Download the printable version of the June 10 issue of GPconnect.

In this edition:

Bishop Saenz urges action against systemic racism
Pastors, churches asked to pray in solidarity on Tuesday night
‘In Layman’s Terms’ talks to six black pastors in Great Plains
Bishops condemn racism, ask for twice-daily prayer for justice
News in the stand against racism from beyond the Great Plains
Great Plains churches adjust to keep VBS alive during pandemic
News in the fight against coronavirus from the Great Plains and beyond

Scholarships offered for mediation skills training
Bishop, retired episcopal leaders guests on next week's ‘Threshold’ discussion 
GBHEM to host its first ‘Leading in Crisis’ e-discussion

Southwestern's Summit, Amp It Up! preparing for at-home experience
Foundations of coaching course to begin next month
Readiness 360 surveys are a way of connection for your congregation

Hilda and Ivan, living in sanctuary, reach out to help during COVID-19

Kansas, Nebraska reporting cases of inflammatory syndrome

No Finance Friday this week

Celebrating all men on upcoming Father’s Day
Toolkit addresses health care disparities
Free course available on preserving church history
Online video resources for help using iMovie 

In other news
Blogs and commentaries


Bishop Saenz urges action
against systemic racism

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. released a letter last week regarding a plan for the Great Plains Conference and its churches to take a leadership role in responding as disciples of Jesus Christ to systemic racism and injustice in the United States.

“My hope is that we will be intentional to grow and stretch into this vital aspect of our discipleship formation,” the bishop writes. “The aim is to move us beyond trite prayers, Bible studies, reading books, and debates about the topic of racism, to experimenting a way forward that involves opening up our conversation, listening, and taking new steps. This is the only way we are going to change our ingrained expressions, attitudes of superiority and behaviors to build bridges toward people we were culturally conditioned to fear, suspect, condescend, and even hold in contempt.”

Read the bishop’s letter.

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Pastors, churches asked to
pray in solidarity on Tuesday night

All pastors in the Great Plains conference are being asked to lead their congregations in a time of prayer in their church community, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, in solidarity to end systemic racism and for change in our country.

  • Gather your communities and churches outside, whether in their parking lot, in front of their church, or walking in that neighborhood
  • Pray in solidarity for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
  • Pray at the same time on the same day so all over our voices are heard in our cities.
  • Invite other pastors of other denominations to join in as we all come together in prayer for our nation.

We believe that if we can all come together with all races that we can be a part of the solution for change.

--Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina-Hays District superintendent

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‘In Layman’s Terms’ talks to
six black pastors in Great Plains

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend 2020 sparked outrage. Video of the incident shows a police officer with his knee pressed down on the man's neck for almost nine minutes.

In response, people have taken to the streets in protest. They are voicing their anger and telling their stories.

In the newest episode of the “In Layman’s Terms” podcast, conference communications director Todd Seifert aims to tell the story of the African-American experience through the words of six black pastors in the Great Plains Conference: Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina-Hays District superintendent; Rev. Dr. Kevass Harding, Wichita Dellrose; Pastor Ronda Kingwood, Wichita Heart of Christ; Rev. Robert Johnson, Wichita Saint Mark; Rev. Portia Cavitt, Omaha Clair Memorial; and Rev. Kirstie Engel, Lincoln First.

A warning this episode does include some of the recording of Mr. Floyd asking officers to allow him to move so he can breathe.

Listen at this link.

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Bishops condemn racism,
ask for twice-daily prayer for justice

In the aftermath of police killings of unarmed Black people, the bishops of The United Methodist Church on Monday called on all United Methodists to act now by using their voices, pens, feet and hearts to end racism.

In a statement released by Council of Bishops President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the bishops are urging every United Methodist to reclaim their baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

“We ask every United Methodist to name the egregious sin of racism and white supremacy and join together to take a stand against the oppression and injustice that is killing persons of color,” the statement said.

The bishops said they are joining with other church leaders and boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church to add strength to the message that “we will no longer remain silent nor complicit but must act now!”   

As part of the that pledge, for at least the next 30 days, all United Methodists everywhere are asked to join in prayer at 8:46 a.m. and p.m. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time the officer held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.  “Pray for all persons of color who suffer at the hands of injustice and oppression.  Pray for our church as we take a stand against racism.”

Read more here.
What can you do to unite against racism? Ways to listen, act, speak, pray and learn more.
Ways to take a stand.

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News in the stand against
racism from beyond the Great Plains

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Great Plains churches adjust
to keep VBS alive during pandemic

Like every other aspect of church life in 2020, the venerable Vacation Bible School has had to make changes.

We talk to three churches and how they’ve adjusted. One is using a newly revised VBS format meant for virtual learning; another who has used videos to communicate VBS lessons online; and a third that was determined that the “V” in VBS would not stand for “Virtual.”

Read more here.
United Methodist News Service: Different VBS coming this summer.

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News in the fight against coronavirus
from the Great Plains and beyond

Our coronavirus page includes updates from the CDC, the Kansas and Nebraska health departments.

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Clergy Excellence

Scholarships offered for
mediation skills training

The Clergy Excellence office of the Great Plains Conference is offering 15, $100 scholarships for clergy who attend Mediation Skills Training Institute for Church Leaders, led by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, before the end of 2020.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Leaders in all walks of life have a responsibility to lead others through conflict.  This training will equip church leaders with skills to help them deal effectively and healthily with group conflict.  The training will help you in leading the church, in managing interpersonal conflict, and helping other groups resolve conflict in ways that strengthen rather than divide, that bring peace rather than anger. 

The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center has just released dates for this fall, with notice that these trainings will be done by Zoom. Because of this decision, they have reduced the tuition, normally $895, by $200 to $695 for early registrations! With no travel costs or motel, your actual cost to attend this excellent training is even lower.    

You will find information about this training and instructions for registering in the June 3, 2020, issue of GPconnect, or on the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center website at  

Are you interested?  If so, please apply for the Clergy Excellence scholarship here. Please know that the application will accept more than 15 applicants.  That way, in case one of the first 15 people later decide not to attend, the scholarship can be awarded to the next person in line.   You will be notified if you are in the first fifteen applicants and guaranteed the scholarship.  

If you have questions, please talk with your District Superintendent or Rev. Nancy Lambert at

--Rev. Nancy Lambert, clergy excellence director
and assistant to the bishop

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Bishop, retired episcopal leaders guests
on next week's ‘Threshold’ discussion 

The Bishops on Spiritual Leadership (10:30 a.m. CDT Thursday, June 18) will be the subject of the next Zoom webinar in the series “At the Threshold: Ministry in Liminal Time,” hosted by the Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, clergy recruitment and development coordinator, and the Rev. Shelly Petz, clergy wellness specialist.

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. will be joined by retired bishops Ann Shearer Simpson and Bruce Blake to share how they themselves are navigating this season and offer their perspectives on Spiritual Leadership during this new and challenging season. Register here.

Mark your calendar for July 2, 16, and 30 for 10:30 a.m.! More topics announced soon!

Past discussions can be found on our podcast page. Listen at this link. Watch for a new web page featuring this podcast, available soon via a link at

Feel free to reach out with possibilities or questions to Ashlee,, or Shelly,

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GBHEM to host its first
‘Leading in Crisis’ e-discussion

General Board of Higher Education & Ministry’s first "Leading in Crisis" e-panel discussion will be at 11 a.m. CDT Wednesday, June 17.

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the California-Pacific Conference and Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference will discuss "Feeling like you didn't sign up for this, and other pastoral realities of 2020."

Bishops Carter and Hagiya will discuss how clergy can better lead during difficult times and how to take on leadership moments when you might feel like "I didn't sign up for this!" They’ll address questions like “How can I set a “new normal” for my church?” and “How can I serve as a non-anxious presence in an anxiety-ridden world?”

The discussion will be streamed live on the GBHEM Facebook page and YouTube channel and viewers are encouraged to post their questions in the comments of either platform. There is no need to preregister for this free event.

This panel is the first in a new ongoing series from GBHEM on leading in times of crisis.

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Equipping Disciples

Southwestern's Summit, Amp It Up!
preparing for at-home experience

The Summit Youth Academy and Amp It Up! Worship Band Camp at Southwestern College are preparing an at-home experience for youth participants.

For rising juniors & seniors (classes of ’21 & ’22), July 21-24 this summer is meant for intentional time to learn about Christian faith, connect to God, and to each other.

Worship, small groups, and fun elements will be organized, and supplies will be provided to all participants in a safe manner. Youth must be nominated by a member of their congregation and fill out a brief application. The deadline is June 30.

Cost for this joint online experience total $150 – with $100 being contributed by each youth and $50 from each church.

A “pay-what-you-can” system is also in place, knowing that churches and families may have experienced financial struggle due to COVD-19.

More information is available at or

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Foundations of coaching
course to begin next month


Would you like to make a discovery and learn the foundations of coaching? The new coaching foundations course aims to equip laity with the skills and methods for successful leadership and coaching practice. 
The virtual coaching foundations course will be from 6-9 p.m. CT 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 now open! 
What is coaching? 
If you have questions, email Shane Warta, lay leadership coordinator, at

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Readiness 360 surveys are a way
of connection for your congregation

As you look for a way to relaunch and consider visioning in the future for the congregation, here is an online survey tool that can help guide your congregation at this time.
The survey is conducted all online and invitations and codes are sent via email. This is a great time to catalyze the online communication, use the time we have, and spend 20 minutes our time in meaningful reflection on the congregation.
If you are a pastor who signed up at Orders & Fellowship in January, your congregation already has a code that staff are willing to help you activate. Taking the survey can help foster a sense of community, learn about the church, reflect meaningfully and propel us to about the future of the church. 
If you would like a code today, contact your district office. It is a free resource with free coaching with a leadership team, all available online. Updated resources and information are listed on
Contact your Congregational Excellence Staff person of your district if you would like more information or code for your church:


Mercy & Justice

Hilda and Ivan, living in sanctuary,
reach out to help during COVID-19

At Hastings First UMC: Ivan and Hilda in the front, Babs Miller and Zulma in the middle, Andrea Paret, Sandy Sypherd and staff from GBCS.

Several of us in the Great Plains Conference know Hilda and Ivan, who continue to live in fear and uncertainty and in isolation. And yet even in these difficult circumstances they are reaching out to help during the COVID-19 pandemic (see link to article).

In the fall of 2016, the Great Plains Immigration Rapid Response Team and Peace with Justice Ministries were contacted by several church members who wanted to explore what it would mean to offer sanctuary for immigrants who might need help pursuing their case to be allowed to stay in the United States. With the help from the General Board of Church and Society and Church World Service we organized trainings for congregations to learn about the situation of immigrants and the possibility of offering support and sanctuary. Offering sanctuary can mean many different things whether “Sanctuary in the Street,” accompaniment to hearings and court proceedings, or offering physical space in a church building for immigrants to live there until their case is resolved.

We were blessed to have a team from the Austin Sanctuary Network in Texas come and share about their work. Hilda Ramirez and her son Ivan (at that time 10 years old), as well as another friend, shared about having spent time in sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. Rev. Babs Miller also was with us and explained what it meant for the congregation to offer physical sanctuary and what they learned in the process. We met at Hastings First UMC and the following day at Omaha Grace UMC. We had a good turnout of people, some driving many miles to be able to participate.

More trainings followed about becoming Immigrant Welcoming Communities and the Sanctuary Movement. First UMC in Hastings became an official “Immigrant Welcoming Community” and in Omaha an interdenominational organization was formed, the Omaha Area Sanctuary Network.

Please keep Hilda and Ivan and all the other immigrants in your prayers. They are yearning for safety for themselves and their families. They are our sisters and brothers and Jesus asks us to love them as we love ourselves.

-- Sandy Sypherd and Andrea Paret,
Great Plains Immigration Rapid Response Team

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Disaster Response

Kansas, Nebraska reporting
cases of inflammatory syndrome

Both states in the Great Plains Conference have reported cases of the Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome. We are sharing the link with you for your reference and information.

There is no need to panic. Continue with your cleaning, disinfecting, social distancing and wearing a mask while out in public. While the flyer is from Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), the information is a good basic overview.

In Kansas, the contact number for reporting is the KDHE Epidemiology at 1-877-427-7317. For those of you living in Nebraska, you would report to the Nebraska Office of Epidemiology at 402-471-2937. 

--Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator

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No Finance Friday this week

There will be no Finance Friday webcast this week so that everyone might enjoy a needed respite from all those charts and graphs.

For an archive of past shows and slide decks, go to

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Celebrating all men
on upcoming Father’s Day

The Center for Men's Ministries urges United Methodist congregations to declare U.S. Father's Day on June 21 as their Annual Men's Day. The goal is to avoid the unintended consequences of making some men uneasy on Father's Day. 

Read more here.
Ideas for Men’s Day.

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Toolkit addresses
health care disparities

To help address racial disparities amplified by the pandemic, the Greater New Jersey Commission on Religion and Race has created a COVID-19 Health Care Disparity Toolkit for pastors to use with their congregations and local partners as they work collaboratively in communities that are suffering and hampered by inequities.

Read about it and use the toolkit.

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Free course available
on preserving church history

Registration is open for a free course on the preservation of the history of local churches. The online class, which begins Sept. 14, will cover a wide range of skills necessary to become a complete church historian.

Read press release, register for class.

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Online video resources
for help using iMovie 

A new training resource has been launched by United Methodist Communications to help local church leaders edit video for their ministries. The fast-track training focuses on iMovie, a tool that can be used on Apple devices, enabling the addition of video transitions and background music to more effectively engage people through social media and church websites.

Learn more.

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Across the Connection

In other news

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 Blogs and commentaries

  • Thoughts from the inside, outside: Hundreds of clergy from many faith traditions participated in a silent march in Minneapolis, bearing witness for justice and standing in solidarity with African American colleagues after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The Rev. Shawn R. Moore (pictured above), an African American clergyman in St. Paul who also is a former police officer, offers his perspective on the event and the role of the church moving forward.
  • ‘The threat of blackness’: Following the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, the Florida Conference invited four black clergymen to reflect on that tragedy, their own experiences with racism, and the need for the church to confront its own struggles. As their thoughts were being published in an essay “The Threat of Blackness,” news of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police emerged. “When I scream, ‘Black Lives Matter!’ it's not enough. I need my white clergy friends to stand with me,” writes the Rev. Gary A. Marcelin, one of the contributors. 
  • The color of coronavirus: The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the already existing health disparities for minority communities. "To advance in better health, we must lift from the bottom to help the people who have been harmed by lax, racist or ignorant public health legislation,” writes Alejandra Salemi of Florida, who has a master's in public health.

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