2023 Mountain Sky Annual Conference

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We prepared for the 2023 Session of the Mountain Sky Annual Conference (MSC) with a Call to Conference from Bishop Karen Oliveto, explaining the theme of this year’s conference, “Give Me Your Hand.”

Bishop Karen shared how John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote the following:

“If thine heart is as my heart,” if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: “Give me thine hand.”

In her Call, Bishop Karen inspired clergy and laity of the MSC to take one another’s hands as we journeyed to First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to do the business of our shared life together – approving candidates for commissioning and ordination, approving our budget, affirming new leaders for the work of the conference, and for sessions of learning and personal enrichment. 

Annual Conference 2023 opened with worship that acknowledged our lament while searching for hope and new ways God works in the world. The worship included inspirational messages from the Co-Lay Leaders and Youth Council that encouraged the body to engage in meaningful conversations and become agents of charge in the conference. After a dinner break, Bishop Karen called the formal session to order, and the Rules Committee, GNTV and Trustees provided summary reports. Bishop Karen then led the formal disaffiliation of 38 churches from the Mountain Sky Annual Conference. She prayed for the disaffiliated churches as they formed a new identity apart from the conference. She also recognized the conference’s grief with the absence of these communities and reiterated that the MSC will continue to “affirm the dignity of every child of God.” 

Bishop Karen then shared the following message, inspiring hundreds of attendees to stand, sharing a “beacon of light” out of respect for all who still, regardless of decisions made to leave our conference, still belong

“As we release these churches, we want the clergy and members of the disaffiliated churches to know we are holding you with tender prayers. May God bless you as you establish a new identity apart from the Mountain Sky Conference and The United Methodist Church and may God bless your ministries.

At the same time, I want to acknowledge the grief we hold in this moment. Our own identity as the Mountain Sky Conference has been shaped by your presence among us, as clergy colleagues and as laity sharing in ministry. We, too, have a new identity to establish as the Mountain Sky Conference. We, too, have ministries to strengthen, a witness to be even bolder as we seek to share the love of Christ Jesus in tangible ways across our conference.

If your church has disaffiliated yet you wish to remain United Methodist, you may transfer your membership to another UMC. If there are none in your area at this time, or you haven’t found the right church yet either online or in person, you may transfer your membership to the conference and we will hold your membership until you find a UM faith community.

I want to be clear that even as we change because there are some who no longer want to be in relationship with us as United Methodists, there are some things that are unchanging:

We will continue to serve our triune God.

We will continue to follow Jesus Christ.

We will continue to be led by the Holy Spirit.

We will continue to affirm our faith as Christians.

We will continue to ground ourselves in Scripture and hold it as an authority for our lives.

We will continue to allow our faith to be informed by the unique ways we United Methodists do theology, which is through the primacy of Scripture as informed by Tradition, Experience and Reason.

We will continue to be Wesleyan, grounded in grace, grace and even more grace.

We will continue to affirm our connectional system, knowing that we can make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world more effectively in our neighborhoods and around the world together than we ever could separately.

We will continue to ensure the dignity of every child of God, and make sure they are welcomed in our churches for who God has created them to be, not who we think they ought to be.

Within the DNA of our denomination as United Methodists are the stuff of schisms and splintering, yet also the stuff of reunions and reunitings. 

Who knows what God holds for us, whether disaffiliating or remaining United Methodist. However, I do believe God seeks a unity that defies our own desires. 

As I have held this in my heart and pondered this in my prayers, a voice keeps coming up: “I’m Tom Bodette for Motel Six, and we will leave the light on for you.” 

The second day began with concurrent meetings of the MSC laity and clergy. The laity celebrated Deaconesses, Lay Servants, and Quiet Disciples at the Laity Session. Other ministries were highlighted, including a Table for All, United Women in Faith and prison ministries. The laity nominated Susan McIntosh, Denver; Barry Welliver, Utah; Nancy Flint, Montana; Wes Reynolds, Denver; and Debora Peterson, Palisade, Colorado, as candidates for co-Lay Leaders. The election of the co-Lay Leaders will occur at the 2024 Annual Conference Session. Piper Sumner offered an informative presentation on Fresh Expressions, which helps congregations explore ways of reaching new people outside of traditional churches.

Newly licensed local pastors, commissioned candidates and ordained elders (Janita Krayniak, Kim Schultz, Liza Stolz-Hanson, Lynne Tabb, and Debria Upton) were celebrated during the Clergy Session. Bishop Karen honored retiring clergy, Clergy Saints, and clergy with 20 or more years of service. Bishop Karen also led the clergy in small group discussions and other business. For lunch, clergy and laity gathered for conversation and Tug-o-Love!

A highlight reel is found here: Tug-o-Love

The afternoon session celebrated conference ministries, including the Disaster Response Team, Global Ministries, East Angola Team and the Africa University. MSC Camps presented a video highlighting their activities and adventures. Throughout the session and the Laity Session, guest speaker the Rev. Janet Wolf energized the body by reviewing scriptures in the bible and the impacts of systemic racism and oppression. Her three addresses can be viewed in their entirety here:

Janet Wolf_First in series

Janet Wolf_Second in series

Janet Wolf_Final in series

The nomination, budget and treasurer’s reports were shared, and several petitions were approved. The body voted to create a new MSC Green Team and redistricted the conference to six geographic districts (Montana West, Montana East, Wyoming, Utah/Western Colorado, Eastern/South Central Colorado, and Colorado Front Range) with permeable supervisory boundaries. The second day was closed with MSC Workshops. 

The reading of clergy appointments, balloting on the closure of five churches (Christ Central, Carter, Fleming, Redstone, and St. James United Methodist churches), approval of the budget, and election of MSC leaders (nomination report) were completed on the final day of the session. Ninety percent of the proposed petitions were approved. 

Bishop Karen also led a powerful memorial service to commemorate the lives of MSC clergy and spouses and welcomed Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth. Bishop Cedrick addressed the body and shared his personal story (“Intersecting Identities Are Tools of Liberation”) as a Black, gay, faithful man. Before Bishop Karen adjourned the session, Annie Arnoldy announced that the 2024 Annual Conference Session would be in Casper, Wyoming. 

For a full experience of the Ordination Service, please enjoy it here: Ordination Service 

As a result of our Mission Event and several other collections made throughout the four-day gathering, the MSC raised $12,295 to be distributed to the following programs and funds:

East Angola pastor support, Family of Promise of Colorado Springs, the Clergy Covenant Fund, Rocky Mountain College, lay scholarships and UMARC. 

More detailed information on the petitions and disaffiliations is available on the conference website and a full experience of our time together, albeit it just a snapshot, can be seen here:

Visual Recap of Annual Conference 2023

Evelyn D. Warren, communications director, Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church



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