A Great Plains pastor devoted to research and curriculum, as well as applying them to real-world situations, is the conference’s new intergenerational ministries coordinator.
“I have a passion for helping people find the resources they need and building systems for discipleship, so their lives can be transformed and changed so that we can change the world,” said the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford.
Gepford will resign from her post as discipleship pastor of Fremont First UMC in Nebraska, where she was appointed a year-and-a-half ago. Although she will have an office at the conference headquarters in Topeka, she will be based in Fremont where her husband, Bill, is lead pastor. The couple have a 4-month-old son, Finnegan.
“Melissa’s work is going to be working to help cultivate a larger picture of what discipleship is for the Great Plains Conference,” said the Rev. Nathan Stanton, director of congregational excellence. “We’re excited about the gifts and graces that she brings, the experience she brings, her passion for the local church and her passion to see young people rise up and be called into ministry, whether it’s ordained ministry or lay ministry.
“We’re just extremely excited to have her on the team,” he added.
Born 30 years ago in Longview, Texas, and a lifelong United Methodist, Gepford said she first felt a call to ministry in the eighth grade. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and Greek from Arkansas’ Ouachita Baptist University (“That’s how I found out how Methodist I am,” she said), she earned her master’s of theology degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.
While at Perkins, she began teaching fifth-grade Sunday school at Highland Park UMC in Dallas. She said she started to appreciate the knowledge and discipleship of children and youth.
“I was teaching some of the things I had been learning in seminary, and I felt like they were able to grasp and understand it,” she said. “I came away learning that the average lay person, and kids in particular, we don’t give them enough credit. They rise to the occasion. We can teach them things we’re learning, and they can produce a lot of change.”
She married Bill Gepford, a fellow seminary graduate she met when he recruited her for a kickball team, six days after graduating from Perkins.
“I do not recommend planning a wedding and writing a thesis at the same time,” she said.
The Rev. Bill Gepford is a native of Johnson County, Kansas, and their 2013 wedding in Dallas was co-officiated by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
The newlyweds began their ministries at Colby UMC in Kansas, for two years, then two years at Tonganoxie, Kansas, where he was lead pastor and she was director of discipleship, before moving to Fremont.
She was ordained as a deacon during the Great Plains Annual Conference session last June. Her resume also includes writing for Relevant and Fathom magazines, as well as working as a researcher to provide pastors with book summaries and sociological reports to help in sermon preparation, research and church development.
“Melissa has a strong and effective record of resource development, not only focused on children’s ministry, but she also has a track record of providing resources to professional preachers who utilize her resources to create sermons on a weekly basis,” Stanton said. “She comes into the role with professional experience, experience of being entrepreneurial, and developing her own ministry with her gifts and her passions. Not only that, they she has very effectively implemented curriculum at the local church level.
“She brings a gift of listening, of really hearing where people are at and their needs,” he added.
The intergenerational ministries coordinator position is new in the conference, evolving from the former local church youth ministries coordinator
“For the conference, I’ll be able to provide some structure and some resources to work alongside our churches and pastors to provide for them ways to discipleship,” she said. “Not just kids ministry, not just youth ministry, not just adults, but them all together.”
Stanton said adding Gepford is part of a move away from the former congregational excellence model, where each staff member was a specialist, to a more collaborative effort by the staff as the conference moves to more of a network model.
“Conference staff is there to support and be present and answer questions and provide the best information where we can,” he said. “We really believe it’s important that the people on the ground continue to see and understand and really feel that what they are doing in the local church is the information we need to harness and put that in front of other people.”
Contact David Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.