The 30th session of the Dakotas Annual Conference gathered more than 450 United Methodists for inspiring worship, business, conversations about who and where we are and celebrating clergy milestones.
Bishop Lanette Plambeck, elected to the episcopacy on Nov. 3, 2022, and assigned to the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, presided. Bishop Bill McAlilly, the resident bishop for the Nashville Episcopal Area serving the Tennessee and Western Kentucky Conference, assisted.
Drawing on Luke 24:13-35, this year’s gathering theme was “Encounter. Transform. Respond. The Emmaus Experience.” This post-resurrection story, where everything has changed, and the implications still seem a bit cloudy, mirrors the time and space we live in as a church. Like the two disciples, we are on the road, asking deep questions and trying to make sense of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus today. And we, too, are finding that we encounter Christ in transforming ways when we do.
The Emmaus Road story makes the impossible possible as the world is made right again through encounters with the resurrected Christ, who brings healing, reconciliation and hope. In her inaugural Episcopal Address, Plambeck reminded attendees that this story for the two disciples on the road is our story too. During this challenging time in The United Methodist Church, she invited Dakotas United Methodists to move forward and declare that there is enough love for all of us, and she reminded each person: “You are loved. You are a child of God and a person of worth. There are no exceptions.” (View the Episcopal Address.)
The 2022-23 Missional Report highlighted how Dakotas United Methodists have been leaning into the story of the Road to Emmaus. We encounter Jesus, are transformed, and make disciples like Jesus — our rock and redeemer, working in and through all of us. “We have seen first-hand that, even as we seek to follow Jesus closely, the way forward will not be without struggle. We know this is especially true as we navigate the divisions within our denomination and how they manifest in our churches and relationships,” the Rev. Jeanne Sortland, chair of the Dakotas Conference Common Table, told attendees at the 2023 Annual Conference. ( View the 2022-23 Missional Report.)
The Rev. Michael Beck, co-pastor of two Florida churches and a network of “fresh expressions” led by laity that gather in various community venues and public spaces around shared interests and hobbies, led several learning sessions. He talked about fresh expressions as a new movement of Christian communities where people without a connection to the church find life and encounter Christ. Dinner church, whereby people gather to share a meal, is an easy starting point for a fresh expression, Beck said. Some of the other new expressions he’s involved with take place in a tattoo parlor, restaurant, virtual reality space, dog park and even Tesla charging stations.
Voting members ratified 24 church disaffiliation agreements. To date, 43 congregations have disaffiliated, representing a decrease of 11 percent in membership.
The 2024 budget and spending plans were approved, including apportionments and direct billing, totaling more than $5.8 million. The 2024 apportioned spending plan of $3.06 million represents a 7.5% decrease from 2023 and 15.8% from 2022.
A resolution encouraging every local church to create a Green Team or strengthen an existing one for action in four areas each year — worship, education, practice and advocacy — providing children, youth and adults of all ages with inspiration, knowledge, encouragement and practical means for caring for creation and justice passed with overwhelming support.
A resolution to form a committee that supports individual churches, groups, districts or other United Methodists groups to facilitate formal and informal groups like Circle of Friends or other ministry and outreach programs with the support and resources of the non-permanent standing committee was approved.
The body approved modifications to processes and policies for clergy related to vacation, sick leave, parental leave, continuing education, weekly time off, leave for annual conference, connectional responsibilities, eight-year assessment leave, short-term renewal leave, long-term renewal leave and sabbatical leave.
The suspension of Dakotas Conference Standing Rules 6.2 (tenure) and 6.3 (limitations) until the presentation of the slate of nominations for election by the 2025 regular session of annual conference was affirmed.
Plambeck ruled a request for a November special session out of order, stating the request did not meet the requirements of paragraph 603.5 of The Book of Discipline that reads, “A special session of the annual conference may be held at such a time, and in such a place, as shall have been determined by the annual conference after consultation with the bishop.” No consultation was held with the resident bishop, Plambeck; therefore, the petition was ruled out of order.
A resolution was put forward to add language to clarify the retiree health policy (p. 180, The 2022 Conference Journal) to include “Once retired, clergy need not maintain membership in the Dakotas UMC to retain this benefit.” A motion to refer this matter to the Board of Pensions succeeded.
What does it mean to abide? This was the question set before the conference on Friday morning by Bishop Bill McAlilly, preaching during the worship service. For McAlilly, the answer can be found in trust and service.
During the same worship service, Plambeck invited those present to the 2023 Miracle Offering: The Road to Hope. “We need to reach into our pockets, not only for financial gifts but also to let people know that every local church is a pocket of hope,” she said. During the offering, $42,000 was collected for the 2023 Miracle Offering. In response to the increasing numbers of deaths by suicide, ideation of suicide, attempts among youth in North and South Dakota and the mental health crisis in our nation, the offering recipients are Helpline of South Dakota and FirstLink of North Dakota.
The Celebration of Life in Ministry Service was held at First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Those gathered honored and thanked 14 clergy entering retirement. They celebrated a pastor ordained as an elder, four commissioned as provisional members, eight local licensed pastors who completed their educational requirements and six people authorized to serve as local pastors in the congregations and ministry areas in which they are appointed.
Membership stands at 29,985, as reported by churches in 2022. This represents a decrease of 5,466 from the membership of 35,451 reported in 2021. Worship attendance is 10,980 in 2022, down 1,892 from 12,782 in 2021. Professions and reaffirmations of faith for 2022 stand at 322, down 29 from 351 in 2021. There were 322 adult and young adult small groups in 2022, down 29 from the 351 reported in 2021. In 2022, 4,416 Dakotas United Methodists engaged in mission, representing a decrease of 1,131 from the 5,547 reported in 2022.
The Dakotas Annual Conference will meet virtually in a special session on August 15, 2023. The thirty-first session is set for June 6-8, 2024, in Bismarck, North Dakota.
— By Doreen Gosmire, director of Communications, Dakotas Annual Conference