Institutions share progress
The plenary meeting at 9:30 a.m., on Friday focused on new changes and the important connections between Mission Agencies and the churches and communities they serve.
Nebraska Wesleyan University
Larry Ruth, the representative speaking on behalf of Nebraska Wesleyan University, said that while traditional students and bachelor degrees are still the backbone of the university, changes are taking place. One of these changes includes a larger presence in Omaha, Neb., and the addition of the Rev. Charlotte Abram and Dr. Dan Flanagan to the board of trustees.
“That connection (between Nebraska Wesleyan and the United Methodist Church) is alive and well,” Ruth said.
Saint Paul School of Theology
“Change is extremely difficult,” said David Sisney, the vice president of advancement at Saint Paul School of Theology. “If an organization isn’t willing to change, innovate and improve, it will die.”
Last year, Saint Paul moved its campus to the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. where they developed a new, streamlined curriculum; re-vamped their marketing and communication efforts and worked to improve real-world experiences to prepare their students to live into their mission after graduation.
“We’ve been working on these changes for 18-plus months,” Sisney said. “The easy thing would be for us to close our doors. But they chose the more difficult path of innovative change.” Sisney added that support from The United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Conference comes in the form of prayer, monetary donations and positive language.
Kansas Wesleyan University
Matt Thompson, the president of Kansas Wesleyan University (KWU), said the university’s job is to enable their students to become who they were called to be by creating future lay and clerical leaders for the church.
KWU has added new classes and majors in environmental sustainability and community resilience, sports ministry and worship arts ministry that will create strong, welcoming communities for changing church demographics.
Thompson added that KWU has a new Center for Global Service Learning. This center helps students and other youth and adult ministries by giving them the opportunity for practical, hands-on experiences in mission work, either domestically or internationally.
According to Shelley Duncan, the CEO of EmberHope, the organization lost a large chunk of government funding last year.
“Personally, if it weren’t for my faith I don’t know if I could’ve kept going,” Duncan said. But now, she said she feels renewed, refreshed and excited about EmberHope’s future.
To make up for the monetary loss, EmberHope has begun making connections with other non-profits in the different areas they serve. That way, the organization can keep helping at-risk children. Some of these new ministries include school-based; therapeutic services; a movement against sex trafficking and helping victims who have been a part of it; and opening a new office in San Antonio, Tex., to provide services to the 50,000 undocumented children making their way across the border.
Justice For Our Neighbors
Emiliano Lerda also spoke about the connections Justice for our Neighbors has made throughout Nebraska. In addition to their partnerships in Central Nebraska, a recent grant has created the opportunity to develop relationships with churches in Crete and South Sioux City, Neb. as well. “They are crucial to what we do,” Lerda said.
JFON provides free legal services to those working their way through the immigration system. “Let me remind you that immigration law is also known by some of the brightest legal scholars to be the most complicated legal law,” Lerda said.
For Ellie Foster, pastor of Wesley House in Pittsburg, Kan., the changes they are facing come in growing numbers of the individuals and families who need their services.
Wesley House provides food to families in the summer, when school meals are no longer available to children, and they provide vouchers for new shoes and jeans so kids can pick their own clothing.
According to Foster, historical documents say Wesley house was once overwhelmed when they served 18 families in one month. “Today, if we help 18 families in a day, that is a very quiet day,” Foster said.
Many of these organizations support their communities and The United Methodist Church, but they need support as well to keep their ministries going. Several are Mission Agency Support organizations that receive funding through the one percent conference asking attached to the 10 percent apportionment request.