The eighth Great Plains Annual Conference session, and its second in a distanced format forced by the coronavirus pandemic, took place Friday-Saturday, May 28-29..
“This is another way of meeting together,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said at the opening of the session, from a studio at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
Most of the reports necessary by the Book of Discipline were presented in recorded videos, while the bishop; the Rev. Nan Kaye-Skinner, secretary; and Jesi Lipp, parliamentarian, were at the table in Leawood.
Voting this year took place entirely through the V-Voter system. The bishop acknowledged the frustration many people have with technology and asked for patience and grace for those experiencing difficulty.
“We are all digital immigrants in some way or another,” he said.
The Rev. Dr. Mitch Reece recalled his time of discernment at a Trappist monastery in Iowa during the memorial service, which was broadcast Thursday.
While there, the Wichita East and West districts superintendent said, he was learning to abide in God’s presence.
“I’ve learned that abiding is where we ultimately find spiritual victory,” he said in the sermon.
This year has provided challenges for clergy and laity, Reece said.
“No matter where we have found ourselves, if we can learn to abide in God, there is hope, there is peace, there is grace,” he said at the service, recorded at Lawrence First UMC.
Clergy remembered during the service were Rev. Don D. Anderson, Rev. Gary Aten, Rev. Garner J. Berg, Rev. Larry Lee Bowyer, Terry Cain, Pastor Mark Demas, Rev. Junius Boyd Dotson, Rev. Jimmie (Jim) Leroy Fredrickson, Rev. Bonnie Marie Gilmer, Rev. John C. Gingerich, Rev. Dr. Vernon Goff, Rev. R. Lauerence Hastings, Rev. Jerald “Jerry” Keith Hooley, Rev. Dr. Doctor Talmadge “Bud” Israel, Rev. Dr. Robert Jewett, Rev. Duane W. Lenz, Rev. Robert Joseph “Bob” Loomis, Rev. Aaron Sekwawaedza Madondo, Rev. M. Lyle Miller, Rev. Paul George Mugler, Rev. Robert “Bob” William Nowling, Pastor Gary C. Parsons, Rev. Dr. Ivan D. Richardson, Rev. Chester Wheeler Ross, Rev. Wayne Leroy Schreurs, Rev. LaRoy Edward Seaver, Rev. Dr. Donald James Snyder, Rev. Susan Montgomery Stover, Rev. Gerald “Toby” Lee Toburen, Rev. Armin E. Vogt and Rev. Thomas Wallrabenstein.
Darlene Moore Montgomery, a diaconal minister, was remembered in the service.
Clergy spouses receiving tribute were Opal Anderson, Betty Jane Bandy, George Berlin, Euna Vaye (Ukena) Brant, Madge Buehler, Terry Lynn Clugston Sr., Anneta LaRue “Neta” Conway, Jerry A. Friesen, Schatzie K. Gillming, Catherine “Cate” F. Hayen, Betty Jean (Laurence) Holdridge, Marilyn Morgan Hunt, “Bee” Bernise Johnson, Ruth Esther (Reeves) Kemling, Luella Jean (Minter) Martin, Marjorie Mae (Walter) Miller, Katherine Mohlstrom, JoAnn Nuetzman, Patrick Lee Norris, Jane Pope, Barbara P. Schmidt, Dorothy Mae Stagner, James L. Stapleton, Zelda “Tag” Swartz, D. Jean Thuma, Nina VanVerth, M. Christine Vogt and Jimmy Wayne Wickiser.
Keeping an annual conference tradition, three children were baptized during the service: Jean Eleanor Gager, daughter of Rev. Alan Gager and Rev. Claire Gager; Brielle Ayuk Milosi and Gaddiel Robyne Milosi, daughter and son of Rev. Ivan Milosi Mumba and Rev. Heureuse Kaj Ayukwend.
More than 260 persons attended the online laity sessions Friday morning, hearing inspirational stories of laypersons at work across the Great Plains.
Hosted by conference lay leader Lisa Maupin and associate lay leaders Randall Hodgkinson and Keith Olsen, the session included spotlights on Emporia State University’s United Methodist Campus Ministry and Topeka First UMC, which turned its history into an online trivia night for church members.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. remembered his first car in talking about reforming the church during the Service of Word and Table, viewed on Friday morning.
The Mercury Zephyr he received as a junior in college was driven by himself and his wife, Mayé, for six years, reaching 135,000 miles, the bishop recalled.
But the car had a growing number of loud, clanking noises, was jerking from side to side when driven and lurching when stopped.
A mechanic finally told him the problems could have been solved had he looked under the hood earlier.
He compared the situation to the state of the church as a whole.
“Friends, the world we’ve been driving in has been clunking, jerking, lurching and shaking for many, many years,” he said, but we have been afraid to look under the hood and imagine new systems.
The past year — whether it’s been the pandemic, racial justice concerns or political unrest — has caused the church and the world to re-evaluate its circumstances, Bishop Saenz said.
The bishop said we are “afraid to look under the hood” and reimagine new systems. Those new systems aren’t including brick and mortar, he said.
“God is making a new covenant with a heart, not with the stones of our buildings,” he said.
In the laity address, conference lay leader Lisa Maupin acknowledged the tumultuous year that has passed, as well as the stresses it placed on churches and individuals.
“I feel like it is time for a deep breath and a nap,” she said.
Laity, however, used the time to pivot from traditional church to exploring new ways to engage and participate in their communities, Maupin said.
In her professional life as an events and outreach manager at the University of Nebraska and in her conference role, Maupin said her new motto has been “we can do hard things.”
Those hard things, she said, include being the church that we’ve always dreamed of being.
“We get to use our voice. We get to unleash a love onto a world that is crying,” Maupin said. “We get to be a church without walls. We get to live out a call that every interaction matters in our charge to make disciples to transform the world.”
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. saluted the clergy, laity and staff of the Great Plains Conference in his episcopal address, which aired Friday afternoon, for their work during a stressful year.
“We’ve experienced layer upon layer of crisis upon crisis,” the bishop said in his address, taped at Topeka Asbury-Mount Olive UMC. “One thing is for sure: We are clearer about our life priorities and our identity and mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Saenz said the difficult year brought out the best in all avenues of the conference.
“We have found that we can be creative beyond our imaginations,” he said. “You outdid yourselves.”
Taking those experiences into account, the bishop said, everyone can move forward toward greater work in God’s name.
“We are clear that Christ calls us to be both faithful and fruitful to the glory of God,” he said. “We are clear and confident that when we call out to God, God will answer. God will be with us in trouble, God will show us salvation and satisfy us with long life.”
Eight elders in full connection, one deacon in full connection, three associate members, six provisional deacons and 17 provisional elders were recognized by the Board of Ordained Ministry in its presentation airing Friday afternoon.
They will formally receive their honors at the ordination and commissioning service on Saturday, June 12, at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
Representing the group, John Wesley’s historic list of questions were answered by Hyun Ju Gill, Tino Herrera, Hyemi Jones, Daekyung Kim, David Taejong Kim, Clair Clough (deacon), Annie Ricker and Sue Barnham.
The 25th anniversary of United Methodists establishing full membership to deacons was marked by the Rev. Jerry Brabec, chair of the order of deacons for the conference.
“God is doing a new thing in our church and in our world, and deacons are bridging our way,” Brabec said.
Although they couldn’t formally be applauded, the Rev. Andrew Conard, BOOM chair, recognized clergy celebrating their 10th through 50th anniversaries of appointed service in churches and extension ministries.
“We see you and are grateful for your faithful presence,” he said.
Eleven interns and two team coordinators were introduced by the Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, clergy recruitment and development director.
Micah Corps co-coordinators Edison De-Conti Toe and Sam Redfern; and interns Mulu Bannister, John Finch, Ariel Johnson, TK Maforo, Anastasia Popham and Hyeon Wang.
Pastoral leadership interns are Pauline Omboko, Carly Redding and Bethany Warne.
Youth ministry interns are Emma Landsdown, Bailey Howland and Charlotte Taylor.
The 2020 General Conference delegation from the Great Plains Annual Conference has watched as sessions have been delayed until 2021 and, most recently, August and September of 2022 in Minneapolis.
Differences over human sexuality are still dividing the church, but “most of the United Methodist churches are staying United Methodist,” the Rev. Adam Hamilton, head of the conference delegation, said in a video shown Friday afternoon.
Churches may graciously leave the denomination, Hamilton said, but “I hope and pray it’s very few.”
“There’s room for us to disagree about things and still be United Methodists,” he said.
Hamilton asked for prayers for the conference delegation.
“They’re an amazing team,” he said. “We’ve had some great conversations together.”
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference is still scheduled to take place sometime in 2022, Hamilton said, following the General Conference.
A $13,861,675 budget for 2022 was presented for first reading by the Council on Finance and Administration on Friday afternoon.
While investments provided 16.37% increase in the conference reserves last year and an additional 5.64% increase this year, the Rev. Zach Anderson, CF&A chair said, the draw from reserves will be decreased from 5% to 4% in the 2022 budget.
“CF&A has decided to start moving toward less of the reserve for budget support and free up more for grants and emerging needs as we go into the near future,” Anderson said.
A grant budget of $412,589 will be used for renewal leave, children and youth programs, multiethnic education, anti-racism efforts and empowerment of indigenous and people of color, he added.
Agencies of The United Methodist Church, he said, will designated with percentages rather than a specific dollar amount, he added. In other words, the conference will pay to the general church the percentage of mission shares that it takes in from churches across Kansas and Nebraska.
“What the conference receives is what the agencies will receive,” Anderson said.
The conference voted 677-6 to increase the past service rate, an annual amount included in benefits for clergy with pre-1982 years of service, with a cost-of-living increase from the current $823 to $829; and a housing resolution, an annual requirement for federal guidelines.
After no increase in minimum compensation for 2021, the personnel committee proposed a 3% increase for 2022, said the Rev. Craig Hauschild, Personnel Committee chair.
That would put the minimum at $46,269 for full elders and deacons; $43,761 for provisional elders and deacons; $41,253 for associate members; and $38,746 for fulltime local licensed pastors.
The motion passed, 686-35.
Trustees are moving closer to finding a permanent home for the Great Plains Conference office in Topeka, the Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, Trustees president, reported.
Current conference offices in southwest Topeka have been leased since 2018.
Trustees are seeking a permanent space in Topeka to purchase for either renovation or new construction, Ahlschwede said, with reserve funds, which includes the sales of the former conference offices in Lincoln, Topeka and Wichita. New offices are projected to be ready at the end of 2023.
The current lease is about $120,000 a year, she said.
A vote of 641-69 endorsed the intention to proceed.
Ahlschwede said the Trustees are also proposing eliminating the mandatory property insurance program in the former Kansas East Conference and have an optional plan for the entire conference.
All churches will still be required to have insurance, she added.
The proposal was approved, 693-22.
Churches celebrating 150-, 125- and 100-year milestones were honored to conclude the Friday afternoon session.
They are, in Kansas: Axtell, Beloit, Blue Rapids, Cherokee, Concordia First, Elk City, Highland, Jamestown, Leonardville, Lincoln, Mayetta, Oxford, Peabody, Sedan, Solomon Yoked, Sterling, Talmage, Thayer and Waterville.
From Nebraska: Bartley Kemper Memorial, Central City, Fairmont, Humboldt, Madison, Morrill, Norfolk First, Papillion, Pleasant Dale, Red Cloud, Rising City, South Sioux City and York.
By a vote of 645-24, the conference voted to renew its Chabadza covenant with the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference for an additional four years. The partnership, which began seven years ago, works in educational support and financial scholarship of young people in the Mutara and Mutasa-Nayanga districts of the country, as well as mutual prayer and education between residents of both conferences.
The Rev. Nancy Flader welcomed 43 Great Plains pastors to the next chapters of their ministries at the beginning of the retirement service, airing Friday night.
“Come on in, the life is fine,” Flader, co-chair of the Great Plains Association of Retired Pastors and Spouses, said. “Take a deep breath, look around. Listen to what God is calling you to do next.”
“Thank you for all the long hours of windshield time as you drove to distant hospitals and far-flung farms and ranches,” she said. “For all the baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmation classes, Bible schools. For all the cookies and coffee consumed at UMW meetings, fellowship times, and in various homes. For all the sermons completed in the wee hours of the night and then discarded as you stepped in the pulpit and you realized you needed a different message.”
Each of the retirees were saluted, some giving their own video farewell messages and others writing their thanks.
Retiring pastors for 2021 are Jeffery Adams, Melanie Adams, Melody Adams, Kenneth Baker, Patricia “Ticia” Bennett, Amy Bowers, Jill Chambers, Mark Chambers, Robert Clark, Steven Cole, Alan Davis, Raponzil Drake, Loren Drummond, Rob Ernest, Sandra Ferguson, Sarah Gill, Donna Goltry, Carla Gunn, Kathy Harmon, Linda Hopwood, Debra Harvey, Claudia Hubbard, Lee Johnson, Ronald Kite, Nancy Lambert, Steven Langhofer, John Lansbury, Greg Lindenberger, Terry Mayhew, Gregory McCrimmon, Martha McDougal, Mic McGuire, Nora Mendyk, Doug Olson, Vern Olson, David Randall, Les Rye, Becky Saddler, Terry Tomlinson, Debra Tompsett-Welch, Beth Wilke, Bill Williams an Ed Woods.
By a 720-9 vote, the conference approved the closings of 13 churches:
In Kansas: Almena, Auburn, Beeler, Burrton, Salina Countryside, Kansas City Grinter Chapel, Hiawatha Trinity, Otis, Rozel and Woodston.
In Nebraska: Craig, Kennesaw and Waco.
Four churches, all in Kansas — Canton, Galva, Jamestown and Worden — requesting disaffiliation and were approved on a 724-30 vote.
After an unsuccessful motion to return funding to a Topeka social justice agency, the 2022 budget of $13,861,675 was approved by a 770-18 vote.
Fellowship and Faith was not included in this year’s budget. Lorna Boden, pastor of Tecumseh UMC and president of the organization, said the group’s director has had a “multitude of health issues” in the past nine to 12 months and was not able to apply for the funding.
Boden moved for an amendment to put 0.33% of the budget into Fellowship and Faith, decreasing the amount for college ministries from 8.4% to 8% and cutting other agencies by 0.01%, but the amendment failed, 643-138.
She said the organization works with the “poorest of the poor” in the Topeka area, and its budget through the years has decreased from $14,000 to $3,000.
Rev. Dr. Kalaba Chali, mercy and justice coordinator, said the organization was welcome to apply for grant funding through the mercy and justice subteam.
After five years as conference secretary, the Rev. Nan Kaye-Skinner is retiring from the position, to be succeeded next year by assistant secretary Lori Richey.
“It’s been extraordinary and thank you to all of you,” Kaye-Skinner said, thanking all of the secretarial teams through the years.
Bishop Saenz also acknowledged the retirement of the Rev. Nancy Lambert, retiring as clergy excellence director and assistant to the bishop.
“You’ve set the bar high,” he said of Lambert.
The 2022 annual conference has been scheduled for June 9-11 in La Vista, Nebraska, located in southwest Omaha.
“We’re praying the COVID pandemic will be behind us,” Bishop Saenz said.
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