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2008 Missouri Annual Conference

June 6-9, 2008, Springfield, Mo.

Bishop Robert Schnase's opening report to the Missouri Conference offered optimism, hope and gratitude, recognizing achievements made in reaching out to young people.

WOW, an annual youth rally, has been growing year by year, and 2,080 youth and sponsoring adults attended in 2008. This summer, more than 1,000 are registered for youth mission work camps. Registration for camping ministries has increased for the first time in several years.

The Rev. Sue Watson, director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence, joined the bishop's report and noted that in the last year she has traveled nearly 28,000 miles around the state working with pastors and laity in equipping clergy for strong ministry skills. She has led various worship services, as well as the Healthy Church Initiative intervention training events.

"The field is full of people who need a purpose, who need assurance, who need a presence of God in their lives," she said. "We must be equipped to provide Christ to the world. The Center for Pastoral Excellence has been created for the congregations to use to help us be all that God wants us to be."

Bob Farr, director of the Center for Congregational Excellence, also participated in the report. Farr consulted with 95 churches last year. The goals of the congregational development team that he works with include starting three churches a year, with 30 in 10 years. The other goal is to transform 30 existing congregations a year from declining or plateaued to growing congregations, transforming 300 congregations in 30 years.

Bishop Schnase noted a distinction between observable changes and measurable growth.

"We have not had measurable growth, but we have seen observable changes," he said. "When I look around the conference, I see observable changes. Those are the first steps that lead to measurable growth"

This annual conference session was a generous one for the Missouri Conference. Giving from local churches and individuals exceeded $200,000. The big offering collection was for the PET Project.

A PET is a sturdy, hand-cranked wheel chair that is hand-built of simple parts by volunteers and shipped to landmine and polio victims in impoverished countries. The Office of Creative Ministries was on the job early, sending every church in the Missouri Conference a small, wooden "Baby Pet," and asking members to feed it dollars and grow it into a real pet. The efforts paid off: $146,633 was raised, enough to buy 586 PETS. There was a brief service of consecration for the PETs on Sunday, and the mission project was celebrated at the Springfield Cardinals baseball game that evening, with people riding PETs around the ball field before the start of the game.

Larry Fagan, conference lay leader until the end of the annual conference session, offered another creative approach for raising money. Fagan presented a basketball, signed by bishops who attended General Conference, which the Missouri Conference delegation brought home from General Conference. In order to bring home the honored ball, the Missouri Conference delegation had to raise $1,000 for Nothing But Nets, a program that provides insecticide-treated nets to prevent mosquito-borne malaria in Africa.

Fagan offered the ball to the district that raised the most money for Nothing But Nets during annual conference session. It wasn't an auction; people needed to contribute the money whether they got the ball or not. The Southeast District won, raising $16,838. The total amount pledged or donated from the entire Missouri Conference was more than $65,000.

During the Friday night banquet, new-church-start planters were given an opportunity to speak, and they did an impromptu pass-the-hat for new church starts. The banquet crowd gave $2,419.

A service of ordination was conducted for nine elders and three associate members. The offering taken at the ordination service on Saturday night was for disaster response in Missouri; $3,950 was given. The offering at the Sunday morning memorial service was for Mozambique retired pastors; $10,328 was given.

Membership in the Missouri Conference at the end of 2007 was 169,386, down 2,045 (-1.2 percent). Average attendance at the end of 2007 was 81,921, down 2,332 (-2.8 percent). Average church school attendance was 32,491, down 1,396 (4.3 percent).

-- Fred Koenig