The expected disaffiliations of 150-plus churches from the Great Plains Conference will result in a 4.26% decrease in the budget for 2024, the Connecting Council was told during its April 28-29 meetings in Topeka.
The proposed budget of $15,124,101 is a decrease of about $672,000 from the 2023 budget, said Scott Brewer, director of administration and interim chief of staff.
All departments in the conference have about 7.8% reductions in their budgets, he said.
Administrative services will see a 9.9% reduction in its budget, which Brewer said, “is less about mission shares and more about finding other cost savings and eliminating some of the subsidization of property and liability insurance.”
The budget will be voted upon on June 10, the last day of the Great Plains Annual Conference session at the La Vista Convention Center in La Vista, Nebraska.
“With disaffiliations looming, it is imperative for us to hold on to our cash,” said the Rev. Amy Lippoldt, president of the Council of Finance & Administration.
Earlier in the meeting, which took place one day before the deadline imposed by the conference for churches to vote on disaffiliation, Brewer announced that 148 churches had voted to disaffiliate between September 2022 and April 2023, with an additional two churches between the Connecting Council meeting and the deadline.
“We’re one of the conferences that has a large number leaving,” he said, “but the impact on our budget is significantly smaller.”
Disaffiliations in 2023 were most prevalent in the central and western portions of Kansas and Nebraska, Brewer said. The Dodge City District had the most with 31.
While some of the disaffiliating congregations are joining the Global Methodist Church, he added, some or joining the Free Methodists or becoming independent churches.
“It’s a significant loss, but not an unsustainable loss for the conference,” Brewer said of the 150 disaffiliations.
If approved by the annual conference’s special, online business session on May 31, the Great Plains will have 750 churches, compared to the 1,000 before the pandemic, Brewer said.
The Connecting Council is comprised of about 50 people who make timely decisions between annual conference sessions and includes district superintendents; district lay leaders; directors of administration, congregational excellence, clergy excellence and communications; conference committee representatives and at-large members.
The council received an update on the cross-racial, cross-cultural support ministry in the conference from the Rev. Kathy Williams, in her final days as clergy leadership coordinator before starting her new role as director of clergy excellence May 1.
One-fourth of the clergy in the conference, Williams said, are working in cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments. Of the 128 pastors in CRCC appointments, more than one-fourth, 33, are from South Korea. She said another 20% are from Kenya, with 10% from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Twenty-one pastors are American-born, Black clergy, she said.
“It’s extremely personal to me and so many,” said Williams, who previously served cross-racial appointments.
She said the conference’s CRCC task force is developing systemic support for pastors to train, equip and prepare them, and it is assisting with immigration legal issues, including legal and financial support.
“We want to make sure the voices of everyone are being acknowledged,” Williams said.
Williams said the task force is prepared to train 10 to 15 “CRCC companions” who will work with congregations and clergy in new appointments.
She said the CRCC pastors have become an invaluable part of the conference.
“They have a heart for ministry, they love God, and they want to be here and offering their ministry,” she said.
Bishop David Wilson, presiding over his first Connecting Council, praised the CRCC work.
“This body has done some amazing work over the past many months,” he said.
Thirty-five clergy and laity from the Great Plains went to an immersion at the U.S./Mexico border in late March, said the Rev. Anne Gahn, mercy and justice chair.
“It was the most extraordinarily diverse group in so many ways,” Gahn said, with a variety of skin colors, rural-urban, clergy-laity and ages.
The conference paid for half of the expenses of each of the participants, she said.
“We put our money where our mouth is, and we made it happen,” Gahn said.
The conference is offering another civil rights encounter from July 12 to 16 at Montgomery, Alabama, with day trips to the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
Micah Corps will be joining the group, as will Bishop Wilson and Louisiana Bishop Dee Williamston, who conceived the idea when she was clergy excellence director of the Great Plains Conference. There is also an immersion trip planned for 2024 to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
Rev. Sarah Marsh, mercy and justice coordinator, said the conference is working to establish 26 leaders for racial justice by 2026 to work with communities about issues facing them.
“When we talk about issues about race and culture it gets kind of heated kind of fast,” she said.
Marsh said the conference’s work with Direct Action Research Training, or DART, is progressing well in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, as are efforts in Lawrence, Topeka and Lincoln. Work by the Western Organization of Research Councils, or WORC, is progressing in Norfolk and other regions of Nebraska, but is on hold in rural areas of Kansas for “a million reasons” since the pandemic, Marsh said.
She asked for and received from the council a reallocation of $100,000 from the Doing Justice Initiative for a one-year project. It would be what Marsh is calling “Phase 2” of the initiative, to speed up the timeline for project implementation. Marsh said she has an “amazing person” in place for the job — the Rev. Maddie Johnson, recently on staff at the Neighboring Movement and Micah Corps program director.