April 25, 2016
Recently, I met with a group of pastors who all serve very part-time churches. They are all part of the same circuit and requested a meeting with me to talk through what resources I might have to offer them. Like all pastors it was obvious they cared deeply about their churches and the communities they are in. Yet, most did not live in the same community as their congregations, several had other full-time jobs, and a couple were from another denomination. The challenges were plentiful.
It was a sometimes spirited and mostly hopeful conversation. I was deeply impressed by their universal wiliness to move forward with something even though we hadn’t done this type of work with is size church yet. They didn’t hesitate in being our “pilot” group.
Later that same week I attended one of the Mission Shaped Future listening sessions. Though the crowd was small, again we had a sometimes spirited and mostly hopeful conversation. The comment that stuck out to me the most came from a clergy person who reflected on the almost obsessive nature United Methodists demonstrate toward annual conferences. He then said, “Church structure is interesting to me, but it doesn’t give me life.” All I wanted to say in reply is, "Amen."
Both of these conversations led me personally to the same place. It is the work of the local church that gives me life. It is working to help bring new vitality to existing churches and helping to birth new communities of faith that gives me life. It is what gives life to the group of small church pastors I met with and what gave life to the clergy who commented at our listening session.
Life has always come with the local church strives to more fully reflect the kingdom of God.
I often say I have the best job in the conference and I continue to think that is true, despite not personally sampling any others, admittedly. I’m blessed to be personally engaged in helping bring new life to many different congregations. It is an honor along with a great deal of hard work.
I can also say, from my perspective as a bridge person between the conference structure and the local church, there is much that needs to be improved. Nearly everyone I talk to asks the same question: how will creating a new conference benefit the local church? This is a fair question that it’s hard to answer in concrete terms yet. However, it is painfully obvious to me that things at the conference level need to be radically different. The structure we have inherited was built during a time with the role of the conference was the capture the life present in the local churches, combine it with others, and deploy it in various ways. The annual conference as we know it today is poorly equipped to help bring life to local congregations because it has been built on the assumption that life is already there.
I have great faith that if we remain faithful and focused in our work, moving forward the decision to create a new conference will be remembered as a watershed moment for Wesleyan ministry in our area.
Rev. Jeremy Scott
Why a new annual conference?
The people of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences will have different reasons for moving into the future together.
I, personally, have three reasons for openness to these conversations, beyond the joy of the cross-conference friendships I already have with colleagues.
First, I would love for us to reclaim the purpose and priorities of an annual conference, to renew and expand Wesleyan values and vitality so that we might “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I would like to align more and more people and resources toward the three priorities of an annual conference: vital congregations, fresh expressions, and leadership for these settings.
So (second), I see the invitation from the Yellowstone Conference as an opportunity for intervention on our mission diffusion and weighty institution. In this new creation, we could re-claim our mission, focus on the purpose of an annual conference, and become more nimble in response to change. What if we stopped doing everything in order to do the most important things?
I know we could do this on our own, but will we? Can we overcome the inertia of our current system? If the system is designed to get the results we’re getting, don’t we need a new system to get different results?
And (third), this is a chance to remember who we are: people of grace and Wesleyan vitality. Can we live that kind of zeal and passion again as we welcome neighbors?
Rev. Janet Forbes
April 11, 2016
The Future Discernment Listening Sessions scheduled throughout the Mountain Sky Area during April and May will gather lay and clergy leaders together to consider the Mission Shaped Future Petition to the Western Jurisdictional Conference: We seek approval from the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church to realign the boundaries of the Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences to form one, new annual conference, following, and contingent upon, the full discernment and agreement of the two participating conferences. (The full text with exhibits is available here)
The Western Jurisdictional Conference (WJC) meets every four years and will not meet again until July 2020. An approval from the WJC would provide the needed flexibility to form a new annual conference before 2020, when and if the conferences are ready.
The Mountain Sky Shared Futures Committee was formed in 2014 to explore the question of common purpose between the two existing conferences. The committee discovered and validated a common charge for the shared mission, vision, and context. In its report to each annual conference in 2015, this team made a recommendation to continue moving forward toward one, new annual conference.
The Mission Shaped Future Groups One and Two, formed in 2015, continue to discover shared mission, vision, and context and fully validates the discoveries of the former group. The Mission Shaped Future Group has formed its recommendation for continued work with the crafting of this legislation.
John Wesley said: "I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field."
We desire to reclaim our mission field in the spirit of John Wesley.
Rev. Janet Forbes
Geography is a great blessing to the Mountain Sky Area. Yellowstone Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, the rivers, plains, and mountains that bring beauty and economy to our area. As a person who grew up in the flat eastern plains of Montana, I easily appreciate the landscape it offers. Today, blessed with ability to make regular visits to Yellowstone I relish in its wonders.
The West simply wouldn’t be what it is without our geography. At the same time, that geography and its sheer size presents us with a challenge. How do we maintain connection and community when the distances are so vast? Freeways help. Airports help. The dedication of committed disciples, lay and clergy, to drive, sometimes great distances, helps tremendously. We have learned how to overcome what divides us in our efforts to remain connected.
Today also affords opportunities that weren’t available even a few short years ago. About 5 years ago, the Dakotas conference launched its DAVID system. Currently there are more than a dozen sites with dedicated video conferencing equipment across North and South Dakota. The system is used to facilitate meetings and trainings, and recently was expanded into Minnesota as they are now together in one episcopal area. They have reported not only a tremendous savings in travel expenses but also greater and richer participation in meetings and trainings. This is an experiment we can and are learning from.
Technology has continued to advance since the DAVID system went live and similar technology can be deployed for far less cost now. Today, three sites with dedicated video conferencing hardware exists in the Mountain Sky Area, Denver, Colorado, Billings, Montana, and Great Falls, Montana. Yellowstone Conference has seen early fruit from this investment and will be expanding the number of sites to include Miles City, Montana, Kalispell, Montana, Missoula, Montana, and Lander, Wyoming.
Our geography is no longer the detriment it once was. The 21st century offers us new ways to communicate that simply didn’t exist even 4 years ago. We will need to adapt how we gather, but with even a small investment we have the opportunity to enjoy greater and richer participation in those gatherings.
All of this points to the real opportunity creating a new conference provides. We will be able to reinvent how we function as a conference around the new technologies that exist today. Making us not only more efficient, but better connected to each other across our vast and amazing geography. We need to become a 21st-century organization and the real opportunity to do so is in front of us.
Rev. Jeremy Scott
March 28, 2016
The coming together of Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences to form a new conference is a unique opportunity that can happen almost no other way. As we explore the possibilities of this work the term "merger" is often used. Unfortunately, mergers have a poor track record of producing the depth of change most of us recognize as necessary. This has been true for both conference mergers and local church mergers.
For the local church it is now considered common knowledge that a traditional merger of two declining congregations will yield a single declining congregation. Almost never does a traditional merger produce the kind of fruit necessary to bring vitality and life back to the combined congregation. Yet more recently, we have also learned there is another way, a strategy we call a Vital Merger. Personally, I would drop the term merger all together but that is the dominant language used today.
The hallmark of the vital merger is first and foremost the recognition the coming together of these two (or more) churches is the creation of something new not a continuation of what exists now. Where this becomes more than sentiment is that in a vital merger it is an expectation from the beginning that each congregation as part of the process divest of their property and the new congregation will find a new home to begin their ministry in.
In a vital merger literally everything is laid before God like the earliest Jesus followers we find in Acts. And through this sacrificial action God is working in new and amazing ways.
Vital mergers are hard, but present one of the best opportunities available to bring a real hope for vitality to declining local churches. Conferences across the connection are investing in vital merger processes for local congregations and seeing rates of success that far exceed any other strategy. A strong majority of vital mergers are successful, meaning they lead to a congregation that is able to reach new people and grow. This is compared to less than 20% of traditional mergers.
This is something we can learn from and find hope in as we pursue the question what does creating one new conference look like? I believe strongly that this strategy is applicable to creating a new conference as it is to creating a new local congregation. I also believe that we will be called to lay all that we have as a conference before God just like the earliest Jesus followers did.
Finally, I believe that if we do that well, God will be able to use us in new, amazing, and likely unpredictable ways. I, for one, can’t wait to see what those will be.
Rev. Jeremy Scott
A blessed day of resurrection!
Friends, as Easter People, Christ calls us to be recreated anew. We are invited to become a new thing that moves the Mountain Sky Area toward a holy communion of both the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences to better serve the forming of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We have been listening to your yearning for hope and your questions of process. Our legislative writing team is now crafting a permission-giving petition that will ask the Western Jurisdictional Conference (which determines the boundaries of conferences) to give us the time and flexibility we need to craft a mission-driven, vision-pulled, relationship-enhancing, process-transparent framework for our life together. The granting of this kind of flexibility over the span of the quadrennium (2016-2020) is not unusual for jurisdictional bodies.
This is the current DRAFT LANGUAGE of the Action to be Voted On: We seek approval from the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church to realign the boundaries of the Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Annual Conferences to form one, new annual conference, following the full discernment and agreement of the two participating conferences.
Once the petition language has been finalized in the next few weeks, this request will go to the June sessions of the Rocky Mountain Conference (June 9-12) and Yellowstone Conference (June 16-18) and to the Western Jurisdictional Conference (July 13-16).
FUTURE DISCERNMENT sessions are now being scheduled throughout the Mountain Sky Area to share the conversations, raise questions, and gather our best wisdom. Details will be available through conference and district websites soon.
I am, as always, grateful for your studied, grace-full participation in our learning and leading together.
Rev. Janet Forbes
March 7, 2016
Welcome to the conversations of the Mission Shaped Future as together (The Mountain Sky Area), we move toward the creation of a new annual conference.
The Rocky Mountain Conference will conduct a written ballot on the MISSION SHAPED FUTURE PETITION during the Annual Conference session, June 9-12, 2016. The Yellowstone Conference will conduct a written ballot on the petition on June 16-18, 2016. Announcement of the ballot results will be coordinated so that the announcement be made jointly. The petition will ready for your review by our legislative deadlines.
I am, personally, supportive of this coming together vision. Over two decades of conversations, I have grown cherished spiritual friendships with brothers and sisters throughout the area. My covenant of connection has expanded to include congregations and leaders from Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.
As a ministry system analyst, I covet this invitation to intervene on our burgeoning bureaucracy and re-claim our mission. This is an opportunity to align our resources to our priorities: (1) renew and establish vital congregations; (2) develop leaders who are gifted at empowering communities of faith; and (3) establish new faith communities (Fresh Expressions) to meet the needs of our unique mission field. What if we actually stop doing some things in order to do the most important things?
Thank you for joining the conversations.
Grace, Rev. Janet Forbes
As a member of the Yellowstone Conference for several years and staff to the Mountain Sky Area for Vital Congregations for the last two years I have a deep appreciation for the unique strengths of both the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference. I am also blessed to see first hand, almost daily, the fruitfulness that comes when we cooperate together.
I am the convener for Mission Shaped Future Group 2 and it is our task to articulate the missional priorities coming together as a new conference would help us accomplish. To make certain this does not devolve into simple an exercise in prolonged institutional survival it is critical to state from the beginning what we hope to accomplish through this work. We must state our values and our hoped for outcomes now and hold ourselves to them as the work progresses. This is what Group 2 is working on right now and we are starting with a set of nine questions, the first four of which are:
We believe that by gaining clarity around these first four questions future decisions about strategy, how the new conference will live and operate, will be easier to determine. It will also hedge against decisions being driven primarily by personal preferences of those in positions of authority.
No one is more eager to see the product of this work from Group 2 than we are. Yet, we are committed to providing something that will add thoughtfully to the conversation currently underway. We are having conversations both with-in the team and with other various stakeholders in both conferences. This is an important task, but also one that takes time. As we continue to work diligently I invite your prayers for members of our team and for this process as a whole.
Rev. Jeremy Scott