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Better together: Conference strategy team maps out a path forward

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communication, Dakotas UMC

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Bishop Ough has called together a team of clerrgy and laity to create a strategy for the future of the Dakotas Conference. Photos by jlynn studios.

In the midst of a time of great uncertainty, a group of Dakotas clergy and laity are exploring ways to adapt as a Conference and better support our local churches in accomplishing the mission. Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, has called together a team of 14 clergy and laity to consider how the Dakotas Conference might live into the future with new models of connection and strategy that accomplish our common mission.

What form The United Methodist Church takes next will remain unclear until the 2020 General Conference meets, after being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, until August 2021.

The rancorous special 2019 General Conference, by a 438-384 vote, tightened the denomination's bans on same-sex weddings and "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy. However, those church rules have faced increasing resistance

Confronted with what many see as irreconcilable differences, various groups of United Methodists have worked throughout 2019 on proposals to let the denomination split along theological lines.

"The liminal time between the postponed 2020 General Conference and the re-scheduled gathering in August 2021 is not something we would ever choose. And, we certainly would never choose the disruption of a global pandemic. But, these next 12-14 months can actually be an advantage for us. It is a time to move beyond urgent tactical, and often political, decisions to truly re-imagine our future," says Ough. 

The Dakotas Conference Strategy Team is meeting bi-weekly, virtually, with a three-fold purpose to:

  1. Imagine and develop a model or models 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;
  2. Design specific strategies that create ways for pastors and churches to participate in shared ministry and/or support services, innovative partnerships, and collaborative kingdom work while staying true to their convictions and callings; and
  3. Design strategies for assisting every clergyperson and every congregation to find a place where they can best fulfill their contextual mission and vision.

The group brings diverse contexts and theological viewpoints to the table but holds as a primary focus on the mission of disciples of Jesus above all. Members have agreed to be guided by the values of Jesus first, connection, mission, organizational resiliency, and prayer. 

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Jane Hincks, a member of the Strategy Team, speaks during the 2019 Annual Conference.

Members of the team include these clergy and laity:
Rev. Derek Baum, First UMC, Aberdeen, South Dakota
Tom Dravland, First UMC, Pierre, South Dakota
Jane Hincks, Legacy South UMC, Bismarck, North Dakota
Jennifer Larson, First UMC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Rev. Kris Mutzenberger, Northeast District Superintendent, Fargo, North Dakota
Rev. Sara Nelson, First UMC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Nancy Oviatt, Dakotas Conference Chancellor, Watertown, South Dakota
Rev. Ross Reinhiller, Fatih UMC, Williston, North Dakota
Al Roll, Legacy UMC, Bismarck, North Dakota
Rev. Brandon Vetter, Legacy UMC, Bismarck, North Dakota
Alisha Vincent, Fusion UMC, Mitchell, South Dakota
Rev. Barry Whipkey, First UMC, Rapid City, South Dakota

Conference staff on the team are:
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop, Dakotas-Minnesota Area
Rev. Susan Nienaber, group facilitator, Big Waters District Superintendent, Minnesota UMC
Jeff Pospisil, executive director, Finance and Administration, Dakotas UMC
Rev. Rebecca Trefz, executive director of ministries and Southeast District Superintendent, Dakotas UMC

How can you get involved or contribute to the team's work? If you would like to contact the team reach out by e-mail to Rev. Rebecca Trefz. The team will be partnering with district superintendents to create a format and resources for listening sessions in congregations. The group invites individuals and churches to pray for this team's work and the future of The United Methodist Church. 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.

"I do not want the 2020 General Conference to determine the Dakotas Conference's identity or fate. This work belongs to us. Let us do our best work in these days of postponement, even as we attend to the coronavirus pandemic's suffering and disorientation," says Bishop Ough.


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