* By Rev. Cindy Gregorson
“We can press on—or be a footnote in the annals of history, so I stopped by to tell you that Jesus is real!” Bishop Julius Trimble called the North Central Jurisdictional Conference to labor side by side on this Friday morning. He said “you may consider yourself left-leaning or right-leaning but we all better be leaning on the everlasting arms!”
He exhorted the body that it is time to stand up with the good news, because Jesus is real! And how long should we stand to pray and proclaim the gospel: Until justice rolls down as water, and righteousness like a mighty stream? And with those words, the North Central Jurisdictional Conference got down to business. Having completed the election of bishops, delegates focused on how we are called to live as the Church and stand up with the good news in terms of gun violence and homophobia.
Rev. Angelo Mante shared of losing a cousin to gun violence in 2016. That prompted him to move to Fort Wayne and start a ministry directed toward peacemaking. “Our gun violence crisis has reached a state of national emergency,” Mante said. “It’s ravaging communities all across our country. It’s a racial and economic justice crisis, and one of the greatest moral and spiritual crises of our time.”
Alive Community Outreach, the ministry that Mante started, is focused on walking with victims, educating and empowering young persons in the way of non-violence to build peace in their schools and communities, and identifying youth most at risk for perpetrating violence or being victimized and developing intervention. One of the efforts of their ministry is the development of a Peacemaker Academy at South Side High School which is one of the most racially-diverse schools in Fort Wayne. Out of that experience, in response to the on-going need, a staff person was hired to support an after-school peace club.
“Students want to make a difference, want to make peace,” Mante said. “The students are reminding us adults that yes, they are our future, but they’re reminding us that they are our present. They have the desire and capacity to change the world right now.”
Mante urged all United Methodists to work for peace and to end gun violence by finding someone locally who is doing this work and coming alongside them or by volunteering at your school.
Later in the day, the conference heard testimony from three persons on their experience in the church with homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.
Rev. Angie Cox talked about being deferred by the Board of Ordained Ministry multiple times, not because of her gifts and call to ministry, but because of her sexual orientation. Kiri Anne Ryan Bereznai spoke of being an autistic, non-binary, trans woman with a long pedigree of experience in The United Methodist Church and yet not being fully accepted. Rev. Mary Ann Moman recounted her experience with heterosexism in the presiding at a wedding of two men, Michael and Allen, and the objectification the couple experienced in the press after the story of the wedding went public. After listening intently to each of these presentations, the body was invited to sit in a circle with one another and talk about how we, as a church, can live into our baptismal covenant that proclaims all persons as beloved children of God.
Bishops sat with delegates, visitors and alternates sat together, and they shared their own stories and heart. The time of deep conversation concluded with an act of prayer and confession.
Following the time of sharing, Walker Brault, lay delegate, brought a motion for the Jurisdictional Conference to adopt the resolution entitled “Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in The UMC“. This resolution called for annual conferences and the jurisdiction to not pursue or resolve in an appropriately timely fashion through a non-punitive, just resolution process any complaints against clergy and bishops regarding their sexual orientation or clergy who officiate weddings of LGBTQIA+ persons and commit to a future of The United Methodist Church where LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered in the life and ministry of the church in our jurisdiction. The resolution passed 129-33.
A decision of law of the bishop was requested if any of the provisions of this resolution contradict The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and limit the rights and obligations of bishops and Board of Ordained Ministries as required under The Book of Discipline. A decision of law requires the presiding bishop to submit a written response to the Judicial Council about the appropriateness of the action taken by the Jurisdictional Conference.
In other actions, the North Central Jurisdiction approved re-instituting a jurisdictional committee on ordained ministry. It passed resolutions on a Code of Ethics and Leading with Integrity, both of which speak to how delegates and leaders in the Church need to make decisions in the best interests of the future of The United Methodist Church, and if planning to disaffiliate, to recuse themselves from leadership roles. Affirmation was also given to the formation of a U.S. Regional Conference through support of the Christmas Covenant and Connectional Table legislation proposing the establishment of regional conferences.
The 2023-2024 Jurisdictional budget was approved with apportionments in the amount of $211,777 and $212,075 to be apportioned among the 10 annual conferences in 2023 and 2024 respectively.
The ministry of the Rev. Paul White was recognized at the conclusion of the day’s business. White is retiring as NCJ Conference secretary after many, many years of service.
General and Jurisdictional Conference 2024
Dates and locations were announced for the next gatherings of the general church. General Conference 2024 will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, April 23-May 3, 2024. Jurisdictional conferences will be held in the five regions around the U.S. July 10-13, 2024. The North Central Jurisdictional Conference will take place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of Connectional Ministries/clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference.