2019 Mountain Sky Annual Conference opens with worship, hope

June 13, 2019
Story and photos by Amanda Daniell
Lay Delegate, Riverton United Methodist Church, Riverton, Wyoming

After a long day of travel for some on Wednesday and Thursday, the United Methodists of the Mountain Sky Conference gathered for opening worship in Billings, Montana on Thursday afternoon.

A member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe opened with a welcome and prayer. Bishop Karen Oliveto then called the annual conference to order, and noted that this was a historic moment as it was the first time the Mountain Sky Conference gathered together as one body. 

Deborah Christine, Superintendent of Montana East District – which is comprised of 47 churches – took the stage to again welcome the body to beautiful Montana. Following her welcome, the body was given instructions on voting, session rules, and safety. Bishop Karen gave an overview of the schedule for conference, and talked about her excitement for the days to come saying, “Billings will never be the same”. 

Sarah Beck, worship leader from Grace UMC in Billings, led the body in a medley of traditional hymns, as the body began to settle into opening worship. Members of the worship team shared a moving liturgy in response to the harm caused from General Conference 2019 proclaiming, "None of us are free until all of us our free," and concluded the reading with a bold statement of "we refuse to leave." Representatives from the Mountain Sky Conference were then stationed around the room to offer healing with the anointing of oil. The scripture reading for the afternoon was a dramatization of the story of Peter’s vision found in the book of Acts.

Following the scripture, Matthew Utley, Mountain Sky Youth Conference outgoing president, took the stage to deliver a passionate youth address. Utley explained that while the youth of the Mountain Sky Conference are hurting from the harm of the 2019 General Conference, and face many challenges, including distance, and communication, the drive, and commitment of the youth has not changed, and he is hopeful for the future for the youth of the Mountain Sky Conference.

The guest speaker for the afternoon was a young man from the Upper New York Conference, J.J. Warren. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it was the same J.J. Warren who delivered a passionate plea from the floor at the 2019 General Conference in response to the Traditional Plan. J.J.’s message for the afternoon played into the scripture reading about Peter’s vision, and how our community is larger, and more inclusive than we can imagine. We must not put limits on God’s Kingdom. Bishop Karen took the state once again, and began speaking to the uncertain future of the church, and her desire for the Mountain Sky Conference to continue to be united as one.

The worship was concluded with a final song, led by worship leader Sarah Beck and featured Bishop Karen on the drums. It was an afternoon filled with passion and hope, as we move into an uncertain future. At the conclusion of opening worship, district dinner gatherings were to commence.