Connecting Council discusses next steps for Great Plains Conference


The Connecting Council began laying the foundation for discussion about vision and next steps for the Great Plains Conference during the committee’s fall meeting Oct. 21 at First United Methodist Church in Hays, Kansas.

The council, tasked with making timely decisions between annual conference sessions, is comprised of 70 people, including all 17 district superintendents, district lay leaders, directors for administration, congregational excellence, clergy excellence and communications, conference committee representatives and some at-large members. The October meeting was the first chaired by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., who became the conference’s episcopal leader in September.

Following a devotion, the meeting started with a brief review of the unification of the former Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska conferences in January 2014 by Oliver Green, associate conference lay leader, and Bob Cox, a member of Hays First UMC who served on the transition team. Bishop Saenz asked the group to describe any surprises that have arisen within the nearly three years of the new Great Plains Conference.

“There is still work to be done,” said the Rev. Amy Lippoldt, chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and pastor at Basehor UMC in the Kansas City District. “Maybe it never stops. There are challenges of being an annual conference that don’t magically disappear.”

Fully identifying as one conference, looking beyond geographic boundaries and better living out the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world each were voiced as ongoing challenges facing the United Methodist Church within the conference’s boundaries of Kansas and Nebraska.

“We’re not at the end of the transition process,” Bishop Saenz affirmed. “We’re at the front end of it.”

The bishop told the council that each person has a sphere of influence and responsibility of God’s work. He emphasized the need for goals and calm leadership.

“We’re not messiahs. We’re just ministers,” he said.

The bishop asked council members to begin considering how the conference measures the effectiveness with which the church is transforming the world in our two states and how to create leadership pipelines to help accomplish goals. Along the way, he encouraged everyone to stay focused on the mission field.

“How do we ensure we are allocating our resources to accomplish our purpose?” the bishop asked.

Bishop Saenz said one of the next steps could include the scheduling of a summit with key stakeholders to see what the conference can do to further align its resources and to determine a unified vision.

“Courageous leaders know what to be afraid of,” the bishop said. “We should be fearful of failing to accomplish the purpose, which is to make disciples.”

Among other business items, the Connecting Council:
  • Talked about the timing and length of the annual conference session and shared ideas about which model or models may best serve the needs of the Great Plains Conference.
  • Discussed an attendance policy for at-large members to ensure participation among all committees, districts and at-large members.
  • Discussed the 2016 giving information, which shows the percentage of churches paying their tithe to the conference up over a year ago. The Rev. Gary Beach, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, also talked about the relatively tight 2017 budget approved at the annual conference session in June. He pointed out that approximately $30,000 has been lost from the anticipated income because of church closures, with another approximately $45,000 lost because of corrections allowed from churches who noticed errors in mission share estimates.
  • Addressed questions about which delegation members would attend a special session of General Conference, should one be called by the Council of Bishops following the work of the commission addressing human-sexuality issues. Beach reported that about $29,000 budgeted for 2016 was not spent, so the full delegation could attend, if desired, for a special session.
  • Approved fulfilling a grant balance of about $63,000 to United Methodist Open Door, a homeless shelter and food pantry based in Wichita. UM Open Door’s capital campaign resulted in the ability to purchase a building it was renting from the conference’s Trustees prior to the anticipated date. The funds had been agreed upon more than a year ago and will help UM Open door fulfill its ministry in south-central Kansas.
  • Approved extending funding for grants for a worship workshop that primarily benefits smaller churches in the conference. Approval allows for another group of churches to take part. Twenty-six churches took part in the program that stretches between 2016 and 2017.
  • Approved changes to the long-term disability policy for lay employees so the program more closely resembles benefits available for clergy.
  • Agreed to change the language in the Plan of Organization to allow the Connecting Council to meet in the fall and spring instead of specifically in October and April. The change will allow for more time to be built in for review of the conference’s annual budget prior to the council being asked for approval leading up to the next annual conference session. The process now includes committees submitting budget requests, which are then reviewed by the Mission Alignment Team before approval by the conference’s Council on Finance and Administration (CFA). Connecting Council then provides approval for the budget proposal to go before the annual conference session.
Contact Todd Seifert, conference communications director, at

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