The United Methodist Church is experiencing separation after decades of internal division about the role of LGBTQ people in church life. In the Dakotas Conference, 19 churches have disaffiliated, representing less than 10 percent of the membership of the Dakotas Conference.
During this difficult and challenging season in the life of the denomination, one of the primary questions asked is, how might we care for those who are members of a church that will be disaffiliating and who seek to remain United Methodist?
Rev. Charles Anderson, the Northwest District Superintendent of Texas Conference, has started the Oasis Network of Churches. Congregations in the network remain confident of their identity and mission to live out their faith as a United Methodist Church. These congregations desire to offer outreach to, welcoming of, and caring for laity who want a faith community to retain United Methodist membership after their present congregation has chosen disaffiliation.
“Oasis Network congregations and pastors are committed to – and ready for – providing an interim haven of rest and refreshment in which UMC-committed men and women can faithfully determine their next church home,” states Anderson on the Northwest District website.
The Dakotas Conference Cabinet has been in contact with Rev. Charles Anderson. Anderson offers permission and blessings for the Dakotas Conference to utilize the name and begin the Dakotas Oasis Network of Churches.
Rev. Dan Bader, superintendent of the Dakota Conference Southwest District, states that the Dakotas Oasis Network of Churches is a chance to use the power of the United Methodist connectional system.
“We know that there are people who are lost and hurting because they have lost their church home. Our conference covers a large area; if one United Methodist Church closes or leaves, the next one may be quite a distance away. The network is a chance to reach out to people who want to be UMC. We can use our connection creatively to be a safe haven for people who have lost their church home,” said Bader.
After discussion, the four Dakotas Conference District Superintendents invited United Methodist congregations to consider their capacity to offer pastoral care, hospitality, and worship to lay people seeking a United Methodist connection that may be nearby or a distance away.
“We are asking each pastor to prayfully discern their capacity and their congregation's capacity to be part of the Dakotas Oasis Network of Churches,” said Bader
The invitation asks for three specifics areas that churches consider their capacity:
1. Pastor and/or lay care team would have the capacity, space, and desire to provide additional pastoral care.
2. The congregation is prepared to offer intentional welcome, hospitality, and plans for connection for folks who would come to them.
3. The congregation will provide contact information for the pastor and online and worship connection points.
Currently, ten churches have committed to the Dakotas Oasis Network of Churches: Fargo First UMC, Huron Riverview UMC, Plankinton UMC, Rapid City Knollwood Heights UMC, Rapid City Open Heart UMC, Spearfish UMC, Sioux Falls Asbury UMC, Sioux Falls Sunnycrest UMC, Watertown First UMC, and West Fargo Flame of Faith UMC.
“Spearfish UMC has four members of the now-disaffiliated Belle Fourche UMC who reached out and attend worship. Other churches have been creative about connecting through online worship and some small groups,” said Bader.
If your church is ready and wants to be a part of the Dakotas Oasis Network of Churches, reach out to your district superintendent or contact Rev. Dan Bader.
If you feel as if you are losing your church home due to disaffiliation, or if you need pastoral support during this difficult time, remember that you are loved, and there is a place for you in The United Methodist Church. Thanks to our connectional system, we are all in this together.