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2009 Missouri Annual Conference

Missouri Annual Conference
June 5-8 2009, Springfield Mo

"Somewhere Out There&ellipsis; the outwardly focused congregation" was the theme that guided the Missouri Annual Conference Session.

The theme was inspired by a blog post by Bishop Robert Schnase, in which he gave several examples of how work going on within congregations would change lives "somewhere out there" in ways they may not ever realize. All registered attendees of annual conference were given a copy of the new book, "The Balancing Act." The book is a collection of devotional stories Schnase originally wrote for his blog on the www.fivepractices.org Web site. Throughout the conference session, there were stories told about how the love of Christ, through the church, had changed people's lives.

The sermon for opening worship was given by Robyn Miller. She told how on Thursday, September 13, 2001, she was crying in the sanctuary, feeling like a hypocrite taking refuge in the house of God. She had been driving, trying to clear her head, and saw the familiar cross and flame from her childhood church. She had to go in.

Miller thought she had a calling to do ministry at age 16. However, she got out of the habit of going to church in college then got a career and started a family. She was no longer involved in church. Then, when planes struck the twin towers in New York City, she found herself crying in a sanctuary just two days later. The Rev. John Ray came in and introduced himself and asked how he could help.

"I shared with him how guilty I felt, the shame I bore for turning back on God. That's why September 11 hit me so hard," Miller said. "How could God forgive me for turning my back on my calling, and then seeking refuge in his house?"

Ray asked if she had children and she said she has two beautiful girls. He then asked if they could ever do anything that would make her not love them anymore. She said no and Ray replied with, "That's exactly how God feels about you."

"For the first time, I really got grace. And I've been swimming in it ever since," Miller said. She is now a provisional elder, and is lead pastor of Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles, one of the 10 largest churches in the Missouri Conference.

During the session, a "Mozambique Mingle" was held to celebrate 10 years of covenant relationships between the Missouri Conference and the two annual conferences of Mozambique. Mozambican-style food was served and African music played as Mozambican Bishop Joaquina Nhanala and Mozambique Initiative Representative Ezequiel Nhantumbo met casually with guests. Bishops Schanse and Nhanala exchanged gifts and Nhanala addressed the crowd giving thanks for the untold benefit Mozambique has received from the covenant partner relationships. Carol Kreamer was also recognized for being the Missouri coordinator of the Mozambique Initiative since its inception.

During the conference, $83,386 was given to complete unfinished church building projects in Mozambique.

Nine people were ordained as elders and three ordained as deacons. The average age of those ordained was 51.

On Sunday, constitutional amendments were voted on. However, the results weren't announced.

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II addressed the Missouri Conference on June 8. Cleaver, a U.S. Congressman and the former mayor of Kansas City, also served St. James United Methodist Church for 36 years. The church has grown from a few families to a church that averages more than 1,100 in attendance. He is now leaving St. James, and is beginning a new part-time position as a Missouri Conference Assistant to the Bishop for African American Church Leadership Development.

"I'm thrilled at prospect of ripping and running across the state, dealing with colleagues in ministry who are younger, who share my attitude that we will take a back seat to no other denomination," Cleaver said. "To black pastors, fasten your seatbelts, we're going to do many things haven't done before, and create our rightful place throughout Missouri."

Membership in the Missouri Conference stands at 168,728, down 640 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 82,360, up 468. Church school attendance stands at 30,908, down 187.

-Fred Koenig