Thirty minutes into the clergy-only session of MN Annual Conference 2020, I found myself in my sun-porch home office with my computer, my note pad, and a take-out coffee, attempting to digest what had just happened. Two hundred (or so) MN UMC clergy had all completed 4 hours of preparation for this event, had Zoomed together to an opening announcement that included the strange celebration of being “together” as a body in these times of social distancing. Yes, we had gathered. Were we together, though, in the moment when we sang, as we sing to begin each and every year since John Wesley himself led the singing, “And are we yet alive to see each other’s face?” We sing, not seeing each other’s faces. This is a webinar; the camera only goes one way, and the many see only the few presenters. “What troubles we have seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last.” We sing, never having sung these words quite like this before, knowing that for MOST, if not all of the people virtually “in the room” they were mightily true.
By 8 minutes in we had done all that. Then we moved through those clergy persons and spouses of clergy who have died since last we gathered. Each year, more and more of these are faces familiar to me. Next, comes the list of those retiring. Every one of them laden with associations and memories. We learn also of churches which will discontinue. (More on that on page 17.) And most challenging of all, District Superintendent Dan Johnson, has told us that his young granddaughter, not yet a teen, has died just days ago, an epileptic seizure having ended her life. We wept and prayed together.
And now, at 30 minutes in, it was time to move on. It was time to speak of those being commissioned and ordained. CONGRATULATIONS, Rev. Abigail Ozanne! The Ozanne family – and related UMC clergy folk – made a video recommending Abigail’s application for Full Elder orders that was a delight!
We continued in our work of legislations and ratifications, and prepared for the next day when our numbers would double as the other half of the Conference – the laity – joined for both a morning and afternoon session.
Annual Conference is – or has been – exactly what its name says it is: a once a year gathering – a formal gathering of persons associated in some aspect of commonality – for conversation. This gathering is typically made up of 50% laity and 50% clergy. Retired and active clergy are included, and a matching number of lay persons are intentionally included, so that clergy representation does not predominate all the decisions regarding the life of the denomination.
All of this mathematical balancing was nearly invisible as we met this year! What has traditionally been a three-day gathering in St. Cloud, MN, was this year distilled to an online only Zoom webinar which lasted a total of seven hours over the course of two days. We will share information and videos that may interest you through communications and in worship during September. The next Annual Conference is scheduled for late summer 2021, just BEFORE the rescheduled General Conference, at this point to be held here, in the Twin Cities. Bishop Ough said his formal goodbyes to the body as her retires (having stayed with us 8 years and past his originally appointed time), and David Bard made a statement as the interim Bishop that will serve our Conference until the new Bishop is appointed next year.
More details of what is ahead are sparse, as so much is yet to be determined. There are no major announcements. This was an Annual Conference distilled to necessities and waiting for General Conference decisions that will initiate response. One thing we certainly know: we take up a Love Offering each year. The need has never been greater and our giving has never needed to be more intentional. The Love Offering will remain open during the month ahead, so that we can collect our offering more completely. Thank you for whatever you can share; I know you will give what you can. The funds from this year’s offering will to go to four projects: Simpson Housing Services (40%), Emma Norton Services (40%), Joyce Uptown Foodshelf (10%), and the Committee on Native American Ministry Diaper Drive (10%).
Wild blessings ABOUND,