AC 2017 Daily

Recap from June 8, 2017

Delegates vote for Topeka as single conference office location
Bishop Saenz addresses challenges in his first episcopal address
Conference begins discussion on health care changes
Mission Partnership lunch spreads social awareness
Attendees pack 500-plus health kits for UMCOR
Conference honors 39 retirees

Delegates vote for Topeka
as single conference office location

The Great Plains Annual Conference delegates voted Thursday, June 8, to consolidate its three offices into one, to be located in Topeka.

"This is difficult," Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said after the vote Thursday afternoon.

Through a series of motions from the Rev. Steve Flader, chair of the conference Board of Trustees, delegates voted to consolidate the current Lincoln, Topeka and Wichita offices; approve the Topeka location; and authorize the trustees to purchase, lease, sell or transfer property accordingly. The second and third votes, by voice, were overwhelmingly approved. 

The decision to consolidate offices resulted from a staffing study conducted earlier this year. A singular office, the study concluded, would increase staff collaboration and unity, as well as improve customer service for clergy and laity.

"We want to create a culture that is the Great Plains Conference," said the Rev. Craig Hauschild, Personnel Committee chair. "Currently we are tethered to three respective areas. It is time for us to not have those tethers."

Topeka was chosen from eight possible sites in Kansas and Nebraska for its housing affordability, cost of living, office space availability and location to airports, as well as its smaller metro area and small-town feel, Flader said.

Flader gave no timetable for the consolidation and move, except that it possibly would happen sometime in 2018. Motions from the floor to delay the decision until 2018 or 2019 were soundly defeated.

The Rev. Gary Beach, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, said there are enough funds in trustees reserves for construction of a new building or the purchase of an existing building, and there would be no need for a mortgage.

"It's not about savings," he said.

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Bishop Saenz addresses challenges
in his first episcopal address

In his first episcopal address to the Great Plains Annual Conference, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. laid out five key factors for United Methodists in Nebraska and Kansas to move forward into the future.

“Friends, we can do better – and we will,” Bishop Saenz told the clergy and laity at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island.

The bishop’s five key points include increasing the number and diversity of small groups; reaching and teaching young people in all places; moving toward a mutual ministry of clergy and laity; moving toward unity through prayer and dialogue; and developing a Great Plains culture of movement.

Focus on small groups is needed, the bishop said, because one-third of the previous groups have been discontinued in the past five years.

“Experiment with offering varied spiritual formation groups for your congregation and for the people in your community that are not part of your church,” he said.

The move to reach and teach children came after Bishop Saenz asked conference attendees for a show of hands whether they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior by age 12 or by age 20. He also pushed for greater school-church partnerships.

“There is a crisis in public education in both of our states,” he said. “When Christian people come alongside our schools, our teachers, principals and the families of the students, we proclaim that the education of children is a Christian priority and a way to transform the world.”

Mutual ministry, he said, would increase collaboration of churches, from small to large in size.

“The conference is deeply committed to enhancing the ministry and vitality of each local church,” the bishop said, citing urban, rural, small-membership and large churches.

The move toward unity, prayer and dialogue is a prelude to the decision by the Commission on a Way Forward and the planned 2019 special General Conference session to discuss human sexuality issues.

Each conference has been assigned a week for coordinated prayer, and the Great Plains’ week will be Sept. 3-9, he said.

The culture of movement will get all clergy and laity of the conference on the same page, he said.

“A healthy and clear culture will provide everyone throughout the conference with a proper framework to work within as we move in the directions the Spirit will lead us toward in the challenging times ahead of us,” Bishop Saenz said.

In opening his first Great Plains Annual Conference, Bishop Saenz asked for conference veterans to stand, and a few in the group had been to 60 or more annual conferences.

“This is not just a meeting, this is a discernment process,” he said. “We’re living in some exciting times. Together we’ll find our way forward.”

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Conference begins discussion
on health care changes

Discussions began Thursday afternoon on the plenary floor about whether to return the insurance for clergy from a health care stipend to a group health plan.

Kelly Williams, chair of the Pension and Health Benefits Team, gave the preliminary discussion of the plan, which is scheduled to be voted upon Friday afternoon.

Learn more about the health care options. After following the link, scroll down to the "Key Subjects for Discussion section.

In other business during general sessions, delegates:

  • Heard a report from the Rev. Nancy Lambert, clergy excellence director and assistant to the bishop, about the Connecting Council's three recommendations, including a clarification of powers and duties, a definition of "direct contact" under Safe Gatherings and that the 2016 General Conference delegates also serve for the special session in 2019.
  • Commissioned 33 interns for summer programs in the conference, including work in Micah Corps, Vacation Bible School, pastoral leadership and youth ministry, as well as young adult leadership and new church development.
  • Heard about the results of Culture of Call grants, where high-schoolers Grace Woods and Austin Harris are serving as pastoral interns at Tonganoxie UMC in Kansas. "It became the catalyst for a culture, a DNA shift for our church," said the Rev. Bill Gepford.
  • Saluted the Rev. Gary Beach, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, on his retirement. "I don't know how we would have made it without Gary throughout the transition, said the Rev. Zach Anderson, chair of the conference Council on Finance and Administration who presented Beach with a book on retirement activities and a grownup coloring book. 
  • Beach was also given a limerick tribute from the floor of the conference:
    We are thankful for our Gary Beach
    A very clean audit he did reach
    Numbers don't faze him
    That's why we praise him

    He can do both accounting and preach
  • Gave a spontaneous standing ovation to the Rev. Earl Reed of Norfolk, Nebraska, who Wednesday celebrated the 70th anniversary of his license to preach. Reed, who retired 27 years ago, is attending his 70th conference.

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Mission Partnership lunch spreads social awareness

On Thursday, June 8, the Mercy and Justice team of the Great Plains Conference hosted a Mission Partnership lunch with guest speaker Susan Burton, director of women and children’s advocacy for the General Board of Church and Society.

Burton said a colleague tells her that her job is “to make sure social principles don’t sit on the shelf and collect dust.”

Burton shared her thoughts on several issues including climate change, women’s rights, health care policies and welcoming the stranger as your neighbor.

She closed the message with a question-and-answer session, during which she shared, “When I’m silent, God’s children lose.”

Burton’s complete message will be available on the website at a later date.

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Attendees pack 500-plus
health kits for UMCOR

Thirty volunteers helped pack 531 health kits prior to Wednesday's opening of the conference, the Rev. Hollie Tapley said Thursday.

Delegates mistakenly arriving early for registration spent their time packing the kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said Tapley, disaster response coordinator.

The kits will be sent to UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, UMCOR West in Salt Lake City.

Tapley thanked those who participated and those who registered to help.

"I firmly believe the church needs to be in service," she said. "The annual conference also needs to be doing that, as we continue to grow and become a part of the community."

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Conference honors its retirees

Longtime friends and some relatively new acquaintances celebrated the ministries of the 39 clergy retiring effective the end of the appointive year on June 30 during a special dinner event.

The Rev. Jim Reed served as host for the event, which featured music from Brutal Bear, the band for the SoCe Life ministry in south central Wichita, a "pinning" in which new retirees receive a branded United Methodist retired clergy pin; and a congratulatory affirmation of "well done, good and faithful servant."

Those celebrated were Jim Akins, Kay Alnor, Les Bartlett, Gary Beach, Susan Bell, Billie Blair, La Verne Bolling, Larry Buss, Brent Clayton, Scherleen Cross, Nancy Davis, Keith Fink, Evelyn Fisher, Dan Flanagan, Susan Greene, Jay Henderson, Dee Ann Heptas, Michael Howard, Tess Hufford, Gene Huston, Steve Hysom, Randy Jellison-Knock, Dean Joy, Ronald King, Buzz Lambrecht, Linda Louderback, Michael McKee, Ralph Metschke, Pam Nolan, Frank Pritz, Mark Richardson, Beverly Russell, Daniel Safarik, Fred Snyder, Diana Stewart, Glenn Tomaugh, Ken Van, Don Wharton and Jerry Yount.

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