As you probably guessed, I’ve been reappointed to College Avenue UMC for another year, but I know a lot of folks who are moving. I was thankful for this message from Great Plains Bishop Wilson.
This Sunday is a pivotal day in the lives of our Great Plains Annual Conference churches.
Many pastors will begin preaching in their new appointments. Others will continue serving in their assigned mission field.
Newly retired clergy will not be preaching for the first time in years. Our new class of ordinands will assume their duties in new roles.
In each of those locations, laity are exploring ways to work with pastors who are new to them or to work even more effectively with pastors they have come to know and love.
I ask that you join me in prayer this weekend for all of these transitions in the life of our annual conference. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide all as our faithful clergy go into these transitions with excitement, joy and grace to lead congregations and ministry settings. I pray for our laity who will continue to help clergy with these transitions with love and grace. I pray for God’s continued blessings upon our ministry and service together in the Great Plains Annual Conference and beyond.
I’m praying for all my friends and colleagues who are preaching their first Sunday at a new church tomorrow. But I’m very happy to be continuing at College Avenue UMC. I’m looking forward to all the possibilities of the coming year.
Seven people from College Avenue UMC—Forest Buhler, Mary Ann Buhler, Courtney Fowler, Paige Fowler, Liz Collins, Grace Hutchinson, and I—have all been at annual conference this week. We should finish up later this morning. It’s been a blessing, perhaps the best on I have ever attended. The Holy Spirit has shown up and I have seen a lot of encouraging signs.
From Forrest Buhler, CAUMC Lay Representative to the Great Plains Annual Conference:
I thought you might be interested in an article entitled “Taking stock after a season of disaffiliations” published December 15, 2022, by the United Methodist News (UM News), the official source of information and news about The United Methodist Church. The link to the article is below. The article puts together in one place information and links on the results of disaffiliations so far from across the United States. You will also see a link in the article to stories showing how this is impacting the budget process for the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration.
Overall Numbers in the US. The article includes the numbers so far for Jurisdictions and Conferences in the US. All disaffiliations from the UMC must be completed by the end of 2023, so there is still more to come (see link below), but the article helps to give a picture of what the numbers are at this point. For example, the UM News says that 2,003 churches in the U.S. have disaffiliated so far. That translates to about 6.6% of U.S. congregations withdrawing since 2019 when the church’s disaffiliation provision took effect. The Southeastern Jurisdiction has the highest number of withdrawals.
South Central Jurisdiction Numbers that Include the Great Plains Conference. The article includes a chart with the total number of disaffiliations in each of the five Jurisdictions in the UMC. Our Great Plains Conference, made up of Kansas and Nebraska churches, is in the South Central Jurisdiction, which includes the states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. According to the article: “The Texas Conference, stretching from the Houston area to the eastern part of the state, on Dec. 4 approved the highest number of disaffiliations — 294, or nearly half of its 598 churches. The Northwest Texas Conference, voting on the same day, ratified the highest percentage of disaffiliations — 74%, or 145 of its 196 churches.” Similarly high numbers were recorded for churches in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. There is a link in the article to the numbers for each of the Conferences in the United States.
Great Plains Conference Numbers Relatively Small. So comparatively speaking, the 77 disaffiliations we have experienced so far in the Great Plains Conference out of about 960 local congregations, is much lower than the conferences elsewhere. In addition, the income on which the Great Plains Conference based its budget for 2023 increased over previous years.
Hopeful signs. There are hopeful signs as well. The article says even with the disaffiliation, there are still more than 28,500 United Methodist congregations in the U.S. The article also reports new congregations forming made up of members who did not agree with the disaffiliating church’s decision.
This Sunday, January 15, we will have a special offering for Human Relations Day. What is Human Relations Day? Human Relations Day is a denomination-wide Special Sunday designed to celebrate and raise awareness to further the development of better human relations by involving congregations in community and youth outreach.
A special offering is taken the Sunday before Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Gifts received for the offering build King’s vision of “the beloved community” through programs such as Community Developers, United Methodist Voluntary Services, and Youth Offender Rehabilitation Programs.
Fifty-seven percent of the funds received support community development programs that strive to build, maintain, promote and strengthen racial-ethnic minority congregations through local UMC congregations. Thirty-three percent of the funds received support The United Methodist Voluntary Services (UMVS), which serves as a resource to congregations, volunteer-based groups, and programs that challenge unjust political, social, and economic systems which threaten the livelihoods of people. Ten percent of the funds received support rehabilitation programs. These programs work to strengthen youth empowerment programs that provide positive avenues for youth participation in their communities through churches, mentoring programs, and boys/girls clubs.
For more than half a century, United Methodists have observed this church-wide special Sunday in recognition of the message Jesus demonstrated during his life: all of God’s children are important.
One of the wonderful aspects of The United Methodist Church is that we can do so much more together than we ever could do on our own. Our gifts are part of building “the beloved community.”
In response to the current splintering of The United Methodist Church and the misinformation proliferating during this time, the Great Plains Annual Conference has produced a two page handout highlighting core United Methodist beliefs. You can find it at the link below.
Bishop Saenz has put out a video about why he will remain United Methodist following the launch of the Global Methodist Church (GMC) on May 1, 2022. He names many of the reasons why I will remain United Methodist as well. The United Methodist Church has long been a big tent denomination and I love the image the Bishop used of the UMC having a hard Jesus center and being soft around the edges to include all kinds of folks.
And because I had a question about this, let me assure you that remaining United Methodist as a member of Abilene First is easy. You just stay right where you are. There’s nothing else you need to do. If you’re conservative, and you choose to stay—fear not—it looks like you’ll have plenty of company. The UMC will remain a big tent denomination.
This will not be an easy time for our denomination, but my hope is that since Abilene First has always been staunchly United Methodist it will not negatively affect us on the local church level. The UMC is not perfect, but no church is (and, until Jesus returns, no church will be). We do a great deal of good together. (For example, today we’re supporting relief in Ukraine through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.)
I love the United Methodist Church because of our Wesleyan focus on God’s love and God’s grace. These two themes run throughout scripture and were fully embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. When we talk about inclusion and belonging for all people, we are not being hopelessly optimistic or politically correct. Instead, we tapping into the New Testament’s vision of the church. I love being part of a denomination that advocates for Spirit empowered holiness on both the personal and social level. I’ve spoken to many of you who feel the same way. We’re not going anywhere and God has promised to be with us through every storm.
Today, Russia launched an unprovoked military invasion against the people of Ukraine. United Methodist Church Bishop Christian Alsted – of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area – is asking for United Methodists to stand with the United Methodists in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in intercessory prayer for protection, reconciliation and peace.
We pray especially for Bishop Eduard Khegay, [United Methodist] bishop of Russia and Ukraine, for wisdom and grace as he shepherds congregations on both sides of the conflict.
Friends, the words of St. Paul encourages us to “suffer together with those that suffer.” (1 Corinthians 12:26a)
For the sake of your sorrowful passion, dear Lord, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Peace, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. Great Plains Conference