Thursday, May 30, 2019

Welcome to the first daily report from the Great Plains Annual Conference sessions in Topeka!

We'll provide a recap of the day's activities as well as what to expect on Friday.

Those unable to attend at the Expocentre can follow along on our livestream and keep up to date with our Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as photos in our Flickr gallery.


Bishop, lay leader give views of
conference in morning sessions

The United Methodist Church has been through a trying year, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. told the Great Plains Annual Conference session on Thursday morning.

“We have harmed one another with our words and our actions,” the bishop said in his Episcopal address. “Anger has not subsided; our wounds are still raw.”

But there are reasons to be positive about the church, Bishop Saenz said, including almost 86,000 people who attend worship services weekly in the Great Plains; nearly 4,000 baptisms and professions of faith; and more than 9,000 small groups, the latter a sizeable increase over previous years.

The vision for the conference and for Methodists, he said, is to serve God and humanity with joy.

“Our serving others with humility and joy will be the advertisement for the truth of good news of Jesus Christ we preach,” Bishop Saenz said.

The bishop said he hoped the denomination would go beyond the politics that divide it.

“Our present impasse over human sexuality ethics and ordination has created a fragility in our denomination that has caused us to pause and assess the gravity of our situation and weigh our options,” he said.

In her first address as conference lay leader, Lisa Maupin (pictured above) praised the Great Plains laity as being “the heartbeat of the church.”

“Every day laity in our conference are contributing in big and small ways to bring the church to the community and the community to the church,” Maupin said.

That heartbeat is loyal, faithful, creative, engaged, compassionate and “only as strong as those we have invited to join us,” she added.

First clergy, laity delegates
elected to General Conference

The first day of voting for delegates for the 2020 General Conference ended Thursday with one clergy and three laity representatives from the Great Plains Conference winning election.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton (pictured right, above), founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, was chosen on the first ballot, with 282 votes.

For the laity, Oliver Green of Topeka (with 374 votes) and Lisa Maupin of Lincoln (with 361) will return to the delegation to represent the Great Plains, joined by Scott Brewer, conference treasurer (with 354).

Seven delegates each for clergy and laity will be chosen before the end of the annual conference sessions, as well as seven alternates each, as well as three jurisdictional alternates each.

Voting continues Friday morning.

Here are the results of the first clergy ballot, with corresponding profile numbers, and the second ballot.

Here are the results of the first laity ballot, with corresponding profile numbers, and the second ballot.

Topeka First UMC hosts
conference memorial service

Topeka First United Methodist Church holds several places in the denomination’s history in the state, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jeff Clinger, told a congregation at the memorial service Thursday night.

In 1939, the church was the site of the first conference of the newly formed Methodist Conference in Kansas. On June 8, 1966, the church was the site of the Kansas East Conference – the same night horrendous tornado destroyed the north side of the city.

Under calmer skies, the work of pastors and their spouses who have gone to the church triumphant were celebrated in a memorial service.

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said the memorial service made a return to its own venue rather than sharing it with another worship.

“The focus would be on the saints who have gone on before us,” Bishop Saenz said.

The name of each person who had passed in the previous year, as well as a bit of their biography, was read, while most of their pictures were shown, and candles were lit for each person.

The Rev. Chris Jorgensen, pastor of Omaha Hanscom Park UMC, included in her sermon a tableau picture of an odd assortment of items, including an artsy rooster, a dinosaur and a rosary.

The rooster was a gift from the church’s semi-annual garage sale, which brings newcomers into the church doors and helps them feel included in the community.

The dinosaur was a child’s toy that was given to her as an offering from a youngster during children’s time at her church, which spurred her to have a shelf full of toys for visiting kids.

The rosary was a gift from a community member battling addictions who felt a refuge in her church, Jorgensen said.

Those pastors who have gone on before her, Jorgensen said, left their mark on their churches and their communities in large and small ways.

“Did any of that make you famous?” she asked. “Did any of that increase your status?

“For those of us being saved, it is the power of God.”

Music included 7-year-old Caroline McFarland, singing “Be Thou My Vision”; a combined choir from Topeka First and Topeka Countryside UMC; and Tai-Jung Jackson with a marimba prelude.

Deceased clergy honored during the service were the Rev. Jay Anderson, the Rev. Truman Bachenberg, the Rev. Allen Edward Baumgartner, the Rev. Merlyn Davidson, the Rev. William (Bill) Draper Finlaw, Brian Fong, the Rev. Elton Garrison, the Rev. Kirby Hayes, the Rev. Dr. LCDR Richard “Jake” Jacobson, the Rev. Douglas Frank Jones, the Rev. Lincoln Bruce Justice, the Rev. Barnard P.N. McFarthing, the Rev. Michael McMurtry, the Rev. Paul Miller, the Rev. Patsy Moore, the Rev. Nathan Morgan, the Rev. Homer Ray Noley, the Rev. Floyd M. Nolin Jr., the Rev. Duane Parker, the Rev. Fred Pinkerton, the Rev. Albert Rymph, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Schneider, the Rev. Dr. Robert Shelton, the Rev. Kenneth Short, the Rev. Cato Sims Sr., and the Rev. Alvin Trucano.

Clergy spouses remembered were Betty Baldwin, Robert Carey, Lois Culver, Linda Flanders, Edith Fogelman, Diane Krivo, Ethelda Kurth, Elizabeth Kwankin, Carole McCrery, Melissa Siler and Amy Stapp.

Conference celebrates ministries of
54 retirees at Thursday evening dinner

A record 54 clergy were celebrated on Thursday for their decades of ministry in the Great Plains Conference upon their retirement.

Retirees honored were Tim Alt-Duell, Richard Lane Bailey, Troy Bowers, Nancy Brown, Diana Chapel, Warren Cico, Lindsey Clarke, Pauline Clugston, Nancy Crowl, Curly Darnell, Gary Davison, Deborah Dick, Jim Edwards, Susan Redding Emel, Marc Fink, Ralph Gains, Michael Gardner, Leslye Haller, Robert Harper, Brenda Hqard, Peggy Hillmon, Glen Holtz, Fay Hubbard, Tim Jepsen, James Johnson, Kate Johnson Martin, Lew Kaye-Skinner, Nan Kaye-Skinner, Nancy Kollhoff, James Koontz, Brian Kottas, Caren Loper, Aaron Madondo, Kim Martin, Barbara McLain, Beverly Meadows, Larry Moffet, Melody Newman, Mary Etta Parsons, Dallas Peterson, Arthur Phillips, Bill Ritter, Keith Schadel, Lyle K. Schoen, Sherry Sklenar, Marsha Stauss, Douglas Tofteland, Paul Waters, Kathleen Whitmore, Connie Wilson, Robert Winger, Karla Woodward, John Yost and Jesse Zimmerman.

Families gather at Asbury
Mount Olive UMC for celebration

More than 50 African-American and African pastors, laity and their families enjoyed a night of fellowship Thursday at Asbury Mount Olive United Methodist Church in Topeka.

Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina and Hays district superintendent, welcomed the audience to the church where she grew up.

“I roamed these halls and ran down these aisles,” she said.

Families enjoyed dinner that included barbecue, chicken cordon bleu, gumbo, beans and rice and collard greens.

Everyone moved to the sanctuary of the church, where the choir led powerful gospel singing, and speakers included the Rev. Junius Dotson, general secretary and CEO of Discipleship Ministries, and the Rev. Nancy Lambert, director of clergy excellence and assistant to the bishop.

“We’re glad you’re part of us as a conference,” Lambert told the audience.

‘Miracle’ co-founder speaks
at Mission Partnership lunch

The Rev. Darryl Burton took those attending the Mission Partnership lunch to a place they didn’t want to go during a Thursday presentation.

Burton, now congregational care pastor at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, was in prison for 24 years for capital murder in his hometown of St. Louis — thanks to false eyewitness testimony and suppression of evidence.

“I am not bitter,” he told the audience, “but I am better.”

After serving in solitary confinement at the Missouri State Prison in Jefferson City, called “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine while he was incarcerated, he wrote his senators, his congressmen and even Oprah Winfrey to try and get help with his case.

The Centurion Project, which he saw in a “60 Minutes” profile, took his case in 2000, but he was not freed until 2008.

While in his cell, Burton wrote a letter to Jesus Christ, promising that if he got out, “Not only will I serve you, I’ll tell the whole world about you.”

Burton is co-founder of Miracle of Innocence, a nonprofit group devoted to justice for others wrongly accused.

“I’m trying to keep my promise to God,” he said.

Bishop, others take jumps
to celebrate walking challenge

Some onstage jump-rope virtuosity concluded Thursday’s plenary session, celebrating the Team Spirit Walking Challenge conducted by the Board of Pensions.

Khrista Branson from the Dodge City District was the first-place winner in the challenge, notching more than 1.4 million steps.

The Dodge City District was the winner for the highest number of steps, and Elkhorn Valley and Prairie Rivers districts tied for the highest number of participants.

The steps winner and district superintendents were supposed to challenge Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. to a jump-rope competition, but the DSs called in teen- and college-age counterparts to join the bishop on stage.

As the theme from “Rocky” – the bishop’s favorite movie – played, the bishop and young adults got their jumps in, to the delight of the conference audience.

UMMen award mark 30 years of
scholarships to seminary students

The United Methodist Men continued their 30-year tradition of awarding scholarships to young people entering the ministry with a dinner and auction Wednesday night at Topeka Countryside UMC.

Receiving the 100 Club scholarships of $1,250 were Cameron Miller and Karissa Heckens, Saint Paul School of Theology; Stephanie Seth, Iliff School of Theology; Maddie Baugous (pictured middle, above), Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary; and Shayla Jordan, Perkins School of Theology.

Fleming Family Foundation Scholarship winners of $400 each were Baugous, Miller, Heckens and Jordan.

Dean, Jean and Randy Fleming Scholarship winners, $400 each, were Baugous and Seth.

Other recipients were Heckens, Nichole Spiegel-Wheeler Scholarship, $500; Miller, Merv and Bev Schliefert Scholarship, $500; Baugous, Fleming-Humphrey-Goff Scholarship, $250; and Joe Mechan, 32nd Degree Mason Scholarship, $250.

Be 'anointed,' bishop tells Great
Plains Conference at opening worship

Opening the 2019 Great Plains Annual Conference on Wednesday night, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. urged churches and their members to be “anointed groups of people,” especially when dealing with the underprivileged. 

“Make the poor say, ‘That’s good news,’” the bishop told those gathered in Landon Arena. 

Bishop Saenz used an example from his own life about providence.  

He and his wife, Maye, were expecting their fourth child while the bishop was in seminary at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. With no money and no insurance, they were ready to establish a payment plan with the OB-GYN through Maye’s pregnancy. 

Her doctor told them he was the son of a United Methodist pastor, and waived all of the charges through delivery, childbirth and postpartum care. 

“Friends, that was good news,” said the bishop, who named that child the Greek word for laughter – Isaac. 

The bishop lifted up examples of grace, especially toward the poor, that abounded in the conference, including afterschool programs, help after weather damage, and the Nebraska United Methodist Bike Ride -- co-founded by the Rev. Bill Ritter, retiring Blue River District superintendent – which is on track to raise $1 million this summer after 24 years in existence to combat hunger issues. 

“People in our communities are not looking for a fractured church,” the bishop said. “They’re looking for a favored church.” 

The opening service also included the baptism of Finnegan Gepford, the son of the Rev. Bill Gepford, pastor at Fremont UMC, and the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford, intergenerational ministries coordinator for the conference. 

The bishop said that babies represented the future of the church. 

“We’re in the process of creating a church for Finnegan,” he said. 

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