Laity Summit introduces Learning Lab

David Burke


The third annual Laity Summit followed the lead of its two predecessors with an entirely online gathering. 

“We hope to be in person one of these years,” Shane Warta, lay leadership coordinator, said at the onset of the laity showcase, March 19. 

Mary K. Feit, director of Lay Servant Ministries for the conference, dedicated the Laity Summit to the memories of Scott Barnum, Colby, the Hays District director of lay servant ministries, who died Nov. 17; and the Rev. Nathan Stanton, director of congregational excellence, who died March 12. 

Ainsworth UMC hosts a Laity Summit watch party for other churches in the Elkhorn Valley District on March 19. Photo courtesy Rev. Jeanie Leeper.

“They both supported and encouraged me,” Feit said. “They both displayed compassion and faithfulness in this world.” 

The Rev. Dee Williamston, director of clergy excellence, gave an opening sermon to the laity. 

“You matter. Your service matters, your presence matters, your ministry matters,” she said. “Without you, where would we be?” 

About 175 laity were part of the summit, including four host sites in Ainsworth, Burwell, Imperial and Omaha St. Paul Benson UMCs, all in Nebraska. 

Among those at the Ainsworth site was Loren Ammon, a Certified Lay Servant serving as one of several pastors at Jamison, Nebraska, on the South Dakota border. 

“It was good to be there with other people rather than out on my own,” Ammon said. “And it was good to hear some of the other members around the conference. … It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives from different-sized churches.” 

Workshops featuring 20 presenters took up most of the six-hour day. 

“I was very pleased with the variety of workshops we had, the diverse lineup of presenters,” Warta said following the Laity Summit. “It seemed like engagement was pretty steady throughout the day.” 

The Laity Summit was also the launching pad of Learning Lab, a new platform for laity. 

“I’ve seen now, with three iterations of Laity Summit and those who I’ve talked to thinking Laity Summit should be 365 days a year, rather just one day,” Warta said. “I see it as an ongoing microcosm of Laity Summit, where folks can, if they feel they have the time or the interest, hop right on.” 

Learning Lab is a free, accessible platform for laity to learn more about a variety of topics. The Great Plains Conference is one of five annual conferences that have started Learning Lab. 

“It’s another platform for us to continue to invest in the next generation and help us find emerging leaders,” Warta said. “We can begin to support them by their engagement and figure out how to support them as a conference.” 

About 40 courses are already on the platform. Each of the workshop presentations from Laity Summit will be turned into courses and be available for viewing within the next few months, Warta said. 

“It’s a great way for us to bottle up the offerings we have in a course format, and it’s an opportunity for us to collaborate with other annual conferences and really use the connection,” he said. 

The Great Plains Conference is one of several other northeastern annual conferences that have joined West Virginia Conference in utilization of the new learning platform. 

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

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