Via livestream, conference’s first Laity Summit rolls on

David Burke


Like many other events scheduled for the month of March, the Great Plains Conference’s first Laity Summit did not go according to plan.

Media producer Eugenio Hernandez, left, instructs Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and Shane Warta, lay leadership coordinator, before the beginning of the Laity Summit livestream. Photo by David Burke

What was supposed to be an in-person gathering at Kearney First UMC with 140 laity registered turned into an online gathering with 360 participating at one time or another during the seven-hour virtual summit on March 21.

Everyone who was to be a presenter at the live event was on the livestream, either live from the Topeka office, by Zoom video in their homes, or in a taped message.

“Overall, it was a great event,” said Shane Warta, lay leadership coordinator for the conference. “I was glad the presenters were willing to be flexible and to shift what would be a workshop format with live Q&A to a single-shot format.”

Many of the presenters acknowledged the adjustments brought on by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide.

“We are definitely in a moment of self-reflection on us and a self-reflection on what it means to be the church,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said in his welcome. “We have a mission as a church, and we have been awakened in a new way. … We are more the church now than we were two, three or four weeks ago.”

Among the highlights from the presenters:

  • Mary Brooks, Five Rivers District Lay Servant Ministries director and district lay leader, gave an overview of LSM courses and avenues of leadership in the church, closing with an emphasis on mentoring. “Perhaps this is more important now than ever,” she said.
  • Laurie White, a certified lay minister serving Great Bend King UMC, started in lay ministry in 2007, then went into certified lay ministry. “I went in kicking and screaming,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d ever speak from the pulpit, and now I’m seven years being a certified lay minister.” White is certified in spiritual direction from Southern Methodist University as well as at a hospice.
  • Jada Hodgson, a third-generation lay speaker representing the Academy for Lay Servant Ministries, spoke about the importance of CLMs. “A call to Certified Lay Ministries is a call to ‘more,’” said Hodgson, who also works as an elder law attorney as well as pastor of Plum Creek UMC in Kansas.
  • The Rev. Adam Barlow-Thompson, co-founder of the Neighboring Movement, said that reaching out — at social distancing recommendations — is more important now than ever. “This is a very weird season of life that we’re in,” Barlow-Thompson said. “It would make sense to connect with every neighbor right now. These are the people we need to support us right now.”
  • Gary Robbins, a member of Topeka Countryside UMC and former member of the Board of Ordained Ministry talked about his book, “The Madison Effect,” that details one small church’s culture of call. He also mentioned coronavirus. “Good and lasting changes for the ministry will come out of the pandemic,” he said.
  • Randall Hodgkinson, associate conference lay leader and member of Topeka First UMC, talked about the increased need for lay leadership with the Great Plains’ burgeoning network system. “I think it’s really important that laity take up those reins and get into the network system,” he said.

Videos of the individual sessions are expected to be available on the conference website in early April.

Those who participated are asked to fill out this survey.

Warta said although he considered the livestream a success, plans for a 2021 Lay Summit will be back to an in-person gathering.

“The undertone is that people were desiring an opportunity to connect in person, and that’s what the presenters wanted, too,” he said.

Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at

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