Stanton to step down from congregational excellence role July 1

David Burke


Rev. Nathan Stanton, right, eats with Great Plains Conference pastors while attending a church planter conference. Submitted Photo

After five years as director of congregational excellence for the Great Plains Conference, the Rev. Nathan Stanton will step back from the position at the beginning of the appointive year July 1.

Stanton, 52, was diagnosed in August 2020 with bulbar-onset ALS, which began limiting his speech and swallowing. In an email interview for this article, Stanton explained that he can no longer speak, eat or walk. “I need assistance for everything now,” he wrote.

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., who in one of his first actions as episcopal leader elevated Stanton’s post to a position on the cabinet, praised Stanton’s work and ministry.

“Nathan is a plow ox yoked to Christ,” the bishop wrote. “He will not stop at anything until the work is finished. It’s that perseverant spirit and powerful loyalty to Christ, Christ’s mission, and his colleagues that I admire most about Nathan. He is an inspiration to all who know him.”

Stanton succeeded the Rev. Evelyn Fisher in 2017 as director of congregational excellence, a team that provides resourcing for ministries associated with mercy and justice, disaster response, camping, lay leadership, campus ministries, and intergenerational discipleship, among other ministries. Prior to serving in that role, Stanton served four years as new church development coordinator.

“I am very proud that we have created a collaborative culture with the cabinet,” Stanton wrote of his team’s ministry. “Each Congregational Excellence coordinator works with a district superintendent to help implement programs for ministry within the churches of each district as well as their own area of specialization.

“I strongly believe in the process of coaching,” he continued. “I am excited that we have created an environment where other pastors and lay persons are coaching churches through the Readiness 360 process. We have over 100 churches engaged in that process and 80 clergy and laity that have been through coach’s training.”

Stanton said he hoped his team had created a culture where churches have the capacity to build their own relationships and programs.

In his four years as coordinator for new church development, 13 new congregations were formed, and a majority of those were predominantly Black, Hispanic and African congregations. He introduced Planter Incubator and Crucible programs for growing new churches, and Stanton said he took great joy in developing the 20 By 2020 plan to grow congregations in the Great Plains.

“We were the first in the country to use the ‘Shark Tank’ idea of having potential innovators pitch to a panel for funding,” Stanton wrote, referencing the hit television show in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas in an effort to secure funding. “Our cohort and coaching model allowing innovators to build their plan one retreat at a time has been replicated across the jurisdiction and along the mid-Atlantic.”
Rev. Nathan Stanton is shown here during his undergraduate years at Kansas Wesleyan University (left) and in 2019. Submitted photos

Prior to joining the conference staff, Stanton served as pastor at Wichita Pleasant Valley, Anthony, Plains-Kismet, and at Wichita Saint Mark, a historic Black church.

“All of these churches taught me so much,” Stanton wrote. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to live in community with them and to be a part of the important faith moments of such wonderful families. Many, many people in each one of these churches are still family to me. It was such a blessing to serve these different charges. Each one taught me and prepared me for the next step of my journey.”

Stanton said he has been grateful for the support of his colleagues, fellow pastors and friends in and outside of the conference for their support since his diagnosis.

“I am so grateful for the meaningful connections and relationships that I have had in my life because of the United Methodist connection,” he wrote. “Pastor friends have reached out and given me such love and support. Likewise, very dear friends from congregations that I have served continue to reach out with prayers and words of support every day. This church and the people in it have been a true lifeline through this illness.”

Many of those pastors were in attendance in June at Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City, where he was honored with the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat for the Royals game in honor of Lou Gehrig Day. The seat is a special honor named after Negro Leagues star Buck O’Neil given for a game to individuals making positive impacts on their communities. Stanton’s game in that seat coincided with a day Major League Baseball set aside to honor the New York Yankees player who died from in 1941 from ALS, a disease that often is now known by the nickname bearing his name.

Stanton, his wife, Brenda, and family moved to Salina last year to be closer to his parents and his two eldest sons, Noah and Isaac, both of whom are students and football players for Kansas Wesleyan University. Nathan Stanton was also a football player at KWU, as well as active in the theater department. He currently serves on the university’s board of trustees. Their youngest son, Eli, is in eighth grade.

“Brenda has been my angel in a time of deepest despair and hopelessness. She has kept me going. She has helped us move, started a new job, and has been taking care of both me and our children. I don’t know how she does it all,” he wrote. “Noah, Isaac and Eli are my purest joy. It is a blessing to have them all so close and to be able to share in the daily happenings of their lives. I know the sacrifice they each made to be close to me during this time, and I am so thankful to be able to be involved in their activities."

Stanton said he was also grateful to his parents and Brenda’s family, who have “gone above and beyond to help with my care and the daily details of life.”

Getting the diagnosis of ALS left Stanton “devastated,” he wrote.

“We turned to our community of family, church and friends,” he wrote. “The prayers, presence, and tangible support from these people have made all the difference.”

Stanton wrote that his faith has been “put into action every day” since the diagnosis.

“ALS and the process of dying little by little every day has forced me to take on the very difficult process of finding out what hope is when you have been told there is a 0% chance that you will get better,” he wrote.

Stanton said he’s often used the story from John 5 of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda as his principle of following Jesus wherever he leads to build new faith communities.

“These communities were with the invisible and the rejects of society — the human dumpster,” he wrote. “So now I find myself in that place as I am headed toward being fully paralyzed. I am grappling with the call that if I have any health at all, how will I share my faith and ideas in the future?”

While stepping back from day-to-day duties, Stanton still will be involved with Kansas Wesleyan, working on a leadership program and starting a project to fund leadership opportunities for students.

“I also plan to stay in contact with the churches in my community and help in any way they might be able to use me,” he added.

Stanton wrote that life expectancy for those with ALS is two to four years from onset. He wrote that he has no motion in his right hand, limited use of his left, and will soon be communicating with an “eye gaze” communication device.

“It will allow me to type with my eyes and the device will speak for me,” he added.

Stanton wrote that he is grateful for the United Methodist connection during his journey.

“The church has been an important foundation throughout my life. It has provided me with great joys and sustained me through sorrows,” he wrote. “I know how strong the connections are that come from a life in the church. I am thankful for what they have given me so far, and I am relying on these connections to comfort me as I venture into this next stage of my life.”

Bishop Saenz said he always felt a connection with Stanton, since both were in congregational development and new church start work in their respective conferences, and he wanted Stanton’s voice and experience on the cabinet.

“He does whatever is necessary to support the strategies of the district superintendents for church vitality, evangelism and the works of mercy and justice,” the bishop wrote. “Nathan is always and joyfully producing more than what is asked of him.”

Bishop Saenz said a successor to Stanton will be named within the next two weeks.

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

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