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United Methodists open conference today in Fargo

Unfamiliar faces with familiar greetings welcomed Ryan and Kris Mutzenberger Thursday. "Welcome home. Welcome back," said friends and strangers alike.

Unfamiliar faces with familiar greetings welcomed Ryan and Kris Mutzenberger Thursday. "Welcome home. Welcome back," said friends and strangers alike.

The two are among 10 people who will be commissioned as ministers in the United Methodist Dakotas Conference today.

The United Methodists are holding their annual conference in Fargo. The Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ also are holding annual gatherings in Fargo-Moorhead this weekend.

Before he attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, Ryan spent five years as a youth minister at Flame of Faith in West Fargo. When he felt the call to full-time ministry, he chose Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., studying religion and youth ministry. He also met his wife there.

Kris, raised in Minnesota, discovered her gifts for ministry in high school. After earning a degree in religion and youth ministry from Dakota Wesleyan, she, too, attended United Theological Seminary. They graduated from the seminary May 24.


But before graduation, the couple had to choose which United Methodist Conference to serve. It wasn't a difficult decision, they said.

"People cared that we came back here," said Kris, 25. "It was so apparent we were wanted here."

The Dakotas Conference, which includes North Dakota and South Dakota, has tried to keep contact with local people who attend seminary, said Bishop Michael Coyner. Too often, seminary students from the area choose to serve elsewhere.

"We're usually having to go outside our conference and recruit people," he said.

But all 10 being commissioned this year grew up in the Dakotas or nearby. Typically, two or three clergy are commissioned each year at the annual gathering, Coyner said.

In the United Methodist Church, seminary graduates are commissioned, then ordained after three years of service in a conference or district.

Like other denominations, the UMC struggles to find enough pastors to fill its pulpits. Even with this year's large class, some churches in the Dakotas Conference will be without a pastor, Coyner said. There are 282 churches and 179 pastors in the conference.

Ryan Mutzenberger, 28, felt some loyalty to return.


"A lot of folks have been nurtured by the congregations here," he said. "They've nurtured us financially and with their prayers -- even if they only knew us by a name on a list."

For example, Kris received seminary scholarship money from the conference before she officially joined a congregation in it, she said.

The two have been appointed to serve congregations in South Dakota, Kris in Britton and Ryan in nearby Claremont and Hecla.

"It's exciting to be going somewhere," Ryan said. "It's sad to leave our friends in Ohio, but it's exciting to closer to family and to return home."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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