Business of the 2014 Annual Conference Session
Two churches in the Great Plains Conference have made the difficult decision to close – Dresden UMC, in Dresden, Kan., and Emanuel UMC in Alta Vista, Kan. Both Dresden UMC and Emanuel UMC received approval for discontinuation during the Annual Conference Session on Wednesday, June 11.
The Rev. Maria Campbell, episcopal committee chair, announced an episcopal residence task force to discuss and make a recommendation on the location of the episcopal residence to the 2015 Annual Conference Session. If there is to be a change in location of the episcopal residence, it will take place in September, 2016. At this time, no changes are being considered in the locations of the current conference offices.
Mission partnership updates
Africa University awarded a banner to the former Nebraska Conference for contributing 99.8 percent of its 2013 budgetary goal. The Rev. Kalaba Chali, a graduate from Africa University and the mercy and justice coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, introduced each of the mission partnerships. Partnerships from Haiti (Kansas East), Nigeria (Nebraska) and Zimbabwe (Kansas West) are being carried forward into the Great Plains Conference. Each partnership was presented by either the partnership chair or a representative.
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. The Great Plains has 144 churches already engaged in education partnerships.
Clergy excellence focuses on competency, offers opportunity for growth
Great Plains Director of Clergy Excellence Nancy Lambert announced a second preaching workshop coming in the fall, the Transition into Ministry (TiM) team has three candidates moving from phase one to phase two. The Orders and Fellowship Conference (Jan 21-22, 2015, in Lincoln) will feature keynote speakers from The Chapel in Brunswick, Ga., who have developed a discipleship and leadership program to teach “how it worked for us.”
Incoming Elkhorn Valley District Superintendent Marvin Neubauer addressed the Board of Ordained Ministry’s efforts around clergy competency. He asked, “What qualities do we have in our clergy who are Christ-centered and have vitality in their churches? That’s what we need.”
Ten competencies will be addressed: Spiritual Vitality, Visioning, Achieving Results, Resilience, Team Leadership, Developing and Assisting Others, Negotiating Differences, Interpersonal Communication, Presentation Skills and Managing Self.
Great Plains Director of Congregational Excellence Evelyn Fisher spoke to some of the resources available from her team and introduced the members of “the most enthusiastic staff you could ask for.”
Three processes for growth were highlighted: Next Steps, ABIDE and Small Wonders. The first two are long-term processes for church teams; the last is a two-day workshop in October. The Rev. Eric Ford commented that they are trying to avoid having things that one person of a church attends, returns to their congregation enthusiastic but unsupported.
“Let’s stop complaining about the church that we’ve experienced and start becoming the church we’re dreaming of,” Ford concluded.
Disaster response funds combined
After some discussion, Resolution #8, to consolidate the separate disaster funds from Kansas and Nebraska into one fund, was passed.
Approval of Nebraska Retiree Health Care subsidy change
Members of the former Nebraska Conference approved a motion that would see churches billed at a lesser rate of operating income to support the retiree health supplement. The Nebraska Health Care Team believes the plan will generate enough funds until the death of all eligible clergy and spouses, and at the same time predicts the need for the billing will end earlier that originally projected.
Hutchinson and Salina Districts dissolve unions
The Hutchinson District Union membership, at the recommendation of the District Union Trustees, voted for the dissolution of the District Union including the not-for-profit corporation under which the Union received, held, and managed district funds and three disaster response trailers.
The Salina Union also voted to dissolve, with the remaining functions of the unions now falling under the conference corporate umbrella.
Pension and benefit amendment passes by two votes
The motion to amend the clergy portion of the health insurance premium to no more than 3.5 percent of their salary initially failed. When a counted vote was taken, the motion passed by 444 in favor and 442 opposed.
The 2015 comprehensive benefit funding plan is 124 percent funded, and the conference also has ample reserves to protect current clergy pension plans from downturns in the stock market.
Mercy and Justice resolutions pass
Resolutions submitted by the Mercy and Justice Team on gun violence, compassionate immigration reform and global maternal child health passed.
Christians Respond to Gun Violence — The Rev. Michelle Reed of Woodland UMC in Wichita, Kan., introduced the resolution titled Christians Respond to Gun Violence. She cited statistics on school shootings, homicide rates and gun assaults. "God's security is not by arming ourselves," she said. Discussion opposing the resolution focused on weapon definitions, federal government intervention and that passage would cause division among churches. Those who spoke in favor of the resolution cited a critical need to protect children. The motion carried by a 502-312 vote.
Compassionate Immigration Reform — In bringing forth the Compassionate Immigration Reform resolution, stories were shared of children crossing the border alone and families torn apart by deportations. The resolution, that passed, calls for United Methodists in the Great Plains Conference to advocate before U.S. Congress for changes to reunify families and provide a path for citizenship, among other things. People spoke to the need to not turn our backs those in need and that Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger.
Support Global Maternal and Child Health Through the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Project —
Courtney Fowler, Great Plains Conference lay leader, presented a resolution to support global maternal and child health through the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Project. She said often the joy of childbirth ends in tragedy when a mother and/or her child die. "Women are of sacred worth," said Fowler. Supporters spoke to the global need for this resolution, but the section calling for United Methodists to contact Congress for their participation was questioned because it was felt this is a church issue, not a government issue. The motion, which passed, also calls for United Methodists work to create awareness of this issue and provide leadership.
Approved 2015 budget totals $16,036,373
Carl Nord, chair of Finance and Administration for the conference led the financial discussion. He reaffirmed the Rev. Gary Beach as Conference Treasurer and thanked him for his service in times of great change and transition. Beach took the podium and recognized his own staff who have been putting in many hours to make the transition to the Great Plains Conference. He noted that about 30 businesses and pseudo-conference business were shut down during the transition and aggregated into four incorporated organizations. At the same time his staff was reduced, meaning the department is doing more work with significantly less staff.
Beach noted that he has received nothing but gracious support and kindness from the people of the conference. “I appreciate that,” he said.
Beach presented the 2013 Mission Share percentages of the former three conferences — Kansas East, 85.04 percent; Nebraska, 86.05 percent; and Kansas West, 87.65 percent.
Beach asked if it was even possible for churches to meet Bishop Jones’ challenge of 95 percent fulfillment of apportionments. He highlighted several conferences who regularly meet that level. He went on to recognize Great Plains districts who indeed had met that challenge in 2013.
- Gateway District in Nebraska, 96.49
- Hays District in Kansas, 95.13
- Flint Hills, Hutchinson and Dodge district were just under the 95 percent.
Beach noted that if the conference would reach the 95 percent level on apportionments we would raise an additional $1.5 million. “It would enable us to do extraordinary things,” he said.
Carl Nord, led the group through the budget approval process starting with affirming the 10 + 1 Mission Share formula, affirming Mission Agency Support and ending with the approval of the 2015 budget.
In addition to income generated from apportionments, Nord noted that attendees might want to review the income line items generated from the new Restricted Reserve Fund. (The Connecting Council approved the creation of this fund at its spring 2014 meeting.) It acts as an endowment for the GPC. The fund, along with the interest it generates, accounts for three line-items in the 2015 income section of the budget. A complete explanation of the Restricted Reserve Fund and the allocation from it for the 2015 budget, can be found on pages numbered 24-25 in the AC Resource Booklet.
“We have a great committee and I am really happy to be part of this, it’s a great process we’re going through,” Nord said. He thanked all the committee members and the bishop for their contributions to the process.
Consideration of redistricting
A resolution to reduce the conference to 14 districts in order to provide greater funding for campus ministries was brought to the floor on Thursday, officially considered on Friday, and referred to the Connecting Council on Saturday.
The Connecting Council met at a special meeting at 8 a.m. in the Lied Center Johnny Carson Theatre on Saturday to hear Bishop Scott Jones’ recommendation on how to manage the referral. (Read the bishop’s recommendation.)
The Connecting Council accepted Bishop Jones’ recommendation. He plans to appoint a 15-member committee to consider redistricting.
Strategic Implementation Plan to play role
Bishop Scott Jones also presented a strategic implementation plan to Council members. The group agreed that there are two items for consideration and that they should not be yoked.
The Strategic Implementation process calls for all teams and related groups of the conference to provide a strategic implementation plan for their ministry, by October 2014, and finalized by March 15, 2015. This will enable the conference to see what revenue and expenses each ministry anticipates for 2016 and includes what accountability measures will be employed in order to present the best budget plan possible for 2016. “Caren Loper and team will be looking at what the goals are for campus ministry and consider the places where we do not have currently have campus ministries,” he said.
Connecting Council approves actions
In actions taken after the Annual Conference Session the Connecting Council approved by email vote, bylaws changes for United Methodist Homes, parent company of Aldersgate Village, in Topeka.
The list of proposed Advances presented in the preconference workbook, the CFA report and other reports in the workbook were also approved.
(The Annual Conference Session workbook is still available at greatplainsumc.org/annualconference for those who wish to review in relation to this recap.)