The Prairie Rivers District is the first home for the Kansaska Cup, a new traveling trophy presented to the district with the highest mission share payout for a calendar year.
The district, covering south-central Nebraska, finished 2019 with a 97.9% payout.
The Rev. Lance Clay, Prairie Rivers District superintendent, said he was especially impressed because that district took much of the brunt from last year’s flooding.
“It’s just good pastors and great churches,” Clay said. “They really stepped up to bat, especially on the western and northern tier, where they went through all that flooding last year. They really went that extra mile to take care of things.”
Scott Brewer, treasurer and director of administrative services for the conference, said he also was impressed with Prairie Rivers’ performance, considering the storm damage in that area.
“For a district that has really faced a lot of challenges, they continued to show that they are committed to the connection,” Brewer said. “It sends a really important message to our other districts.”
Inside the district, Clay said, Grand Island Trinity UMC reached 100% of its mission shares, impressive for one of the three largest churches in Prairie Rivers.
“They showed up this year, and carried that little extra to make it happen,” he said.
After two years with more than 90% in mission shares payout — one of the best participation rates in the denomination, Brewer said — the conference ended 2019 with “just under 85%.”
“2019 was a hard year,” he said. “It was a time when a lot of churches and a lot of members decided to withhold, and we had all the flooding and natural, weather-related disasters that happened throughout the conference.”
Brewer attributed some of the downturn as a response to the special session of the General Conference in February 2019, where a Traditional Plan was favored over proposals to drop human sexuality-related language from the Book of Discipline.
“It was clear there were some churches who were withholding, partly because of their deep happiness with either what the General Conference did, or the Annual Conference did,” Brewer said.
A vote was taken during the Annual Conference in May to condemn the decision of the General Conference, and apologize to LGBTQ+ persons, their family, friends and the body of Christ.
Clay said he saw some hesitancy in his district.
“We have some people who struggle with it, but I talk with the pastors and the networks and tell them it’s a connectional system and that we work together,” he said. “There were some apprehensions with the denominational conversations, but when it came down to the bottom line, they stepped up and did their part.”
Mission shares, Brewer said, “are one of the ways we do ministry together.”
Every congregation in the Great Plains, he said, is assessed 10% of their operating income from the previous year’s reporting period. (2019 used 2017 figures, and 2020 is based on 2018, for example.)
Brewer said that mission shares have been a part of the Methodist denomination for about 150 years, but “a lot of it really took off after World War I.”
Brewer said he is particularly proud that mission shares keep the Great Plains Conference’s infrastructure in place.
“It makes sure that when we have a major flood in Nebraska, we have a disaster response coordinator and a system that is ready to go,” he said. “Maintaining those types of systems requires resources, requires money to do that.”
Once special offerings are taken for the conference’s disaster response ministries after weather-related damage, “the money will fully go for what they intend it to go for,” Brewer said.
Brewer said he introduced the Kansaska Cup as a way to show appreciation to the district with the highest mission share contributions.
He said his initial thought was a coffee mug with a bicycle on it, dubbed the Ritter Cup – named for the Rev. Bill Ritter, retired Blue River District superintendent, co-founder of the Nebraska United Methodist Bike Ride, and a champion of mission shares – but found a half-price, scratch-and-dent loving cup from a Topeka trophy shop as a larger symbol for the winning district.
“The DSes worked really hard throughout the year in trying to interpret mission shares and check in with churches to see if they needed anything to support their mission shares,” Brewer said. “All that work they put in really deserves some form of recognition.”
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