
Amid the turmoil, it is still about Jesus. “Our core values continue to be Jesus, mission, connection. We understand that the connection will look different going forward, but we pray that this value will remain,” said Cabinet members.
Bishop Laurie echoed the call to center on Christ, writing, “Even in the midst of disappointment, remember that God is with us and calls us to embody the love of Jesus Christ.”
Two groups will continue their work as the Dakotas Conference seeks to live out the values of Jesus, mission, connection, the Dakotas Conference Strategy Team, and the Dakotas Conference UMC Taskforce.
Meeting together since 2020, the Strategy Team is living into their fulfill a three-fold purpose to:
- Imagine and develop a model(s) for how we continue to carry forward our core values—Jesus, mission, connection— and our mission—making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world—in a post-General Conference environment.
- Design specific strategies that create ways for pastors and churches to participate in shared ministry and support services, innovative partnerships, and collaborative Kingdom work while staying true to their convictions and callings.
- Design strategies for assisting every clergyperson and every congregation in finding a place to best fulfill their contextual mission and vision.
Al Roll, a member, and facilitator for the Strategy Team said, “The Strategy Team has developed tools and resources including a Breakthrough Prayer, Values Discernment Workshop, Timeline for Discernment. The team is also discussing a round table model for shared services called 'The Dakotas Network.' The Network would provide a framework for congregations; however they align in various Methodist denominations to share services like camping, for example.”
The delay of the General Conference and the launch of the GMC prompts more discussion for the Strategy Team.
In August of 2021, Bishop Laurie Haller called together a task force to discern the future of The United Methodist Church in the Dakotas Conference. The team has been meeting and is currently conducting listening sessions. The Dakotas UMC Taskforce will continue their work.
General Conference 2024
Minneapolis will not be the location of the 2024 meeting. General Conference was scheduled to be in Minneapolis this year. In the press statement, the Commission said a new already-secured venue would be announced later as soon as logistical planning is complete.
Bishop Haller expresses empathy and gratitude to the Dakotas-Minnesota area, “We all regret that the many significant decisions awaiting General Conference action will again be delayed. I especially feel sorrow for the members of the Dakotas and Minnesota Annual Conferences who were long engaged in planning and hosting this General Conference. The Council of Bishops has scheduled a meeting for March 8, and I may have more to share with you following that meeting and, in the months, to come.”
The Dakotas Conference elected two General Conference voting delegates—Rev. Rebecca Trefz, clergy delegate, and Kara Togel lay delegate at the 2020 Annual Conference. With the 2020 General Conference now delayed to when the next one was supposed to take place, it remains unclear whether new delegates will need to be elected. If new delegates are required, elections would take place at Annual Conference 2023.
“It is extremely disappointing that we cannot move forward with planning an amicable separation and conduct the business of the General Conference this year, but I have found it much less painful as I have begun to focus my thoughts and prayers on peace around the world, specifically in Ukraine, and healing for those who continue to be impacted by SARS-COV-2,” said Kara Togel, Dakotas Conference lay delegate to General Conference. "I am disheartened by the contempt, confusion, and further division that will result from churches separating before the General Conference has had the opportunity to formally lay out the process for graceful separation. I feel a pain for those directly affected by the harm done to the LGBTQ+ Community as we enter another season of waiting. I am hopeful that something good will come out of the waiting, that we can continue our work to make the UMC more inclusive in our polity."
As we continue the journey to spread the Good News during these liminal times, please pray this Strategy Team Breakthrough Prayer:
Gracious God, as you lead the way forward, we put our trust in you. You are our fortress, protector, healer, redeemer, and ever-present God, no matter what lies ahead. We surrender our whole selves to you--our thoughts, our words, our lives. Have your way with us, Lord. Breakthrough our fears, mindsets, and agendas—anything that might get in the way of following you. Humble our hearts toward you and one another that we might better hear you speak. Shake us up until all that remains is you, Jesus. We look expectantly for you to move in us and through us so that your Holy Spirit's power and presence might transform us from the inside out. We commit ourselves to this journey together and lead your people in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We pray this all in your mighty and holy name, Jesus. Amen
Download and print copies of the Breakthrough Prayer here.