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2017 Great Plains Annual Conference


Location of conference gathering: Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska

Dates of conference gathering: June 7-10

Officiating bishop: Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.

Guest speakers and memorable points or quotes by speakers:

Besides Bishop Saenz, speakers this year included the Rev. Claudia Bakely, the Flint Hills District superintendent, and the Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady, originally from Kansas and now serving in Rochester, New York.

Bakely provided the opening worship and memorial service message about tending the flock we are given to serve as Christian leaders. She used the illustration of sheep to explain concepts such as dependence, following, caring and loving. She challenged the congregation to help tend to the lost sheep who have yet to hear about Jesus.

Cady provided the keynote workshop presentation, with half of conference attendees viewing his presentation at a time. He focused on the importance of building relationships with people across generations and urged the congregation to do more than pay lip service to “meeting people where they are.”

Said Cady: “What would it mean if we met people where they were, treated them as if they were already where they longed to be? What would it mean if instead of just focusing on the music of our worship we focused on the community of our church, the people around us? What would it mean if we wore the shoes we spend so much time talking about?”

How did your conference members vote on the 5 constitutional amendments: Votes were taken on all five amendments. No results were reported to the body.

Main actions enacted by the conference:

The conference considered two items that inspired lengthy debate:

  • Single conference office – When the unification of the Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska conferences gave birth to the Great Plains Conference, all three offices were maintained with distinct functions based in each. Now three years into the Great Plains, the conference hired consultant John Wimberly to conduct a staff study. Among the findings in the study, the consultant recommended the consolidation of offices to allow for the creation of a single, unifying culture for the conference staff and, ultimately, the districts and local churches. The annual conference affirmed the selection of Topeka, Kansas, as the location after recommendations from a special five-person task force and the conference Board of Trustees.
  • Clergy health care stipend – Two years ago, the conference dropped group-health insurance in favor of a stipend to all clergy serving full time and three-quarters time. Given the uncertainty in the government exchanges, the Great Plains Pension and Health Benefits team provided two options for the clergy and lay members to annual conference. One was to return to a group-health plan, and the other was to continue with a stipend. After debate and a straw poll during the conference, clergy and lay members voted to continue with the stipend paid to each clergy so he or she can purchase health insurance on his or her own.

Resolutions adopted by the conference:

  • Affirming the Right to Peacefully Address Injustice – The conference voted to oppose any state or federal legislation that would seek to restrict the right to address injustice through boycotts, divestment and sanctions. It directed the conference secretary to write a letter to the president of the United States, and legislatures and governors of Kansas and Nebraska informing them of this resolution. It also urges congregations and church members to contact locally, regionally and nationally elected officials to advocate against legislation that would restrict boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
  • Welcoming Migrants in Our Midst – The conference voted to commit to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from around the world. It also encourages all churches to educate and equip members to provide hospitality and welcome migrants and refugees in communities across Kansas and Nebraska. The resolution also calls upon political leaders to continue to accept refugees and to grant asylum based on the needs of those seeking help in the United States.
  • Create a Covenant Partnership Between the Great Plains Conference and the Nigeria Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church – In what is really a reaffirmation of a relationship with Nigerian Christians, the conference voted to work together to support education and leadership development for Nigerian orphans, pray for our Nigerian brothers and sisters, help people in the conference learn about the history and culture of Nigeria, develop a procedure for an accountable and transparent transfer of funds, report each year about the partnership during annual conference, and to cooperate in developing projects and activities to sustain the orphanage ministry in Jalingo.

Number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and average age:

  • Ordained – 11
  • Commissioned – 16
  • Average age – 38 years old

Did your clergy session approve any openly gay candidates for ministry? If so, how many? No

Number of people retired: 40

Membership stands at 212,313, down 3,376 from the previous year.

Worship attendance stands at 82,269, down 3,176 from previous year.

Church school attendance stands at 24,674, down 1,012 from previous year.

Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2016 stands at 4,013, down 32 from previous year.

Adults and young adults in small groups for 2016 stands at 25,158, down 731 from previous year.

Worshippers engaged in mission for 2016 stands at 65,746, down 1,037 from previous year.

What did your annual conference do to reinforce the Four Areas of Focus, and what commitments has the conference made for the coming year: 

  • Make 1 million new disciples – The annual conference provided workshops for clergy and lay members. All attendees saw a 90-minute presentation by the Rev. Stephen Cady from Rochester, New York, about using worship to reach new generations. Attendees could choose from seven other workshops for another 90-minute learning experience, with three focused on discipleship. The Rev. Hal Knight taught about developing a relationship with God so we truly have transformed hearts and lives. The Rev. Steve Manskar taught about covenantal discipleship and about how to reintroduce traditions of Wesleyan classes. The Rev. Phil Maynard taught definitions of discipleship and how to advance people through stages of discipleship so they experience spiritual growth.
  • Develop 3 million principled Christian leaders – Bishop Saenz preached the ordination service and emphasized the need to answer call and provide leadership in the church in these potentially turbulent years ahead. The annual conference ordained 11 people and commissioned 16 more. It also commissioned 32 interns to work throughout the summer in six ministry areas across Kansas and Nebraska. The conference also provided eight workshops, half of which focused heavily on making disciples or helping people transition to being stronger disciples of Christ in the world today.
  • Build 400 faith communities with an emphasis on addressing poverty – The New Church Development team announced during the annual conference session that it had launched two new congregations for new people in 2016 – Esperanza de Vida, a Spanish-speaking congregation in Kansas City, and Aldersgate Renew, a satellite campus with a mostly young-families demographic in west Wichita. In 2017, three new congregations are expected to begin ministry – Neighbors Church in an under-served area of northwest Lincoln, Nebraska; Olathe Grace satellite in the Kansas City area; and ConnectioN Point, a community and worship center that includes a food pantry for students at the University of Nebraska. ConnectioN Point also will serve one of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in Nebraska’s capital city.
  • Reach 1 million children with life-saving interventions – Our emphasis on children this year has less to do with physical health and more to do with improving education. The Great Plains Conference is continuing a system of grants for churches to work in partnership with local schools to augment the learning experience for children. One of three offerings – totaling $6,826.99 – taken at annual conference will help pay for small grants for church-school partnerships. One of eight workshops provided for clergy and lay members include the Teammates mentoring program, a school-based mentoring program meant to help children excel academically as they bolster life skills.

--Todd Seifert, director of communications