This year’s meeting of the Great Plains Annual Conference was (in my opinion) fairly unremarkable, but if you’re interested there are videos and summaries here: http://bit.ly/2uFGhMr
Written summaries are under “View the daily GPconnect.”
Below the fold is a statement from the Bishop of the Great Plains Annual Conference issued August 15, 2017. It is not short, but it is worth your time.
Our newly assigned Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. will be in the Salina District on October 26th meeting our clergy in the afternoon and clergy and laity in the evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Salina. First UMC is located downtown Salina at the corner of 8th and Iron Streets (122 North 8th Street). You are invited to come and meet our new Bishop!
The complaint against Rev. Cynthia Meyer has been brought to a “just resolution” that will keep the case from going to trial. You can read the details for yourself here. It’s not what I had hoped for, but it’s far better than I feared. Jenny and I are available if you have questions or just want to talk. If you’re hurting, please know that we are too.
Ruben Saenz Jr. was elected a bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction (our jurisdiction) of the United Methodist Church on Thursday, June 14, 2016, and was assigned the Great Plains Annual Conference (our Annual Conference) Yesterday, June 15, 2016. The Great Plains Conference website has more information.
As you may have already heard, Rev. Cynthia Meyer “came out” as a gay woman to her United Methodist congregation in Edgerton, Kansas this past Sunday. This is not the first time that Jenny and I have heard of her. We have known and appreciated her as a colleague for many years. But our history with her goes back even further. Cynthia also grew up in Council Grove and was one of my babysitters. She was one of the campus ministers at K-State while Jenny was a peer minister there. She was the first person to introduce us to one another (that I remember, Jenny asserts that we had already been introduced).
I can’t say that we were surprised by Sunday’s revelation, and I imagine that many of the members of her congregation were not surprised either. For those of her congregation who were surprised, her sermon was designed to be a gentle, pastoral revelation of who she is and why she was doing what she did. Jenny and I commend it to you.
Jenny and I desire to be the pastors to all the members of First United Methodist Church, those who see this issue the way we see it and those who hold to a more traditional Christian interpretation of the relevant biblical passages. We don’t know what will happen next, but we would echo something that Cynthia said in her sermon:
I’ve come to love you, this congregation, your commitment, care, service and joy. Your faith need not be shaken today, your commitment to one another and this congregation need not waver, for Great is God’s Faithfulness, today and all days.
I’m confident that with God’s help, we, together as a church, can make it through this controversy together.
A link to Rev. Meyer’s Epiphany sermon: http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/epiphany-live-in-the-light/
Bishop Scott Jones has written a thoughtful, carefully considered article on the Syrian Refuge Crisis titled “We Must Recognize We Are Engaged in Cultural War.” I encourage you to read it all. He makes the scriptural argument for welcoming Syrian refugees, and then he says the following:
“When Western countries mistreat and reject Muslims, it becomes a recruiting tool and propaganda weapon for our enemies. I am deeply disappointed that so many governors (including those of Kansas and Nebraska where I serve) have rejected the idea of receiving refugees. They are pandering to our worst fears and failing to lead us to be our best selves as a nation. They are making a strategic mistake and giving aid to our enemies. This culture war will be won by the Christian values of love, tolerance, mutual respect and hospitality. As a nation and as states, we need to welcome the stranger among us.” — Bishop Scott Jones.
Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland are the strongest possible rebuke to ISIS propaganda. I understand the (not unreasonable) fear that many have about welcoming refugees into our communities, but to turn them away is turn our backs on the clear witness of scripture and to do exactly what ISIS would like us to do.
I read the Bishop’s article yesterday and resolved to write the above blog post linking to it today. Then I was confronted with the opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. The District Superintendent called and said they were looking for United Methodist Churches willing to support and sponsor Syrian refugees. She wondered if Abilene First might be one of those churches. After consulting with the lay leader, the chair of the church council, and both lay delegates to Annual Conference, Jenny and I have decided to call a congregational meeting after worship this coming Sunday. Recently we, as a congregation, have practiced holy conferencing around the issues of homosexuality and the separation of church and state. My hope is that we can do the same around this issue.
The following report was received from Pam Jackson, who attended Annual Conference on behalf of Abilene First UMC, and lightly edited for increased clarity:
Great Plains Annual Conference Report
June 10-13, 2015
This year’s Annual Conference, “Though many, One”, was held in Wichita, KS, at Century II Conference Center. The theme of the Opening Worship Session was “Unity”. Bishop Scott Jones, now in his 11th year, gave the sermon. He will serve 12 years. He said that technology has allowed the conversation to become more shallow. He said, ”We have become much more polarized and it has made it easier to demonize those who do not agree with us.” He said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” The Unity theme continued as the three Great Plains Conference Mission Partnerships with Haiti, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria were discussed. An offering was taken for these missions.
Camp enrollment is up with kids, conference wide. There was a decline from 2013-2014 in professions of faith, average worship attendance and small groups. Overall apportionments paid increased from 86.13% – 87.04. The Bishop said, “if a church is not meeting it’s apportionment obligation, it is financially unhealthy”.
- The average age of clergy is 56 and in the next 10 yrs., ½ of clergy may retire.
- Increased number of young people including 33 interns serving in various ministries.
- Bridges to the Future raised more than 8.7 million dollars to expand Hispanic ministry, Campus ministry and new church start-ups.
- Imagine No Malaria raised by GPC = $623,000. Total of $66,000,000!
- United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) 75th Anniversary. Called to be “the hands and feet of Christ”. Serve 80 Countries worldwide. UMCOR donations = $8,939,720.
- The Great Plains Conference UMW (United Methodist Women) was second in the nation in Mission Giving last year and 1st in the So. Central Jurisdiction in Mission Giving.
- The UMM (United Methodist Men) celebrated its 26th year of awarding scholarships to students who are pursuing degrees in Christian Leadership or related fields.
- Personnel Committee – proposed to retain the minimum compensation for clergy. Proposal carried.
- Clergy will continue to obtain their own insurance with an allowance of $14,232.00.
- Congregational Excellence – New feature on website called local church toolbox to help find resources to help further ministry. You will find it online at, greatplainsumc.org/toolbox
- There were three formal Worship Services: The Memorial Service with Communion celebrating the lives of 42 departed clergy or spouses from the Conference; The Retirement Service also honored 42 retiring clergy and The Ordination Service with Bishop Bruce Ough, from the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area delivering the Sermon, “Who Was I That I Could Hinder God”.
- There were a total of 23 Resolutions that were presented for approval at Annual Conference. Most of them passed with some being tabled for further consideration. Sadly the first 7 were regarding Church Closings.
- The Finance Committee presented the Budget which passed without issue. The Audit balanced to the penny and there is $75,000,000 in reserve (the vast majority of these reserves are designated for specific uses).
- There were 7 Petitions presented. Three on No Fossil Fuel Investments were defeated. Three regarding Geographic Consideration for the Election of Bishops, Holy Conferencing for the Election of Bishops and Limiting the Number of Bishops From Individual Annual Conferences all passed.
- Petition #7 – Acknowledgement of Diverse Beliefs Regarding Homosexuality, which would amend the wording in the Book of Discipline, passed 496-363 votes. There were (5) arguments for and (5) against this Petition before the vote. (No action until it is voted on at General Conf.)
- All controversial votes were cast by electronic hand held devices to ensure anonymity with the voting decisions.
- The 4 Petitions that passed will be presented at the General Conference in May 2016. No action is taken on the Petitions at the Annual Conference level.
- The most time consuming part of the Conference was the election of Delegates to represent our Conference at General Conference. There were a total of 30 elected. 6 Clergy, 6 Laity and 3 Alternates to General Conference and 6 Clergy, 6 Laity and 3 Alternates to Jurisdictional Conference. (You may be pleased to learn that the Laity completed their voting before the Clergy!) The electronic devices proved to be a bit arduous which forced an evening voting session from 7:30PM – 9:30PM on Thursday Evening cancelling some of the Social events.
- There were numerous vendors with the largest being the Cokesbury booth where a few purchases were made by most who attended.
- The music, prayers, committee reports, worship time and networking with each other was a wonderful part of the Conference time.
It was a good Annual Conference with an opportunity to see friends from Nebraska and Kansas. It was good to see Pastor Rick Saylor and his wife. They extended greetings to Abilene FUMC. Annie Ricker and Ava were there and are moving with Jason to a church appointment in S.E. Kansas. I also got to see Bob Clemence which was a nice surprise. I am not going to mention others as I will leave someone out.
I appreciate so much being allowed to serve as a Delegate to Annual Conference, representing Abilene FUMC. I thank the church for giving me this opportunity to serve on your behalf.
I feel like I’ve done a lot of posts on the subject of the church and homosexuality. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you may be tired of reading about it. However, the Great Plains Annual Conference took action on Saturday, June 13, 2015, and I feel that I need to comment.
Great Plains Connect, the conference’s official newsletter summarized that action, as follows:
“The annual conference voted 496-363 to approve a petition offered by the Rev. David Livingston, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Lenexa, Kansas, that would strike references of homosexuality as being incompatible with Christian teachings and would eliminate restrictions against practicing homosexuals being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the church. It also would lift restrictions on United Methodist pastors conducting same-sex marriages and would lift restrictions on annual conferences and United Methodist agencies from providing funding to homosexual-related caucus groups and similar agencies. The petition would eliminate the performance of same-sex marriages from the list of offenses that would initiate a church trial.”
The petition would also amend the book of disciple to acknowledge that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue.
To be honest, I didn’t realize the full significance of the vote at the time. The former Kansas East Annual Conference regularly approved such petitions to General Conference (I’m told the Nebraska Annual Conference did the same), however, I’ve since learned that the former Kansas West Conference never passed such a petition. The first-time nature of this petition for churches and clergy of the former Kansas West Conference helps explain what happened next: Rev. Rob Schmutz (who grew up here in Abilene) publically surrendered his credentials. Surrendering credentials is the official United Methodist verbiage for a clergy member resigning from the local church and the annual conference.
Over at Kansas.com, The Wichita Eagle has a solid article summarizing what happened. I’m not going to go into all the details; I just want to offer four points of interpretation about what the approval of the petition does and does not mean.
- Nothing has changed yet. This will be one of many petitions sent to General Conference on this subject. In the past, the General Conference has rejected all such petitions. No one can say what will happen at the next General Conference.
- This petition does not mean that every annual conference will start ordaining gay men and women, it simply means that conferences will have that option if they so choose.
- Likewise, this petition does not mean that every pastor has to perform same-sex marriages. It simply means that they may do so if they choose. This authority is given to the pastors and not the local church because currently that is the way it is for heterosexual marriages. However, all the clergy I know would take their congregation’s feelings into account when making that decision.
- As the petition acknowledges, the opinion of individual United Methodists around this issue will continue to be divided. The petition would amend the church’s position as a whole, but not the beliefs of individual members.
Hopefully, Jenny and I have made it clear that we’re willing to answer your questions and discuss your concerns no matter where you stand on this issue. While we agree with the Annual Conference’s decision, we believe that both the issue and the conversation itself are important and we want to be the pastors of the entire congregation.