In June, at the 2021 Annual Conference, Bishop Laurie Haller called for the formation of a special task to map out the future for The United Methodist Church in the Dakotas Conference.
Facing a proposed denominational separation, many United Methodists expect big decisions ahead at the twice delayed 2020 General Conference, scheduled on Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, about where they will make their church home. The proposed split comes after decades of intensifying debate over LGBTQ inclusion. Now the question before many: Do they want to stay with The United Methodist Church or seek out an alternative? Read more about the division.
“One thing I have learned in the short time that I have been your episcopal leader is that there are deep relationships that span theological lines in this Conference,” Bishop Haller stated in the 2021 Episcopal Address. “Although there is an understanding that some churches and pastors will feel called to align with other expressions of Methodism in the future, there is also a value and desire to create a vision for the continuing UMC in the Dakotas - one that is inclusive of traditionalists, centrists, and progressives, believing that our diversity enhances our movement and our witness to the world.”
When Pastor Annie Carlson, who serves the Missouri Valley Parish in North Dakota, first heard about the task force at Annual Conference, she never imagined she would be part of the team. “I thought this was going to be a tough job. An important job,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m just a rookie, so I will not be called to do this sacred, hard work.’ But, God called me anyway to do this work.”
Bishop Haller invited Carlson and 14 people‑clergy and lay, male and female, from North Dakota and South Dakota, to join her on the task force. The group met via Zoom for the first time on October 15.
“The first meeting, we spent time listening and getting to know one another,” said Blaine Wilson, who is serving on the task force and is a member of Southern Hills UMC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “The group is representing a lot of different philosophies and demographics."
At the first meeting, members spent time getting to know one another. Everyone was invited to answer the question: What is God doing in your life that brought you to this conversation?
Carlson reflected on how God might be nudging her to step away from her own myopic view. “We can get caught in the myopic view of ‘what would my church do?’ But when I listen to the reports of the amazing things happening across the Dakotas Conference with camping, scholarships, raising new leaders, helping all churches with a ministry, what happens to all of that? Being connected and making ministry happen together as the Conference is important.”
Wilson states that he had no preconceived notion of what the task force would do or that he would even be a member. Instead, he sees himself as part of many people in the middle, not part of one side or another.
“There is going to be a United Methodist Church in the future. I want to be part of what that looks like. I think the people and churches who see themselves somewhat in the middle, not on this side or that side, want to be part of what the future looks like,” said Wilson
During the meeting, the task force defined the purpose of the group—To develop an artifact that describes the following for the Dakotas Conference:
Over the next several months, the group will listen to various and diverse segments of United Methodists throughout North and South Dakota to gather input regarding the values, vision, and practices of the Dakotas Conference. This effort will include intentional listening sessions with an array of groups. The task force will gather feedback and input using a standard set of questions. The task force members will be responsible for gathering, reflecting on, and articulating the information.
Wilson sees this task as a vital step. “I and members of the task force approach the listening session with no preconceived ideas. Listening to a variety of groups is important work. I look forward to seeing where this takes us,” he said.
Carlson agrees that listening is essential work for the task force, “We have heard a lot of talking on the issues related to sexuality and The United Methodist Church. It is time to model good listening,” she said.
The goal is to draft an artifact that can be shared with the Conference the first week of June of 2022 and then a final draft by October of 2022.
“It was a great first meeting,” said Carlson. “Everyone came to the table with open minds.”
Members of the task force are:
Rev. Ray Baker, pastor serving Fargo Faith, North Dakota
Tara Bush, Plankinton UMC, South Dakota, also helps with White Lake as church staff
Don Caine, member of Jamestown First UMC, North Dakota
Rev. Annie Carlson, pastor serving Missouri Valley Parish, North Dakota
Davis Anderson, student at DWU, student pastor at Ethan, member of Pierre First, South Dakota
Rev. Brandon Dunham, pastor serving Groton and Conde, South Dakota
Allison Galbreath, from Steele, North Dakota, first-year seminary student at Wesley Seminary, Washington, D.C.
Rev. Paul Lint, pastor serving Wesley Acres Camp, Dazey, North Dakota
Rev. Brett Roes, pastor serving Rapid City Canyon Lake, South Dakota
Vicky Vetter, Student Ministry Director at Legacy in Bismarck, North Dakota
Rev. Teresa Whetsel, pastor serving Miller, South Dakota
Blaine Wilson, Member at Sioux Falls Southern Hills, South Dakota, also Certified Lay Minister facilitating the Gayville-Volin pastoral ministry team
Rev. Chang Yi, pastor serving Grand Forks Zion, North Dakota
Sheri Meister, staff representative, Dakotas and Minnesota Foundations
Rev. Rebecca Trefz, cabinet representative, Southeast District Superintendent
Bishop Laurie Haller, interim bishop, Dakotas Conference