Connecting Council explores ways to say 'Yes!' to ministry


The Great Plains Conference’s Connecting Council opened its fall meeting Oct. 30 at Camp Comeca talking about how to foster a culture of saying “yes” to new possibilities in United Methodist churches across Nebraska and Kansas.

The capital campaign to provide for long-term maintenance at Camp Comeca, near
Cozad, Nebraska, was just one topic discussed during the Oct. 30-31 meetings of the
Connecting Council, which was conducted at the camp.
The group of pastors and laity, which serves as the decision-making body of the Great Plains Conference between annual conference sessions, took part in a discussion about the book “Just say Yes! Unleashing People for Ministry,” by Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference. In the book, Schnase uses stories from his years in ministry to share how people, policies and church culture lead to people saying “No” to trying new ministries and empowering people to take risks.

With a core mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Schnase then used examples to encourage people and churches to alter their assumptions about ministries, create systems that give the congregation permission to launch new ministries, and change attitudes and behaviors.

The Rev. Nancy Lambert, director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop who led the Connecting Council meetings, asked the members in attendance to consider how to expand the discussion about the local church to the conference level in hopes of establishing a culture in which experimentation is encouraged.

The theme of saying “Yes” continued throughout the two days of meetings, which concluded the morning of Oct. 31 with the Connecting Council approving the use of Missional Opportunity Grant funds to help improve ministries in several ways:
  • The council approved spending $21,000 to help fund the conference’s summer internship program, specifically a second team of Vacation Bible School workers to lead VBS in smaller churches across Kansas and Nebraska. The additional team will allow six to eight additional churches host Vacation Bible School next summer while helping a new generation of ministry leaders gain skills that could benefit the conference for many years to come. Summer 2016 will be the second year for the program, which placed 33 interns into positions in six ministry areas over 10 weeks in 2015.
  • The council also approved spending as much as $30,000 to fund worship workshop retreats aimed at smaller congregations to elevate the quality of worship experiences. The workshops – scheduled to be led by Teresa Stewart, who teaches Worship and Sacraments in Course of Study – will help participants bolster preaching techniques, increase participation in the crafting of worship and use local symbols to express theological insights. The retreats will be open to pastors as well as laity from the Great Plains’ smaller churches.
  • As a way to address growing diversity in the Great Plains, the council endorsed a plan to spend approximately $12,000 to provide Rosetta Stone language-learning software to pastors and key laity in churches across Kansas and Nebraska. The software allows for the tracking of progress and allows for participants to learn on their own schedules from anywhere in the world. The conference has access to all 29 languages that Rosetta Stone has in its library. The Connecting Council will review progress at its fall 2016 meeting to determine if the agreement with Rosetta Stone will be renewed.

Capital Campaigns

Bishop Robert Hayes of the Oklahoma Conference, takes part in a
traditional tribal dance during the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference's gala in October in the Oklahoma City area. The Great
Plains Conference hopes to raise $100,000 for the OIMC.
The council heard updates on a capital campaign for Camp Comeca and for three cross-cultural projects – the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas; the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC); and the Zimbabwe East Conference.

The campaign to provide for repairs and long-term maintenance at Camp Comeca, a United Methodist ministry near Cozad, Nebraska, now has pledges of about $532,000. The pledges are expected to be paid over three years to fund an endowment for upkeep at the camp.

The council then watched three videos – one each for each of the cross-cultural capital campaigns. The Great Plains Conference hopes to raise $100,000 each to allow for expansion of the Lydia Patterson Institute, help fund an endowment to bolster salaries in the OIMC and build a conference office in Zimbabwe.

Financial Report

The Rev. Gary Beach, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, reported that as of the end of September, the conference was trending ahead of the same time in 2014 in apportionments paid by local churches. At the end of September, approximately $9.28 million – or 61.2 percent – of anticipated annual apportionments had been paid, compared to $9.22 million by that time in 2014.

Carl Nord, chairman of the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA), stated, as he has before, that the conference “spends money with a purpose.” He reported that CFA voted to pay off an expected unfunded liability of $1.4 million for the Nebraska retiree health benefit using conference reserves. The move means all churches in Kansas and Nebraska will be on a 10 percent tithe starting in 2016. Nebraska churches currently pay a slightly larger percentage to help fulfill obligations to the retiree health plan.

Nord also reported that the clergy pension reserves have saved sufficient reserves for long-term stability in the program.

The council voted to have Bishop Scott Jones appoint a team to devise a strategy for use of the conference’s reserves.

Other Business

In other action, the Connecting Council:
  • Approved several updates to the Personnel Committee’s description of duties.
  • Approved a change to the Plan of Organization to adhere to the Book of Discipline in encouraging local churches and organizations to pay deacons the minimum salary but allow for less-than-minimum salaries if the deacon agrees to such an appointment.
  • Began the process for setting up a method for approving Urban Ministry Grants. Under the Book of Discipline, when a church in an urban area closes, assets from that church must be used in an urban setting to further ministries. The council voted to set up a team to determine criteria for grant applications and a process by which the team would approve grants in the future.
  • Approved an agreement that will maintain the Kansas United Methodist archives at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas.
  • Heard an update about Lay Servant Ministries in the Great Plains, especially the process for earning the designations of certified lay servant and lay speaker.
  • Heard that the venues being considered for the 2019 annual conference session will be tested to determine the levels of interference for electronic voting so that the best site can be chosen. That is the next year in which delegates will be elected for General and Jurisdictional conferences.
The Connecting Council’s next meeting is scheduled for March 18-19 in Topeka, Kansas.

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