by Rev. Carol Zaagsma
Soon after the Special Session of General Conference 2019, a group of clergy and laity gathered with the common belief that the Traditional Plan does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church. Minnesota Methodists was created as a grassroots movement to carry us forward together into the next expression of Methodism. We envision a Methodism rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation. Two public statements were crafted: one for clergy to sign and another for laity, clergy and congregations to sign. The two statements and a list of signatories may be found at minnesotamethodists.org.
Minnesota Methodists submitted two items for action at the recent session of annual conference. The “Statement Regarding the Traditional Plan,” asked the Minnesota Annual Conference to formally recognize the harm it does and to resolve not to perpetuate it in any form. This affirmation was adopted with 80.51% support.
What perhaps distinguishes the Minnesota Annual Conference from others is a second action titled “Moving Forward – A Vision,” which is aspirational and articulates an inclusive, justice-oriented, Wesleyan vision for the Church. Amid challenging denominational times, our conference leaders have encouraged us to determine what kind of conference we’re going to be in the ways we choose to treat and engage with one another, especially with those of differing viewpoints.
The Minnesota Methodists Steering Team reasoned that if the vision of the Traditional Plan doesn’t reflect our values we need to make plain what our alternate vision is for United Methodism. I was thrilled that “Moving Forward – A Vision,” was adopted by an overwhelming 85.10% of the voting members.
There are two key reasons for this tremendous level of support: 1) our process of writing the vision statement was collaborative with open discussion before the vote at pre-conference district gatherings; and 2) we provided time for a respectful conversation process along with holy conferencing at the annual conference session before casting our votes.
Our process was collaborative and we understand our vision statement to be a living document that will continue to evolve. We solicited and incorporated feedback from many through several iterative drafts and intentionally broadened the conversation by soliciting and incorporating feedback from a theologically diverse group of people. We drew on scripture, tradition, reason and experience to create what we believe to be the start of a beautiful vision for our future. The pre-conference district gatherings were hosted by our district superintendents and provided settings to review how the legislation would be considered at annual conference. There was plenty of time for folks to ask questions and learn more about why the statement was needed.
The way the vision statement was discussed and voted on at annual conference was also instrumental in gaining strong support. Our planning team worked with the Minnesota Council of Churches to guide the members through what they called a “Respectful Conversations” process. This process sought to help all be heard, rather than using the time to try to change each other’s minds.
We were randomly assigned to tables of 8 and our facilitators taught us guidelines for having Respectful Conversations. With each of three questions, we went around the table, giving every person 2 minutes to say whatever they wanted to in response to the questions. If they didn’t choose to talk or finished early, the rest of the table sat in silence for the remainder of their allotted time. While not everyone was a fan of the process, there were many compliments.
Respectful Conversations set the stage for the Holy Conferencing process that followed. Instead of organizing for a big debate relying on parliamentary procedure, the conference set aside 45 minutes for a process that didn’t require equal numbers of speeches for or against. Instead, as many people as wanted to spoke for an allotted amount of time to simply share their perspectives as all were invited to listen with care. This was followed by a ballot vote.
The “Statement Regarding the Traditional Plan,” and “Moving Forward – A Vision,” are aspirational documents to help the Minnesota Annual Conference articulate who we are as the Body of Christ. While we know that we are not all of one mind regarding how to address LGBTQIA+ inclusion, we nevertheless emerged with a clear and strong affirmation of who we aim to become as the people called United Methodists in Minnesota.