The United Methodist Church continues to face challenges related to the denomination’s decades-long, intensifying debate over the status of LGBTQ+ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous and asexual — people within the life of the Church.
More than 350 voting members of the Dakotas Conference, the regional body of United Methodist Churches in North and South Dakota, meeting June 11-12 in a hybrid format, addressed some of these challenges, proposed ways to address it amicably and maintain relationships, and celebrated shared ministry.
“My friends, these next months are going to be challenging for the United Methodist Church,” Bishop Laurie Haller said in her first sermon to the Dakotas annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
In anticipation of pending legislation and action of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the denomination’s top law-making assembly — postponed twice by the pandemic — Haller and the Dakotas Conference Cabinet have put processes in place for congregations across North and South Dakota, to listen, discern and move forward into the future.
The Dakotas Conference Strategy Team is focused on how new and continuing Methodist expressions might share mission and ministry across denominational lines as well as support to equip churches and leaders in navigating future changes in the denomination. A new task force will focus on beginning to clarify and articulate the vision and values for those who feel called to remain in the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Voting members affirmed all legislation put before them during the 28th session of the Dakotas Conference including: the ratification of a disaffiliation agreement allowing Prairie Winds Church in Dickinson, North Dakota, to leave the United Methodist Church; affirmation of a resolution advocating for the inclusion of all people in the life of the church; and voting yes to a resolution calling for boards and related agencies of the Dakotas Conference to begin planning for a separation of the denomination.
In March of 2021, Prairie Winds United Methodist Church in Dickinson, N.D., voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church in compliance with the Dakotas Conference process for disaffiliation. The final step of the disaffiliation process is the ratification of an agreement written in cooperation with the Dakotas Conference treasurer, Board of Trustees, Chancellor, the local pastor and local church board of trustees. The agreement outlines obligations and next steps related to property, financial responsibilities and church records. The agreement was ratified on June 11, 2021, by the Dakotas Conference, with 233 members voting yes and 122 members voting no.
Resolution 1.2 A Vision for a More Just Church urges the Dakotas Conference to welcome LGBTQ+ persons into leadership, including actions of the Board of Ordained Ministry regarding candidates for ministry, local congregations to welcome and include LGBTQ+ members in full participation, respect clergy’s discernment on marrying same-sex couples. Furthermore, it urges the bishop to refrain from conducting clergy trials. The resolution was affirmed by a vote of 179 yes votes and 172 no votes. This resolution is currently under judicial review as to compliance with the 2016 Book of Discipline.
Resolution 1.3 Resolution to Prepare for a Denominational Separation directs the Dakotas Conference to act in the following manner to prepare for a potential denominational separation:
The Common Table recognizes prospective leadership. Board of Pensions and Dakotas United Methodist Foundation prepare to serve multiple Methodist denominations.
Conference Council on Finance and Administration prepare a proposal of equitable division of cash and investments.
Camp and Retreat Ministry Council prepare a proposal for a shared camping ministry across denominational lines.
The Missional Impact Link prepares to independently incorporate Spirit Lake Ministry Center and Solar Oven Partners and transfer land owned in Mission, South Dakota, to Tree of Life Ministries.
The Human Resources Committee provides direction to guide the personnel needs of the Dakotas Conference.
These tasks are to be completed by the 2022 session of the annual conference. The resolution passed with a vote of 294 yes votes and 40 no votes.
In other matters before the body, a 2022 budget was approved with a slight decrease in spending, nearly $40,000 was raised to address food insecurity in North and South Dakota, four clergy were commissioned as provisional elders, three were ordained as elders, the retirement of five clergy was celebrated and the slate of nominations for all committees, boards and agencies was approved. Rev. Rachel Billups from Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio rounded out the event, teaching about following Jesus through difficult conversations and reimagining the church post-COVID.
The Dakotas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is one of 54 annual conferences in the United States and 75 additional annual conferences internationally. The Dakotas Conference has a membership of 35,000 and 235 congregations. The central office for professional staff and ministry for United Methodists in North and South Dakota is in Mitchell, S.D.