As many of you know, changes in episcopal supervision in the North Central Jurisdiction were announced last summer because of the postponement of both the 2020 General Conference and the North Central Jurisdictional Conference due to COVID-19. Because Bishop Bruce Ough is retiring from the Dakotas-Minnesota Conference on December 31, 2020, and will be serving part-time as the Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops, I was asked to assume episcopal oversight of the Dakotas Annual Conference for the year 2021. This is in addition to continuing my responsibilities as the resident bishop here in Iowa. Similarly, Bishop David Bard of Michigan will assume episcopal oversight for the Minnesota Annual Conference in 2021.
When a friend found about my new assignment, he did some research and wrote to me, “The combined area of Iowa and the Dakotas is more than twice the size of the entire United Kingdom, counting Ireland, though I think they may have more folks over there!”
For those of you who like stats, the Dakotas Conference has 245 congregations, with 35,735 church members and a weekly average attendance of 22,737. And for those who enjoy trivia, the North Dakota town of Rugby is considered to be the geographic center of the North American continent. Emmanuel United Methodist Church is located in Rugby.
The “Vision” of the Dakotas Conference, however, is not trivial at all. The Dakotas vision is for every congregation to live out God’s call to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world; and to passionately and respectfully offer Christ in a Wesleyan way that speaks to our cultural context. This resonates in many ways with our Vision statement for the Iowa Annual Conference, “God’s hope for the world, made real through faithful leaders, fruitful communities, and fire-filled people.”
This assignment will be challenging. During 2021, I will be sharing my time between Iowa and the Dakotas, and I ask for your grace when I am not able to respond as soon as I would like to. Fortunately, having previously served as pastor of a two-point charge, I have experienced what it means to balance the needs of more than one congregation. At the same time, as people of faith called United Methodist, we are called to “watch over one another in love.” Almost all of my ministry with the Dakotas Conference will be done virtually, as it is in Iowa.
I look forward to sharing my Epiphany Address with you on January 4. I also plan to continue writing Leading from the Heart every week, sharing my blog with both conferences. And I will continue to discern ways to encourage United Methodist congregations in both Iowa and the Dakotas to live out their vision and mission for vital ministry. It is a joy to be your episcopal leader, and I pray God’s blessing upon you as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth.