Download the printable version of the April 22 issue of GPconnect.

In this edition:

Connecting Council considers standing rules, renewal leave
Learning new tools for sharing the Gospel during COVID-19 pandemic
Hospital chaplain talks about being on front lines of pandemic
Choir robes become PPE for medical personnel in Manhattan
More coronavirus news from the Great Plains and beyond

Council of Bishops proposes new dates for rescheduled General Conference 
Mainstream UMC hosts online town hall May 5

Six churches receive Culture of Call grants from Great Plains Conference
Clergy Faith & Wellness: Weeping for a world in pain
Bishop's video sermon for April 19 available for viewing
COVID-19 recovery ministry webinar set for Thursday
Free, online Spiritual First Aid Seminar set for April 30

Learn about coaching in sessions from Great Plains laity, Eureka Partners
'Catch Fire for God' with series of Easter season devotionals 

Ecumenical Advocacy Days to be webinar on Monday
Native American Ministries Sunday is this weekend
Jalingo/Nigeria orphanage graduate thanks churches for continued support

EarthKeepers curriculum for youth available online

Nebraska UM Foundation continues Lunch & Learn series for pastors 
Finance Friday webinar looks at church strategies for months, years ahead

In other news
Blogs and commentaries


Connecting Council considers
standing rules, renewal leave

The Great Plains Conference’s Connecting Council used Zoom video conferencing to conduct its spring meeting April 18 and endorsed a revision to the standing rules for the annual conference session to allow for a teleconference meeting during this time of sheltering in place as well as a policy for renewal leave for clergy.

The council, which has authority to make decisions and forward recommendations between annual conference sessions, also listened to reports from Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and an update on a conference-wide social justice initiative.

Read more about the council’s actions.

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Learning new tools for sharing the
Gospel during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced churches and pastors to do some things they had?never before tried. The Rev. Gary Brooks, lead pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Wichita, is one of those people. 

His church, which has about 500 people in worship on a typical Sunday, had never livestreamed a service before the shelter-in-place order. But when it became necessary to do so, he and some of the staff at Aldersgate figured out an efficient way to stream to Facebook Live. Now Sunday school classes, youth groups and more are using technology to stay connected and to continue to worship and study about Jesus Christ — all from their homes. 

Brooks talks to host Todd Seifert to share his experiences and what is working for Aldersgate UMC in a new episode of the “In Layman’s Terms” podcast. 

Download the podcast. 

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Hospital chaplain talks about
being on front lines of pandemic

An elder in the Great Plains Conference, the Rev. Denise Sawyer is on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as a chaplain at a southwest Florida hospital.

As part of a five-hospital system that logs several COVID-19 deaths a week, Sawyer says she is doing her best to support the medical staff, patients and families.

“The Bible reminds us that we are not alone, that God is with us,” she said. “When we’re feeling beat and we can’t go on, the Scripture reminds us that God is our strength and God is our refuge.”

Read more here.

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Choir robes become PPE for
medical personnel in Manhattan

Some medical personnel in Manhattan have received very unique personal protective equipment, or PPE: The gowns used to be choir robes at Manhattan First UMC.

They even have tags to remind the wearer of that fact: “Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear choir robes!”

It was a labor of love for Rita Smith, a longtime choir member who thought of the project: All three of her children are physicians, and a sister in Georgia was one of the victims of coronavirus.

Read about it here, the latest in a roundup of the good works that are being done by pastors, laity and churches in the Great Plains Conference in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’d like to share more good works being done, contact David Burke,

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More coronavirus news from
the Great Plains and beyond

Dr. Steve Short (foreground pictured above), a Manhattan pulmonologist and son of the late Rev. Mel Short – a pastor and district superintendent in the Kansas West Conference – has volunteered to serve in hospitals in New York City. Here are interviews with him from WIBW, Topeka, KAKE, Wichita and KSNT, Topeka.

Our coronavirus webpage has information on worship, online communion, church life, giving, clergy resources, family resources, social distancing and FAQs.

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General Conference

Council of Bishops proposes new dates for rescheduled General Conference 

The Council of Bishops disclosed a proposal that would push back General Conference more than a year and four months after the lawmaking assembly was originally scheduled.

Read more from United Methodist News Service.

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Mainstream UMC hosts
online town hall May 5

Mainstream UMC will host a YouTube livestream “Town Hall: A Call for Grace” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 5. It will also be broadcast on its home page, It coincides with the planned starting date of the 2020 General Conference, delayed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The town hall will offer prayers for those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, give a background of the status of the United Methodist Church, issue a “call for grace” in the UMC, and answer questions from the viewing audience. Questions will be taken in advance by emailing

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Clergy Excellence

Six churches receive Culture of Call
grants from Great Plains Conference

Six churches have been awarded Culture of Call grants for spring 2020 by the Great Plains Conference:

  • Berryton, Kansas, UMC: Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Internship (2020-2021 academic year), Rev. Annie Ricker, pastor.
  • Bassett, Nebraska, UMC: This grant will go toward an internship for a young person to explore church ministry, Jenice Epp, pastor.
  • Heritage UMC, Olathe: Part-time pastoral intern during the summer months. They would have an opportunity to explore all aspects of congregational life and ministry. The Rev. Maria Campbell, pastor.
  • LaCygne and New Lancaster, Kansas, UMCs: Empower female leaders by creating opportunities to lead. Velma Tim, pastor.
  • Stull UMC, Lecompton, Kansas: Developing an internship for a musician. Michele Morton-Best, church member.

For more information on all aspects of Culture of Call, go to

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Clergy Faith & Wellness:
Weeping for a world in pain

A walk outdoors proved to be emotional for the Rev. Shelly Petz.

Houses and landmarks that she passed reminded her of what was planned for the spring season, from school music programs to families facing uncertain futures.

“I wept because before if someone was struggling, as a pastor, I could stand with them in their grief and pain. Now, there is a world in pain,” she writes in her blog.

Read more here.

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Bishop's video sermon for
April 19 available for viewing

In appreciation to the clergy of the Great Plains Conference for their work above and beyond during the Lenten season, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. provided a sermon for the second Sunday of Easter available to all churches in the conference.

Here is the link to the video, as well as the bishop's notes.

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COVID-19 recovery ministry
webinar set for Thursday

A webinar from Discipleship Ministries, “Start Planning Your Church’s COVID-19 Recovery Ministry Now!” will be at 6:30 p.m. CDT Thursday, April 23. Register here.

Your community will recover from the COVID-19 virus. While the epidemic will continue to capture the headlines, the work of emotional and financial healing necessitates long-term recovery planning that can start now. Join Ken Sloane, Director of Stewardship & Generosity, as he welcomes Clayton Smith, author of the book “Growing Through Disaster,” for exciting ways your church can begin the work of disaster recovery.

Note: This webinar is taking the place of “Stewardship in the Second Half of Life,” which will be rescheduled at a later date.

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Free, online Spiritual First
Aid Seminar set for April 30

The Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College has partnered with Food for the Hungry (FH), NavPress and Outreach, Inc. to help churches live a message of hope and care for neighbors, churches, communities and the world. Together, they will present the Spiritual First Aid Online Summit, a free one-day online event on Thursday, April 30. Registration is free at

Available to access on or after April 30, the event will include messages from dynamic speakers, offer free tools, and share about catalytic initiatives designed to activate and support churches. Church leaders will hear practical ministry insights they can begin applying immediately.

Upon registering, summit-goers will receive access to a password-protected website with videos that can be viewed at their convenience. Those who register will also receive a free copy of the newly-released Spiritual First Aid Manual, a one-year subscription to Outreach Magazine, a free prayer course from N.T. Wright, and a promo code for a “Get One, Give One” initiative that is sending The Message of Hope to ministries on the frontline of disaster relief.

Speakers will cover how to assess and address five core needs that the Humanitarian Disaster Institute as identified as critical in the wake of a disaster:

  • Belonging Needs (relationships)
  • Livelihood Needs (health, finances, resources, employment)
  • Emotional Needs (mental health)
  • Safety Needs (suicide, harm to self, threat to others, domestic violence)
  • Spiritual Needs (faith, spiritual struggles, meaning-making, purpose)

Follow the hashtag #SpiritualFirstAid for event information, as well as for resources to help churches provide spiritual, emotional, and practical care in response to COVID-19 and beyond.

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Equipping Disciples

Learn about coaching in sessions
from Great Plains laity, Eureka Partners

Join Great Plains laity and the Eureka Partners in making a discovery and learning the foundations of coaching.

The coaching foundations course aims to equip laity with the skills and methods for successful leadership and coaching practice. If you are interested, attend one of the following informational zoom meetings with your questions and hear more about objectives. Informational meetings are scheduled for:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. 

The virtual coaching foundations course will be from 6-9 p.m. CDT Friday, July 31, and 9 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. The cost is $20 per-person which includes online learning, nine hours of training, coaching relationships, and a book. Registration is coming soon! 

Watch this video to learn more.

Questions? Email

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'Catch Fire for God' with series
of Easter season devotionals 

Churches in the Great Plains Conference are invited to join a movement titled “Catch Fire in 50 Days: Joining the movement of God’s Mission in the World.”  

This book, by Blake Busick and Christie Latona of the California-Nevada Conference, is linked to the Readiness 360 process and is meant to help boost spiritual intensity in these days immediately following Easter.  

The Catch Fire in 50 Days process includes free worship tools such as sermon ideas, scripture suggestions, themes, memory verses, liturgies and suggested hymns for each Sunday leading all the way to Pentecost, May 31. Find links to all of the free resources on our special web page. 

During these 50 days, the conference’s daily devotions will feature concepts from the book that go with that week’s theme. Subscribe for free at

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Mercy & Justice

Ecumenical Advocacy Days
scheduled for webinar on Monday

Peace with Justice scholarship recipients had been looking forward to travel to Washington, D.C., and join hundreds of others whose faith calls them to care for God’s creation. With the arrival of COVID-19, the 2020 Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) had to be canceled. But you can join for a Zoom webinar. Please see the information below.

From the EAD Leadership:
Join Virtual Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2020 for a Zoom webinar that will prepare us to take online action with members of Congress on what would have been our Lobby Day, at noon CDT Monday, April 27 at

Our theme for the 2020 conference now seems almost prescient in light of the global pandemic we face. Drawing inspiration from 2 Peter 3:12-13, we envisioned a gathering that would explore the intersections between the environment and the economy. We developed workshops that would center voices from the margin and invited speakers and planned worship that would spark our collective imagination of what a "new earth" might look like -- a restored Earth that would heal our communities and the planet we inhabit.

Although we grieve this missed opportunity to be together, we are excited to still gather with you in heart, in spirit, and in action the weekend of April 24-27.
Our free Zoom webinar will feature some of the topics that we would have examined in person. Dr. Betty Holley, Associate Professor of Ecological Theology at Payne Theological Seminary, Archbishop Mark L. MacDonald, first National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Shantha Ready Alonso, Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries will provide the inspiration and guidance for our online action.

Together, we will call on Congress to address the intersections between climate justice and the current global health crisis. Register here to reserve your place in that webinar or watch live on EAD's Facebook page. Encourage friends to join too!

While there is no registration fee to join our Zoom webinar, as you may know, EAD has substantial fixed expenses. The necessity to cancel our in-person gathering has resulted in a financial shortfall. If you are able to support us with a free will offering, we would truly appreciate it. Click here to visit our giving page hosted by Church World Service, our fiscal sponsor.

Friends, the pandemic that keeps us from gathering together now ironically offers us a glimpse of how we can act to address the many other systemic and existential challenges we face as a global community. Climate change, economic injustice, and racism (to name just a few) continue to keep us and all God's people and the Earth from thriving. In these times, let us continue to imagine and work for the world we hope for, the world God intends, a world in which all is restored.

Join us online April 27 and mark your calendars now to join in person April 16-19, 2021!

With hope,
Leslie Woods and the EAD Planning Team

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Native American Ministries
Sunday is this weekend

Native American Ministries Sunday is one of the six United Methodist churchwide special Sundays designated for a churchwide offering. Since 1988, we have been celebrating Native American individuals and congregations in the United Methodist community.

The 2020 date for Native American Ministries Sunday Is April 26, however, local churches can select to celebrate churchwide special Sundays on alternative dates. With the current disruption of our usual schedules the Great Plains Committee on Native American Ministries encourages the Great Plains churches to establish a date later in the year to collect our Native American Ministries offering. 

The Great Plains Conference has reestablished a Committee on Native American Ministries who will administer the 50% of the Native American Ministries offering that will remain in the Conference. Twenty five percent of the offering goes to support scholarships for Native Americans to attend United Methodist and other approved schools of theology. The remaining 25% goes toward expansion of the number of target cities in the Native American Urban Initiative. 

Numerous resources are available for local congregations to use in planning for a Native American Ministries later this year. These resources can be found online at this link.

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Jalingo/Nigeria orphanage graduate
thanks churches for continued support

Through the Great Plains Conference partnership with the Nigeria Episcopal Area our churches support Jalingo Orphanage graduates in their post-secondary education. Simon Hassan Simon is attending Africa University in Zimbabwe which is a United Methodist-Related Institution. Students from over 30 African countries attend this university. It closed on March 24 in line with a directive from the Government of Zimbabwe to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But all critical units of the university are remaining fully operational.

“Hello everyone at The Great Plains Conference!
“My name is Simon Hassan Simon. I’m from Nigeria and currently studying at Africa University in Zimbabwe. I have been enrolled in the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences since August 2018. This is my second year, second semester. So far I have enjoyed my stay at the university with maximum learning opportunities that are in line with my professional career. I have dreamed of working as a health worker since when I was young and now I’m beginning to achieve that dream through the help given to me by this Conference. I’m very happy and grateful for this kind gesture from the Great Plains Conference. Not everyone gets such an opportunity and some who receive a scholarship from the school don’t receive extra cash to use for their personal items. So it is a big opportunity for me to be part of this scholarship. I want to let the Conference know that this scholarship is not only helping me in my professional pursuit but also in my life journey all around. I do attend a leadership skills program and an entrepreneurial workshop that are organized by the school. I have also participated in community service and lots more which helps me gain exposure on how to live with people around me and to make an impact in their lives.

"Finally, with deepest sincerity of heart, I’m thanking The Great Plains Conference and everyone in general that is rendering help to me so that I achieve my dream of becoming a health worker (medical laboratory sciences) and to contribute my own quota in helping the society, especially the vulnerable ones. Once again THANK YOU!”

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EarthKeepers curriculum
for youth available online

A four-week EarthKeepers curriculum for youth is available from the Minnesota Conference and Hopeful EarthKeepers. The free lesson plans explore how United Methodists relate to God's creation. A bonus lesson takes on the environment and COVID-19.


Nebraska UM Foundation continues
Lunch & Learn series for pastors 


The Nebraska United Methodist Foundation is continuing its one-hour Lunch & Learn series at noon Thursday, April 23, via Zoom. This month's topic for pastors is: “Now What? Understanding Your New Role."

Rev. Dr. Matt Fowler, director of stewardship for the foundation, shares the following thoughts: “I am guessing when Wesley found himself on the outside of the Church of England, his first thoughts were, ‘What next? How do I do ministry now?’ We all probably thought the same thing when COVID-19 shut down the traditional way most of us do church ministry. We have had to adapt. We have had to figure out how to do ministry now. I think it is important that we not only acknowledge the change but hang on to this momentum. Join me as we discuss how we can move forward. Together, we will look at some innovative ways to lead, worship, teach and reach out.”

To maintain high security and in honoring the same standards as the Great Plains Conference, register online at, and you will receive an email inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting that contains a meeting ID and password to join in the event. 

The foundation continues to look for new and innovative ways to serve you and your church. If you have ideas as to how we can serve you during this unprecedented time, please share these ideas with us at or by calling 402-323-8841. 

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Finance Friday webinar looks at church
strategies for months, years ahead

This week on the Finance Friday webinar, Scott Brewer, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, talks about building church strategies for the months and years ahead, plus a review of major developments in finance and government, and (as always) a look at some super-fun data. Please join him this Friday at noon CDT/11am MDT at this link.

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Across the Connection

In other news


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Blogs and commentaries

  • Helping caregivers heal: Churches should worry less about livestreaming and more about offering support to medical professionals who in this COVID-19 emergency are doing dangerous work and making agonizing decisions, says Dallas Gingles, associate director of the Houston-Galveston extension program of Perkins School of Theology, a United Methodist school.
  • Spiritual weapons to fight COVID-19: Christians are not powerless in the fight against a deadly virus, writes Bishop Frank Beard, who leads the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. “God has given to every believer an arsenal of weapons to be used in the spiritual battles that we face,” he said in a commentary that lists seven such weapons.
  • Faith community must support those suffering abuse: While social distancing will slow the spread of the coronavirus, isolation is both a risk factor and a weapon of abuse, writes the Rev. Anne Marie Hunter. Boston. "Sheltering in place" with someone who is abusive is at best dangerous and at worst a death sentence, the New England Conference elder writes.

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