Calling it an unprecedented move for “unprecedented times,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. opened an abbreviated, condensed Great Plains Annual Conference session the morning of May 30.
The three-plus hour session was conducted via a phone conference call that had early technical glitches but eventually allowed clergy and laity representatives to vote on key business items.
The Great Plains is believed to be the first conference in the denomination to attempt sessions via phone.
“This is exciting because we’re the early adapters here,” Bishop Saenz said.
Time-sensitive matters were voted on in the conference, with other items to take place in a live session scheduled for the timeframe of Oct. 1-4 in Grand Island.
Approved during the special session:
The sale of Camp Comeca near Cozad, Nebraska, for $20,000 to Cozad Camping Ministry. The United Methodist camp, which opened in 1955, had been operating at a $300,000 deficit, the Rev. Bill Ritter, chair of Great Plains United Methodist Camps Inc., said during the call. The sale was approved 879-33, with 23 abstaining.
The ratification of disaffiliation agreements for six churches, all in Kansas: Abilene Emmanuel, Aulne, Bartlett, Benton, Esbon and Norcatur. “As we part, we do so with mercy,” the bishop said in his prayer for the churches. The disaffiliation passed 770-69, with 55 abstentions.
The closing of 14 churches: Beemer and Long Pine in Nebraska, and Burns, Carneiro, Cassoday, Greeley, Iola Calvary, Kansas City Metropolitan Avenue, McGraw (Hoxie), Pomona, Topeka St. Peter, Walnut, Wichita Brookside and Wichita Dawson in Kansas. The closings passed 908-14, with 28 abstaining.
A recommendation from the personnel committee that pastoral salaries at all levels remain the same as 2019-20. The Rev. Craig Hauschild, chair of the personnel committee, said the pay was recommended because of the pandemic precautions that have hit local churches. Minimum compensation will remain $44,921 for full elders and deacons; $42,486 for provisional elders and deacons; $40,051 for associate members; and $37,617 for fulltime local pastors. It was approved 814-20, with 7 abstentions.
In addition, a resolution from the 2019 conference for a pastoral renewal leave policy was withdrawn with possible consideration during the October special session.
Opening the conference call, Bishop Saenz recognized that May 30 would have been the final day of the annual conference session scheduled for Stormont-Vail Event Center in Topeka.
“We will miss not seeing each other, we will miss fellowship, we will miss worshipping together,” the bishop said.
Bishop Saenz also acknowledged two recent racial incidents: the murder of an African-American man jogging in Georgia and the killing of an African-American man by a police officer in Minneapolis.
“We are broken over what we see in our nation even today,” he said.