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Bishop Ough calls a clergy day apart

By: Rev. Roger Spahr, Southeast District superintendent, Dakotas UMC

Rev. Derek Baum holds the mic as he speaks to the clergy during a "fishbowl session" at the clergy day apart in Aberdeen, SD, April 29. Photos by Beate Hartwig-Stucke.

On April 29, approximately 110 Dakotas UM clergy gathered at Bishop Ough’s invitation to discuss the outcomes and ramifications of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference decisions for The United Methodist Church. At the heart of the decisions of the special session of the General Conference, held in February in St. Louis, was our five-decade debate on human sexuality, marriage stance, and LGBTQ inclusion.
Most clergy approached this gathering with a mix of fear, apprehension, and anticipation.  

At the "fishbowl sessions", clergy were asked to form a small group to share from, and others were asked to form concentric rings around that group to listen.

One of our clergy who returned to be with us from another conference shared that it felt good to be home with the Dakotas family in this time of uncertainty. Her statement struck a chord with me immediately on why this meeting was especially crucial for the Dakotas clergy. One of our strengths, as a smaller conference in the denomination, is that we have a more familiar sense about us than most. I have been a pastor in this conference for almost 40 years, and this is my clergy family. Therefore, because we have closer ties with people who may disagree with us on specific topics, there is also a higher risk of arguing with a family member vs. a professional colleague. We potentially have more to lose than just institutional unity.
With that reality as a backdrop, the day began and ended with inspirational, and much-needed worship, led by talented and inspired clergy in the Dakotas. The morning included some explanations on what happened at 2019 Special Session of General Conference, as well as Bishop Ough sharing a number of grass-roots movements that are happening around the denomination in response to the passing of the Traditional Plan in St. Louis.
 

Rev. Roger Spahr, Southwest District superintendent

The rest of the day included a “fish-bowl” dialogue format where pastors could share their personal feelings, observations and stories with the entire gathering. Later in the day, there were several topical discussion groups in which clergy could participate in a come-and-go format. Bishop Ough ended the day with his hope and goal to help our Dakotas Conference to come through this time together keeping our core mission and message at the forefront.  

My personal reflections at the end of the day were these:

  1. Our clergy did an excellent job of respecting each other and listening to each other. I had some fears that we could easily have done harm with a few misplaced words and accusations. I commend the clergy for showing love and respect to each other. My prayer for our congregations is that we would have a similar spirit of care and respect for each other in the discussions ahead.
  2. We are moving into a time of uncertainty for our denomination as well as our conference. There will be some things we can control, and there will be some things beyond our personal ability to control. As pastors, we will be called on to lead with a sense of confidence that comes from our spiritual core of being connected to the Vine. I saw encouraging signs of Holy Spirit guidance as I listened to pastors humbly share what God is doing in their lives.
  3. I’m am so glad I’m not a bishop. Pray for our leaders!

UMC

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