Download the printable version of the Aug. 12 issue of GPconnect.

In this edition:

New district superintendents to be installed in virtual ceremony this Sunday
Newest 'Layman's Terms' podcast explores how to talk about race
'Time to Listen' webinars conclude with personal stories of racism
More about the stand against racism from beyond the Great Plains
David City's Louise Niemann elected to national UMW board of directors
Read more about coronavirus from the Great Plains and beyond

‘Threshold’ continues Thursday with discussion of material poverty
For Your Life (virtual) clergy retreat set for Sept. 14-15
Monday is deadline to register for ‘Therefore Go’ virtual 5K road race 
Great Plains Mutual Aid Association helps pastors, spouses in time of loss

Great Plains United Methodist Men discuss faith issues at virtual breakfast
Virtual Spirit Week continues through Friday in Great Plains

Micah Corps interns reflect on their unique summer experience

Gov. Ricketts releases videos with health messages for students

Nebraska UM Foundation offering ministry grants; deadline is Sept. 30
Kansas Area UM Foundation grant applications due Sept. 1

Consider a ‘blessing of the devices’ for students
Coping with ‘disaster fatigue’ a very real situation, says leader of UM Men

Warta, wife welcome baby girl, Loen Mae

Topeka First celebrates students, teachers with 'drive-by' blessings
Urban Abbey barista talks about Omaha mask rules
In other news
Blogs and commentaries


New district superintendents to be
installed in virtual ceremony this Sunday

Three incoming district superintendents -- two newcomers to the cabinet and a third with new responsibilities -- will be celebrated in a virtual ceremony at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16.

Rev. Tom Brady, serving Five Rivers and Parsons districts; Rev. Jenny Collins, Flint Hills and Topeka districts; and Rev. Dee Williamston, who has added the Hutchinson District to her duties with the Salina District, will each speak and receive gifts for the new appointive year. The combined worship service will a joint online service for all six districts. 

Download the flyer with Zoom registration information.

To Top

Newest 'Layman's Terms' podcast
explores how to talk about race

We may never be able to conquer racism if we don't start openly talking about racism and the way it impacts our entire society.

That’s the topic for the latest episode of the podcast “In Layman’s Terms,” hosted by Todd Seifert.

In this episode, he talks with the Rev. Kathy Williams, an African-American pastor serving a small town in Kansas, who talks about the silence she observed after the death of George Floyd. She shares how she dealt with the silence and got people talking — in a loving way — about racism.

He also talks with Garlinda Burton, who will begin serving as interim general secretary of The United Methodist Church's General Commission on Religion and Race starting Sept. 1. She shares GCORR's mission, its goals and talks about addressing white privilege and how white Christians can put their privilege to use as advocates for people of color.

And Todd talks to the Rev. Adam Barlow-Thompson and the Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson, who lead the Neighboring Movement in a Wichita community. This relationships-based ministry may be a key to helping people reach outside their usual circle of friends to build real bonds with people regardless of skin color or economic status.

Download the podcast.

To Top

'Time to Listen' webinars conclude
with personal stories of racism

The third and final webinar in the series "A Time to Listen" focused on personal stories of racism and trying to answer the question "Where do we go from here?"

Panelists including Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., Rev. Andrew Finch, Hiawatha UMC; Rev. Kathy Williams, Holton UMC; Rev. Chris Jorgensen, Omaha Hanscom Park UMC and Rev. Dr. Jeff Gannon, Wichita Chapel Hill UMC, talked about the racism they had seen and/or experienced in their own lives.

Read a recap of the webinar. A video recording of the webinar is scheduled to be on the conference website by next week.

To Top

More about the stand against
racism from beyond the Great Plains

To Top

David City's Louise Niemann elected
to national UMW board of directors

In an ideal 2020, Louise Niemann would have been told that she was elected to the national United Methodist Women board of directors at the group’s South Central Jurisdiction meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, with friends and colleagues gathering around to congratulate her. 

Instead, she got a phone call at her David City, Nebraska, home in mid-July to tell her that she gained enough votes – 50%, plus one, of the delegates – to be elected to the national position. 

Find out about what her new position entails, Niemann's first experience with UMW and why she's a major advocate of the organization.

Read more here.

To Top

Read more about coronavirus
from the Great Plains and beyond

Our coronavirus page now includes face mask signs that can be downloaded and personalized for your church.

To Top


Clergy Excellence

‘Threshold’ continues Thursday
with discussion of material poverty

Since May, Rev. Shelly Petz and Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford have been leading conversations on topics that engage the challenges and opportunities during this new season. The conversations are called “At the Threshold: Ministry in Liminal Time” and have spanned various topics: ministry in this new season, mental health, leadership, death, children’s ministry, education, and poverty. Check out individual episodes here or find the podcast on Podbean or Apple Podcasts.

  • Material Poverty in the Midst of a Pandemic (August 13, 10:30 a.m.) -- While the pandemic has impacted all of us, the materially poor among us seem to have been impacted the most. We’ll hear from two people who can help us see those who may be invisible and discuss ways that we might be able to share hope in tangible ways: Rev. Kalaba Chali, the Conference Mercy and Justice Coordinator and Rev. Marcee Binder, the newly appointed Mission Outreach and Justice Ministries Coordinator for the Missouri River District. Register for this important conversation here.
  • Discerning Spiritual Direction in a Season of Uncertainty (August 27, 10:30 a.m.) — Spiritual Direction as a Christian practice offers ways to root us and help us discern God’s presence in this liminal time. Join retired Great Plains pastors Rev. Dr. Connie Wilson and Rev. Stephen Griffith as we discuss ways to engage in the practice ourselves and also introduce it to others. Mark your calendar and register here.

Mark your calendar for Sept. 10 and 24 for 10:30 a.m.! Check out the schedule here and find past episodes here:

To Top

For Your Life (virtual) clergy
retreat set for Sept. 14-15

The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted much of our typical day-to-day life, both personally and in the life of the church. Every leadership skill that clergy have developed in the past has been utilized, and new needs have emerged for many clergy. And, while it’s always been important to minister out of a depth of a relationship with Christ, it’s never been as critical as it is now to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. Would you benefit from having a two-day, guided virtual retreat to give you an opportunity to connect with others through (virtual) worship together, take an honest look at how you’re doing, and also walk away learn about creating a Rule of Life and Learning Plan for focusing your plan for growth?

For your Life: Giving your soul time and means to grow is a virtual retreat that will introduce you to the framework for creating a Learning Plan, give you resources, guide you in worship, and most importantly, give you space to spend time in solo reflection and/or connection with others. Participants will join by Zoom and we encourage you to join us from a place that you can have space to create an environment for reflection and rest for the whole time of the virtual retreat. We will start at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14 and will meet at various times between then and 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15. While we will be meeting for worship, conversation, and feedback, the retreat will include several videos that will provide instruction and guidance for your solo work. The expectation is that you will be able to be fully engaged to the work of the For Your Life retreat during the length of the time we’ve identified, even if you are meeting from your home. The cost to participate in the For Your Life virtual retreat is $10 and includes a “Retreat in a Box” kit with resources, items for worship and a little bit of fun thrown in for good measure! The deadline for registering for the retreat is Tuesday, Sept. 1. 

To register and for more information, check out the website, or email the Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford at

We will also be offering some mini-grants for those who might be interested in creating their own retreat setting at St. Benedict’s Retreat Center in Schuyler, NE. Individuals can make their own arrangements for a personal solo retreat and will reimburse the cost of one night after the event, minus $25. To request a personal mini-grant, contact Rev. Nancy Lambert,

To Top

Monday is deadline to register for ‘Therefore Go’ virtual 5K road race 

Thanks to a generous grant from the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, we are excited to announce that there will be a 2020 Great Plains Conference Virtual Race! Your health and wellness is vitally important. This is an opportunity for clergy and laity to be connected, and care for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. In preparation for the race this year, you will have the opportunity to receive training, support, and encouragement ahead of time. The Great Plains Conference has been focusing on the theme: “Therefore Go: Seek Justice.” Tying into this theme, donations given toward this race will go toward making a difference for antiracist justice education and advocacy within the conference. Clergy and laity are encouraged to sign up together to hold each other accountable and help strengthen our work together.

Who: Open to anyone in the Great Plains Conference 
What: Virtual 1 Mile/5k/Half Marathon--your choice of race 
When: Training encouragement, spiritual support, and coaching will be available starting Aug. 17; race to be completed by Oct. 10 
Where: Your choice of where to walk/run

  • Incentive to tend to your faith and wellness
  • You will receive support along the way
  • You can support antiracist justice ministries
  • You will receive a T-shirt and 5K medal
  • You can join others in the Conference in the first ever virtual race!
  • If you have done something like this before, you can help encourage others
  • If you have never done anything like this before, there will be a program for you to help you go from “couch to 5k”

Suggested donation: $15
Please register here by Aug. 17.

To Top

Great Plains Mutual Aid Association
helps pastors, spouses in time of loss


When a Great Plains pastor or spouse dies, do you have an effective way to show you care about them? The Great Plains United Methodist Conference Mutual Aid Association was started to do just that. The Mutual Aid Association provides a sympathy expressing gift of $1,700 every time a member dies. When a member dies, a call letter is sent or emailed to the other members of the Mutual Aid Association. The living members each send in $5 to the Mutual Aid Association treasurer. The treasurer then sends a $1,700 check to a designated beneficiary of the member who has died. Along with the check goes a list of the members who contributed the money. Since 1917 more than 800 families have benefited from this sympathy expressing gift.

If you would like more information about the Great Plains Mutual Aid Association, contact Rev. Bob Neben at or call 402-499-3636. This is a great way to show you care when a Great Plains minister or spouse dies.

Find out more here.

To Top


Equipping Disciples

Great Plains United Methodist Men
discuss faith issues at virtual breakfast

Saturday Aug. 8, more than 40 men from churches in our conference had a Zoom “breakfast” together and felt the power of the Holy Spirit as we had a lively and informative panel discussion on the importance of men to the ministry life of the local church. Men gathered in fellowship halls in Gretna, Nebraska, and Junction City, Kansas, and in homes all across our conference to listen to a panel of men’s ministry leaders share why our ministry is important. 

The panel included Gil Hanke, General Secretary/CEO for the GCUMM, Rev. Dr. Rick Vance, Director for the center for Men’s Ministry, and George Houle, director for men’s ministry for the Great Plains Conference. They discussed and answered questions covering:

  1. Why men are important to the life and growth of the church,
  2. How men can help improve the life and growth of the church, and
  3. What men can do as individuals or as a group to strengthen their connection and deepen their relationship with Christ.

Thanks to the Rev. Eric Rook, Steve Kirkeby and the men of Stilwell UMC for organizing and hosting the “breakfast.”

Is this digital the future of “church”? Is Zoom the future of men’s ministry? I don’t know. I know all things work for good for those who believe in the Lord and we do. So, till we meet in-person again, we will use what God provides to help you develop that relationship with Jesus and with each other.

--George Houle, director for men’s ministry

To Top

Virtual Spirit Week continues
through Friday in Great Plains


We're in the middle of the first Great Plains Virtual Spirit Week as children and youth make their ways back to school, whatever form that school might take.

You're invited to dress up for the theme, take a picture, and post it to social media – FacebookTwitter or Instagram -- typing #GPSpiritWeek in your post.

Today is Hat Day, led by the Rev. Kirstie Engel, Lincoln First UMC.

Tuesday was Superhero Day, led by Trish Starbuck, summer youth program director, Colby UMC.

The week began Monday with "Athletes and Mathletes," led by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.

To Top


Mercy & Justice

Micah Corps interns reflect on
their unique summer experience



During a normal summer, Micah Corps interns live with host families or in a college dormitory. From there they travel hundreds of miles across Kansas and Nebraska to share in worship and/or Sunday school classes.

This summer, each intern worked from home and their work happened through Zoom and other virtual means.

Read the reflections of the Micah Corps members: Sheka Appoline Olenga, Carly Redding, Marquis Toney, Abigail Koech and Sam Redfern.

To Top


Disaster Response

Gov. Ricketts releases videos
with health messages for students

Today, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the release of videos with timely health messaging geared toward students.

“As Nebraskans head back to school, we want to remind everyone to continue using best practices to stay healthy and slow the spread of the virus,” said Gov. Ricketts.  “I appreciate the work Bring Up Nebraska and its partners have done to share this important message with students.”

Bring Up Nebraska partners, collaborating with Rabble Mill/The Bay, produced the videos in English, Spanish, and Arabic to highlight the importance of hand-washing, social distancing, and wearing masks.  The video release is timed for the start of school in many Nebraska communities.  The videos were created with input from students, for students, on how their actions can keep their families, their communities, and themselves healthy during the pandemic.

The 45-second videos can be found here:

To Top




Nebraska UM Foundation offering
ministry grants; deadline is Sept. 30

The Nebraska United Methodist Foundation is pleased to announce a ministry grant opportunity available to Nebraska churches and affiliated agencies of the Great Plains Conference.

The Foundation is able to award these grants due to the generosity of donors to our Gifts from the Heart Endowment Fund. These grant dollars are available to enhance and expand your ministries. The ultimate goal of these awards is to provide assistance, both for new ministries and thriving ministries wishing to grow.

These grants are made for programs and activities and include operating expenses and supplies necessary for those programs or activities. They are not made for building repair, replacement, or expansion.

The application deadline is Sept. 30. For application materials and more information, please visit our website at

If you have questions about the application process or would like to talk to the Foundation about how you can help grow these types of grants, please call 877-495-5545.

To Top

Kansas Area UM Foundation
grant applications due Sept. 1

What ministries could be possible with the support of a matching grant? The Kansas Area Foundation is offering Pathways for Discipleship Grants to Kansas churches and organizations in three key areas of ministry, children and youth programs, ministry and outreach, and leadership education. Grant applications are due on Sept. 1. The application is available at

Children and Youth program grants are available to support all aspects of programming for children, youth and young adult ministries. The grant assists with the development of new, unique programs to attract children, youth, and young adults to the church through local church, district, campus ministry or conference experiences.

Ministry and Outreach grants help support churches in reaching the community in activities such as, programming, mission trips, and outreach ministry

Leadership Education grants support education and leadership development of clergy and lay leaders. Grants may also assist in providing trainings for a church, network, or regional gathering.

If you have any questions, please contact the Foundation at or 620-664-9623.

To Top



Consider a ‘blessing of
the devices’ for students

For many churches, one of the markers of the beginning of the fall program year is the “Blessing of the Backpacks.” In this time of remote learning, churches may also want to add a “Blessing of the Devices” to fall rites of passage. Elizabeth Drescher, a religion professor at Santa Clara University, offers a blessing churches might use.

See blessing.

To Top

Coping with ‘disaster fatigue’ a very
real situation, says leader of UM Men

Five months of living in the coronavirus pandemic, with no end in sight, can wear on anyone. Early in a disaster, people pull together in unity, but as time goes on those positive feelings often give way to cynicism and discouragement. The Rev. Rick Vance, director of the Center for Men's Ministries for the Commission on United Methodist Men, offers some tips for combating disaster fatigue.

Read more here.

To Top



Warta, wife welcome
baby girl, Loen Mae

Shane Warta, coordinator of lay leadership for the Great Plains Conference, and his wife, Becca, are the parents of a baby girl, Loen Mae, born at 8:32 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9 in Topeka. The baby was 7 lbs., 12 oz. and 21 inches.

Loen is the little sister of Sutton Rose, who will turn 3 in a few weeks.

To Top


Across the Connection

Topeka First celebrates students, teachers with 'drive-by' blessings

No matter how they were going back to school – in-person, online or home-schooled – Topeka First UMC celebrated students and teachers with a back-to-school drive-by celebration on Saturday.

About 75 students, parents and teachers got their pictures taken, a snack and a blessing on their school year ahead, according to Allison Brewer, director of children’s discipleship.

Read story from WIBW-TV.
Check out our photo album.

To Top

Urban Abbey barista talks
about Omaha mask rules

Omaha’s Urban Abbey is among the establishments asking its customers to wear a mask as they enter the store.

But not everyone respects the signs.

“Either they run back out to the car to get a mask or they sort of look at it and it doesn’t really register and they just walk right in,” said Jasmine Flores, a barista.

Also interviewed is an Urban Abbey customer – Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, pastor of Saint Paul Benson UMC, who says she won’t go into a store unless there’s a mask requirement.

Watch video from WOWT.

To Top

In other news

To Top


To Top

Blogs and commentaries

  • Rodriguez left legacy of servant leadership: In a 50-year ministry career, the Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez (pictured above) advocated for justice and helped ensure that The United Methodist Church served Hispanic/Latino and ethnic communities. Retired Bishop Joel N. Martinez, former bishop of the Nebraska Conference, remembers Rodríguez, who died July 19 at 88. 
  • Retired bishop revisits his first churches: Retired Bishop Kenneth Carder has begun to revisit the churches and communities where he and his late wife, Linda, served early in their life together. He writes about his recent trip back to Watauga, Tennessee. He was a student pastor there six decades ago, with a beginning annual salary of $600.


To Top

Facebook Twitter Instagram Subscribe Submit story Website

Conference Office
1207 SW Executive Dr.
PO Box 4187
Topeka, KS 66604