Great Plains clergy, laity make their way to General Conference in St. Louis

David Burke


Members of the Great Plains Conference interact with people around them during the special session of General Conference on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. Dozens of people from Kansas and Nebraska have traveled to St. Louis for the special session. Photo by Jayna McFarland

Some of those who trekked from the Great Plains Conference to St. Louis are there to support clergy and laity. Others want to be in the room where and when history might happen for United Methodists.

Dozens of pastors, including district superintendents and conference staff members, are in The Dome at America’s Center. A Great Plains coalition, including alternate delegates, takes up much of one section of the arena.

The Rev. Daniel Kipp’s congregation at Sabetha First UMC in Kansas – which conducted four town hall meetings of their own to discuss the proposed plans — paid for him and his wife, Christie, to attend the special session. His parents live in St. Louis and are watching the couple’s three daughters during the called conference.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to be close enough to come,” Kipp said.

After watching the livestream from the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, Kipp said he was impressed with the conversations he’s been hearing about the proposals.

“It’s very clear to me that people are trying to work together,” he said. “Maybe it’s because we’ve spent three years praying and are ready to say, ‘How can we work together?’

“I’m hopeful that God is present,” he added.

The couple has had lunches with members of the Great Plains delegation.

“I’ve been impressed with how many people from our conference are here representing us,” Christie Kipp said.

The Rev. Kent Rogers, a 36-year veteran pastor, said he “felt led” to come to St. Louis.

“I have colleagues who run the spectrum from traditionalist to progressives,” said Rogers, pastor of Hastings (Nebraska) Grace UMC. “I love them all, and I pray that together their conversation will lead to a way forward.”

Rogers said he hopes the session will spark open, honest conversation.

“I pray that the conversation that takes place on the floor, off the floor, leads us to a plan that may be God’s plan,” he said.

The Rev. Sandy Vogel, retired pastor of congregational care at Topeka First UMC, said she wanted to “be a part of this momentous, big, huge occasion.”

Vogel said Saturday’s presentation by the various countries representing United Methodists inspired her to keep unity.

“The worldwide missions we have are so fantastic, I would hate to see that divided,” she said. “I would hate to see any of us divided.”

The Rev. Kent Little, pastor of Omaha First UMC, a Reconciling Ministries Network church, said he was in St. Louis to support LGBTQ clergy and laity in the church, “in hopes that we will finally open the doors and welcome them to the table of the church.”

Little said he hoped the issue of inclusion would be resolved by the end of the session on Tuesday night, “so we can move on with our ministry and our work in the community.”

The Rev. Stephen Griffith, a retired pastor from Lincoln, is at the special session representing the Methodist Federation for Social Action, communicating its commitment to LGBTQ clergy and laity — “those who have been hurting for far too long,” he said.

“I wanted to be here where we’re making history in the United Methodist Church – a history that’s long past due,” Griffith said. “I want to be here to see where it comes out.”

St. Louis is Griffith’s first experience of a General Conference in person, after watching livestreams through the years.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” he said. “It is operating smoothly, which I know hasn’t been the case as I’ve watched from home.”

Dan Entwisle is one of a dozen staff members from Church of the Resurrection to attend the special session.

“We’re concerned about the future of the Methodist church,” said Entwisle, senior executive director of the Leawood-based church. “It’s a big part of our church’s vision, and it’s important to us. We want to be here to be supportive.”

Kayla Houck, children’s minister at Olathe Aldersgate UMC, is also a student at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kansas, said she was excited to be at the special session.

“This is an important piece of history in the Methodist church,” she said. “Regardless of what the results are, it’s something they’ll write about in history books. I thought it was important to be a part of that. I also am very invested in making the church a place for everyone.”

Openly supporting the One Church Plan, the 30-year-old said she’s not sure how she would feel if another plan is adopted.

“If things don’t go that way, it will take a little bit of discernment for me to decide what’s going on,” she said.
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