On Saturday, November 19, 2022, more than 400 people gathered at Legacy United Methodist Church in Bismarck, North Dakota, First United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota, Canyon Lake United Methodist Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, and First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to worship and sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness," UMH 140.
Bishop Deborah Kiesey, interim bishop for the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church, stated that "Great is Thy Faithfulness" is one of her all-time favorite hymns in her message during the worship service.
She paraphrased the words saying, "Great is thy faithfulness. You don't change. Your compassions they aren't going to fail. And as You have been, You will always be. All creation witnesses to Your great faithfulness, mercy, and love. You give us strength for today and hope for tomorrow."
The opening worship framed a day that shaped the ratification of disaffiliation agreements of 18 churches. Bishop Deb stated that this day will mark a change for the Dakotas Conference but not God's faithfulness.
She said, "Our world changes so fast. It is hard to keep up with it all. Today will bring about another change. By the end of the day, we will be a different church than we were at the beginning. But God's faithfulness remains."
"Even though the tasks of the day mark the departing pathway for some," Kiesey stated, "As God is faithful to us, we are called to be faithful to God. I believe with all my heart that each of us is trying to be faithful in our own way. Sometimes that means walking a different path."
Business: 18 disaffiliation agreements ratified
Bishop Kiesey opened the special session, and the Organizational Resolutions were presented and affirmed. For the Special Session, the body approved substituting Rule 7.2 with this language: "No person shall speak more than twice on the same question, nor more than two minutes at one time, without permission of the Conference, nor shall any person speak more than once until every member choosing to speak has spoken. The motion maker will be given the privilege of making the final speech on that motion, regardless of any parliamentary decision to cease debate. The presiding officer shall have the privilege to request the following procedure for debate: to recognize someone alternately for and someone against the issue, and to recognize alternately lay and clergy members."
The disaffiliation agreements for churches in Northeast District were presented for each church, the discussion took place, and then voting for each congregation. The disaffiliation agreements for First United Methodist Church in Aberdeen, South Dakota; Calvary United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota; Central United Methodist Church in Milbank, North Dakota; and Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota, were ratified.
Presenting the resolution, discussion, and voting for each congregation expanded to approximately 25 minutes for each church. After spending 90 minutes on the four churches seeking disaffiliation in the Northeast District, a motion to suspend the rules, present the resolutions, hold a discussion, and vote on the ratification of all the congregations in a district was given.
Motion to suspend expedites the process.
Rev. Kathy Chesney, Chair of the Dakotas Conference Board of Trustees, made the motion, stating a need to expedite the process. The motion to suspend the rules passed.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, retired, was invited to assist Bishop Kiesey, the presiding bishop, for the Special Session. "We will proceed as follows. First, the resolutions for each of the churches in the district will be presented. We will then open the floor for discussion on all the resolutions. We will then proceed to vote. You have a ballot for each church. When the vote is opened, you will mark your ballot for each church, count the ballots, and report," explained Ough.
In thirty-five minutes, the body ratified disaffiliation agreements of four churches in the Northwest District: Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Ashley, United Methodist Church in Bowman, United Methodist Church in Lehr, and Faith United Methodist Church in Williston, all located in North Dakota.
After lunch, the body affirmed these disaffiliation agreements in the Southeast District in South Dakota for the United Methodist Church in Arlington, United Church in Elk Point, United Methodist Church in Hitchcock, and United Methodist Church in Stickney.
The business session concluded with ratifying disaffiliation agreements in the Southwest District for the United Methodist congregations in Belle Fourche, Eureka, Kennebec, Presho, Reliance, and Selby, all located in South Dakota.
Each congregation seeking disaffiliation followed and completed a detailed process outlined by the Dakotas Conference. The five-step process involves several local church and Conference agencies and committees, including the membership of the local church, the local church administrative board, the local church board of trustees, the district superintendent, the Dakotas Conference Board of Trustees, Dakotas Conference Council on Finance and Administration, Dakotas Conference Board of Pensions, and Common Table of the Dakotas Conference. Each congregation had several informational meetings to gather input from members and had an official vote at a special charge conference.
At each special charge conference where the vote was taken at each congregation, and throughout the process, the district superintendent invited those who wished to remain United Methodist to explore options for staying United Methodist.
Prayer and blessings
While votes were tallied, those attending at the four sites prayed. Prayer was offered for the ministry that each of the departing churches offered in the Dakotas Conference and for their ministry as they part ways.
"This has been an important day in the Dakotas Conference, one that has brought some sadness, and one that is filled with hope because of God's faithfulness," said Bishop Ough at closing worship before he read from Lamentations 3:22-24.
During closing worship, Bishop Kiesey shared a message about the blessings that show up as surprises in our lives. Surprises like finding a lifelong partner in your life, children, and God's call in our lives. These surprises show up as blessings in lives.
"Showing up in the Dakotas after ten years was a surprise for me but a huge blessing," said Bishop Deb. "This is a day of surprises and a day of blessings. . We have to name the fact that it is a day with pain. A few tears, and there has been some joy as well. It is a day that we celebrate one of the things the Dakotas is proud of, being a family. Now we see a broken family and yet a day of new beginnings. It is hard to see the hand of God in those surprises. Maybe it just takes time, a chance to step back, or deeper wisdom to see God at work. God is at work!"