State of the conference - ahead of schedule
Making something truly abundant – Great Plains Conference Lay Leader Courtney Fowler
Courtney Fowler, conference lay leader, began by describing the first Great Plains Annual Conference laity session as a time of praise and good will; where seeds of friendship and common bonds were cultivated in the midst of diversity.
Courtney reminded attendees that while the ending of three individual conferences brought grief, this ending is also an opportunity for God to show us a new beginning. Sharing our collective faith stories with others and speaking out for justice reflects our love of Jesus Christ. It also lays claim to our faith through service to the members of our community and models a life of faith to our children, she said. Sharing our faith and nurturing young people and those new to the faith one relationship at a time, is a way we plant seeds where we might not get to see the fruit. Fowler concluded that we do have the assurance that God will make something truly abundant.
Faithfulness – Bishop Scott J. Jones
When Bishop Jones’ young family was beset by uncertainty upon the sudden death of his father, they healed by going back to the basic principles of life, relying upon family and faith. Hearing the Gospel message brought hope and healing. Similarly, The United Methodist Church is going through a challenging time of uncertainty with its declining membership, increasing dependence upon technology, and divisive controversial issues, such as human sexuality.
With some talking about schism in our church, he reminded us that unity is at the heart of United Methodism. Unity maximizes our service to Christ and we can do so much more together than we can divided. However, unity has a price, he said. We need to continue to live faithful, obedient and sacrificial lives constituted by our doctrine, mission and vision. The way we do this is by living together with grace-filled mutual respect in the midst of our disagreements. God cares about important issues, but he also cares deeply about how we treat each other. We need to go back to the basics of our collective values, remembering who we are and how we follow Christ. We need each other, Jones said. We need to affirm our diversity, as every part of the body has a role to play.
When asked how the new conference transition is going, Bishop Jones says, “I think we are doing extremely well, we are way ahead of schedule.” It is an imperfect journey that the conference is living into and it making good progress, he said.
Jones said the conference has learned to leave some old traditions behind and has created new opportunities that can be embraced together with patience. Intentional conference staff transitions and integrating best practices to create something new, like The One Event for youth and the new Candidacy Summit, have strengthened conference missional priorities.
With faithfulness to Jesus Christ and a missionary focus as the heart and soul of our denomination, we need to continue asking our churches and ourselves, “What is our mission?” “How are we doing?” and “How are we going to do a better job in the future?” Jones said we need to recommit to funding our connectional ministry and to measure our fruitfulness by professions of faith. We need to focus on intentional faith development, vital worship and putting people in hands on mission. We need to recommit to new congregations and put leadership development systems into place, especially through raising money for seminary scholarships, strengthening camping and campus ministries, and supporting all aspects of our public school system. Bishop Jones concluded by saying, “If genuine revival ever comes to America it will come through United Methodists … that’s our call … .”
Education resolution passes
Chair of the Mercy and Justice Team, the Rev. Kent Little spoke to Resolution #3 – Establishing the Great Plains Conference Public Education Partnership. After brief dialog, the resolution was passed with a voice vote. The Rev. Evelyn Fisher reported that $50,000 of grant money will be used to provide small matching fund grants to local congregations to establish or strengthen partnerships with local schools and for publicity and media. She challenged our congregations to attend one of the Big Hairy Audacious Education Caravan nights to learn together about public education and how to support it. The Great Plains has 144 churches already engaged in education partnerships. The goal is to share what they are doing as we hear about the needs of professional educators. Please take this survey
to share how your congregation is involved with schools in your community.
New church starts
The Rev. Chad Anglemyer, New Church Development chair, talked about Great Plains United Methodist New Church Development (GPUMNCD), Inc. which assesses and prioritizes future mission fields and provides grants and coaching for new start churches in our conference.
The Rev. Nathan Stanton described the Church Planter Assessment Incubator, which was created for discernment for answering a call to church planting in the Great Plains Conference. The Campus Catalyst Launch Pad was also created for congregations who are called to support campus ministries.
The Rev. Junius Dodson, senior pastor, St. Marks UMC, Wichita, offered a new start case study. Just as the American experiment brought people from all walks of life pledging allegiance to a single flag, the Church of Jesus Christ is meant to bring people together from all different backgrounds and perspectives pledging allegiance to the cross. New start churches are the future of The United Methodist Church, said Dodson. Of the 16-person team who launched the southeast campus of St. Marks UMC (a diverse community of ethnic and economic backgrounds) four answered the call to fulltime ministry. Outreach events included reconnecting to the community with a prayer walk event and a gas buy down event which offered the community a sign from God of new hope and life.