Topeka District Superintendent Kay Scarbrough said it well when she said, "We need to change our language from becoming one, new conference to growing as the new Great Plains Conference." The Connecting Council met in the spirit of growing the conference and living into the new structure and Great Plains missional priorities.
The Connecting Council held its spring meeting at Grace UMC, in Olathe, Kan., on Friday and Saturday, Mar. 21-22. The Connecting Council is the body that works on behalf of the annual conference between annual conference sessions.
The Plan of Organization says, "There shall be a Connecting Council similar to Common Table, Leadership Team and Focus Team whose purpose shall be to review and evaluate the conference’s missional progress, to align major initiatives of the GPUMC, to enhance communication with all parts of the annual conference, and to take such actions between sessions of the annual conference as are permitted."
The Connecting Council replaces the predecessor groups from the three former conferences.
The Rev. Evelyn Fisher, director of congregational excellence, led the opening devotional and preached from Exodus 13:17-22. She reminded the group of all the work that has been done to become one, new annual conference, and how overwhelming it has sometimes been. Reflecting on Gil Rendle's book "Journey in the Wilderness," Fisher retold the story of the Hebrews carrying the bones of their ancestor Joseph out of Egypt, and in Joshua 24:32, how the remains were finally laid to rest at Shechem in the promised land. As we move forward as the Great Plains Conference, Fisher reminded the group of how we too may have to leave our old bones (unhelpful traditions from the former three conferences) behind. Fisher’s words emboldened the Connecting Council to continue the journey to be the Great Plains Conference.
Bishop Scott Jones followed with remarks about Missouri Conference Bishop Robert Schnase's new book, "7 Levers." The Connecting Council was asked to read the book in order to discuss it at the meeting. Jones said, "Schnase tells powerful stories. There is sense in which I think, oh my heavens, this is my life for the last 10 years. Except he (Schnase) is from Missouri!"
The book focuses less on particular solutions and more on questions to be asked. Jones asked, "How would we answer these questions for the Great Plains?"
Jones also highlighted the gravity the Connecting Council meeting. He talked about how the group would be setting some traditions that might stand for years to come. He said, while scary, it's also a time of great opportunity to shape things for the future.
The Connecting Council broke into small groups to discuss the book and then reported out their table’s responses to their discussion and the book. Read a summary of the major points made during the discussion.
The two-day meeting was a combination of the Connecting Council taking action on behalf of the Great Plains Conference and reviewing material in preparation for the Annual Conference Session to be held June 11-14, in Lincoln.
Courtney Fowler presented the format for electing delegates for the 2016 General Conference meeting. It was accepted with encouragement to offer as much information as possible about candidates via the conference website.
In preparation for voting for delegates at the 2015 Annual Conference Session, the body approved negotiating for electronic voting devices at a cost up to $50,000. Questions were asked about funding the devices through registration fees in combination with a multi-year funding plan from Mission Shares. The devices make it possible to see real-time voting results and cut voting time down to a fraction of the time achieved by other methods.
The Denman, Francis Asbury and Angie Newman awards will be recognized on the floor of the Annual Conference Session. Additional award presentations will be held at each recipient's local church or appropriate forum. Other groups are encouraged to continue their awards and share winner information with the conference.
Offerings taken during the Annual Conference Session will benefit the mission partnerships of Haiti/Zimbabwe/Nigeria, Global HIV/AIDS, Youth Service Fund and the End Human Trafficking Advance.
Future Great Plains Annual Conference Session dates and locations were announced:
2015: Wichita, June 10-13
2016: Topeka, June 1-4 (tentative dates)
The Safe Gatherings Policy and the UMC Personal Conduct Policy were referred to the authoring committee to refine language. The group was in agreement that the Great Plains Conference should have a single Safe Gatherings certification for all levels of the church, however some of the language supporting its implementation was disputed. The authoring committee will revise the policies and bring them back to the Council via email for further review. Safe Gatherings is the training to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults, while the Personal Conduct Policy covers both sexual ethics issues and harassment topics. Both policies will be brought before the members of the Annual Conference Session.
The meeting began with Bishop Scott Jones leading the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” followed by prayer led by Gateway District Superintendent Alan Davis.
Steve Burnett, Disaster Response Team member, presented the Great Plains Disaster Response Plan and it was approved unanimously. The Connecting Council also approved Tri-community UMC’s request to use the proceeds from the sale of its property to reinvest in the ministry in the Omaha area it serves. In similar fashion the Connecting Council approved a request from United Methodist Open Door, in Wichita, to do a fund development campaign. Open Door focuses on offering food security and other economic support services to those in need.
In other action the Connecting Council approved amendments to the Moving Guidelines, accepted a finance report, learned about a public education resolution coming from the Mercy and Justice Team, accepted a report from the Mission Alignment Task Force on how well the conference structure and ministry is supporting the mission priorities, and approved increasing the hours for district administrative assistants to 40 hours per week.
The Connecting Council reviewed a number of items, offered amendments and will pass on a number of items to the Annual Conference Session for a vote. Major items include recommendations for minimum clergy salaries, recommendations from Pensions and Health and Trustees, Annual Conference Standing Rules and the 2015 Funding Plan. Material to be considered for vote at the Annual Conference Session will be part of the pre-conference briefing materials posted on the conference website and printed for those wanting a hard copy for a fee of $25. (Contact Roxie Delisi at email@example.com to order your hard copy of the pre-conference briefing materials.)
The names of the Episcopal Residence Committee were released and include: Maria Campbell, Kent Rogers, Brad Kirk, Marilyn Moore, Tom Watson, Marilyn Zehring, Jose Olivas and Jose Miranda. The group represents a balance of members from all three former conferences. This is the group that will evaluate and recommend the permanent location for the episcopal residence. The Committee will be affirmed during the Annual Conference Session.
The next meeting of the Connecting Council is set for Oct. 3-4.
Recipients of the former conferences’ print pieces were asked if they would like to continue to receive a print these in the form of GPconnect. Our new circulation list will include the names of those who returned their business reply card plus the administrative board members of each congregation. GPconnect print will also be made available on our website and will be emailed to those who request it.
GPconnect print complements our weekly GPconnect email blast. The weekly GPconnect email blast focuses on announcements, events, news information and resources in a timely fashion. GPconnect print will focus more on feature stories and long form reporting. We also hope to share some of our best photography highlighting the ministry of the Great Plains.
We plan to tell stories about churches, congregations and ministries living our missional priorities. We will also do our best to help our readers stay informed about to the larger United Methodist connection.
The first few issues will focus on our Plan of Organization, our new structure, new resources for local churches and introducing you to those in ministry across the Great Plains. We plan to highlight great congregations, led by great leaders working in their communities to make great disciples who are transforming the world.