Two of the most visible clergy during the Great Plains Annual Conference sessions are among the 54 retirees from the conference this year.
The Rev. Nan Kaye-Skinner and the Rev. Lew Kaye-Skinner are retiring from their appointive positions – she as senior pastor of Lincoln Trinity UMC and he as adjunct faculty in the Bryan LGH College of Health Sciences – but say they are willing to continue their roles during the sessions. Nan has served as secretary of the conference for the past several years, and Lew is the unofficial parliamentarian as well as serving on the sessions planning team.
Nan said she had toyed with the idea of retirement for several years, but by late last fall, she “clearly had that sense that this was the right time. By the time she announced her decision to the Staff Parish Relations Committee and her district superintendent, “It just felt like there was a weight lifted and indeed this was the right time.
“I’ve had lots of affirmation in various ways that I’ve followed the intuition of the Spirit that this was the right thing to do,” said the pastor who served churches in Hastings, Juniata, Lexington, Wood River, Lincoln, Beatrice and Ralston, as well as serving as the Elkhorn Valley District superintendent for four years before becoming Lincoln Trinity pastor in 2014.
“I was kind of waiting for Nan,” said Lew, 67, who has been teaching at BryanLGH since 2011. “I still enjoy being in the classroom, but I hate grading papers. I was just ready to give that up.”
He’ll continue working in the writing center at the school. “I can help people with their writing and I don’t have to grade it,” he said.
Perhaps it’s appropriate since the Kaye-Skinners are so evident at the Annual Conference, since their first meeting was at the former Nebraska Conference sessions.
She was in charge of presenting the legislation in 1981, after she had been an ordained pastor for several years and he had just completed seminary. Lew, sitting with a group of young pastors outside the session, saw Nan in the crowd.
“He didn’t know who I was yet, he just knew my name,” she recalled.
“She was moving from Hastings to Lexington, an associate at both places. I was being assigned to Beaver City, Hendley and Hollinger, about 52 miles south of Lexington,” Lew said. “She said, ‘If you ever have any parishioners in the Lexington hospital, give me a call and we’ll have coffee.’
“I’m not sure if she was really serious, but I kept asking my parishioners, ‘Oh, do you need to go to the hospital?’” he said with a laugh. “I finally found one who was going up there. I don’t know if it was an official date, but it was our first time going out together.”
They will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary in August.
Besides that three-point charge, Lew has served churches in Juniata-Alda, Cairo-Boelus and Hallam-Martell.
The couple never served in the same church.
“We have very different gifts. Our ministries have taken us in different directions,” Nan said.
“I’m plenty good at irritating her without being on her staff,” Lew added.
Each had difficulty trying to pick a handful of highlights from their pastoral careers.
Nan said that, besides being pastor while Ralston Trinity built its community center, it was her time as Volunteers in Missions coordinator for the Nebraska Conference.
“That was during Hurricane Katrina, helping local congregations and individuals to find a way to connect up and put hands and heart to service in Louisiana and Mississippi. Volunteers in Mission is something that’s very near and dear to my heart, and that’s true when I was conference VIM coordinator,” she said. “It’s … given people in the local church the opportunity to discover the joy of volunteering for mission work.”
Lew counts the Annual Conference sessions as some of his highlights.
“Just being able to lead us through some difficult matters in a way that we could have our differences and come to some sort of resolution and move on to other business, including a debate last year.
The discussion at the microphone was beginning to get contentious, he said, and the Rev. Tessa Zehring, pastor at Doniphan-Rosedale, Nebraska, was at a different mic ahead of him and ceded her time to him.
“She said she wanted to know what I was going to do first,” Lew said. “She was pretty sure that whatever I was going to do was going to get us out of the mess.”
He said his newfound clergy colleagues in Kansas might not have been sure of what to make of him when the conferences merged.
“I had kind of a reputation in the Nebraska Conference before the Great Plains, but the Great Plains people don’t all know me,” he said. “I’ve developed an ability to keep a level head and let people shout at each other and then find a way forward.”
Lew said he doesn’t care if he’s on the winning or losing side of an argument during the sessions.
“I get really upset when things are not running smoothly. You don’t have to run my way, as long as it’s smooth,” he said. “If it’s not smooth, it grates on me and I step in to try and smooth things out.”
The Kaye-Skinners will stay in Lincoln, near both their sons – Andrew, an investment counselor in Omaha and Benjamin, a music teacher in Geneva – and three grandchildren.
“The opportunity to be available to all of my grandchildren is very exciting,” Nan said.
She also wants to stay involved with missions work and do some of the volunteering that she didn’t have time for as a pastor.
“It’s something as simple as being available to volunteer when there are volunteer opportunities that come up around Lincoln – whether it’s working with the homeless or our immigrant population, with children. I just haven’t had time to be involved in the community,” she said. “I don’t know what all I might be asked to do, but I have a strong sense that I’m entering into a new time of calling, and just trying to be open and excited about what that new type of calling might be.”
She said she is grateful for all of the people and experiences she’s had in 43 years of ministry.
“What I see is the experience of having my own faith shaped and deepened by both lay and clergy who are such profound witnesses and disciples,” she said. “For me, it’s as much the gift I’ve received as the gifts I’ve given.”