Download the printable version of the Dec. 19 issue of GPconnect.

In this edition:

Bishop, wife provide Christmas greeting to members of Great Plains Conference
Conference offices to close Dec. 24-25, Jan. 1; GPconnect to return Jan. 9
Churches help those with loss over Christmas season find joy
Lawrence church celebrates its 24th Festival of Nativities 
Valley View UMC to close, become campus of Church of the Resurrection
'Anatomy of Peace': Disrupting our hearts in the presence of the other 

Delegation chairs looking forward to special session
Korean leaders say they are wary of One Church Plan

Duke study: Clergy are notoriously bad at taking care of their own health 
‘Living Well’ theme of 2019 Orders & Fellowship, Jan. 16-17

Guest speaker bringing message of healing to OneEvent
Campers learn to handle Grinchiness during Christmas at Fontanelle
Summer camp counselor positions available in Great Plains

Author aims to break myths about immigration
'Tis the Season we remember a baby born to immigrant parents

UMCOR grants to support programs for oasis near U.S.-Mexico border

How churches can avoid the ‘Parking Lot Tax’ -- get rid of reserved spots
A message from your conference benefits officer
IRS announces standard mileage rate for 2019
Nebraska UM Foundation gives two grants in ‘Spirit of Christmas’ project

Student's question leads to collaborative Christmas program
Northwestern Kansans learn to take action on poverty
In other news
Blogs and commentaries

Bishop, wife provide Christmas greeting to members of Great Plains Conference

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and his wife, Maye, provide a brief Christmas greeting to the people of the Great Plains Conference.
View the brief video.

Watch the Great Plains Conference’s staff Christmas video.

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Conference offices to close Dec. 24-25,
Jan. 1; GPconnect to return Jan. 9

All of the conference and district offices will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

GPconnect will return to your email on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

We wish you a joyous and blessed Christmas and New Year!

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Churches help those with loss
over Christmas season find joy

A growing number of churches, both in the Great Plains and across the country, are helping those whose Christmas season isn’t merriment and carols.

Some call it “Blue Christmas” and others name it “A Service of Comfort and Hope” or “Darkest Night.” It’s a service designed for those who have suffered a loss in the previous year, whether it’s the death or estrangement of a loved one, or families with issues such as mental health or unemployment.

Read more about services in Topeka, Lincoln and Atchison, and find ideas for starting your own.

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Lawrence church celebrates
its 24th Festival of Nativities 

Centenary United Methodist Church in Lawrence celebrates Christmas each year by displaying more than 425 nativities from around the world — some donated to the church and some from the private collections of members and friends. 

The Festival of Nativities, now in its 24th year, can be seen for free, though donations are welcome, from noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 22-23, as well as noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 29 at the church, at the corner of Fourth and Elm streets in old north Lawrence. 

Nativities range from traditional wood and clay depictions of the birth of Jesus to carvings from African nations to a play on “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh from local art students.

Two particularly large displays include a Fontanini Italian village donated by Donna and Ray Salzwedel of Humboldt, Kansas, and a room-sized French Santons — a tradition that developed at the time of the French Revolution that includes incredibly detailed clay figures reacting to news of the Christ child’s birth. The Santons are from the personal collection of Chris Jump. 

See more photos from the Festival of Nativities.

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Valley View UMC to close, become
campus of Church of the Resurrection

On April 28, shortly after Valley View United Methodist Church celebrates its 60th anniversary, the Overland Park, Kansas, church will close.

But it will re-emerge about four months later, as the new Overland Park campus of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

Valley View’s congregation voted 160-1 on Dec. 2 to approve becoming a campus of Resurrection. The Leawood-based church, the largest United Methodist congregation in the denomination, voted 280-1 last Saturday to approve the addition.

Read more about the decision by both congregations.

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'Anatomy of Peace': Disrupting our
hearts in the presence of the other 

With Advent as the backdrop, the Rev. Nathan Stanton, director of congregational excellence, shares a blog about the book “Anatomy of Peace.” The book, a fictional tale published by the Arbinger Institute to help resolve conflict, has been one of many resources used throughout the process of drafting a way forward for The United Methodist Church amid tensions over human sexuality. 

In his blog, Stanton explains the basics of the book and provides insight into the book’s teachings and how they relate to the town hall meetings hosted by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. over the summer and fall. 

Read the blog. 

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General Conference

Delegation chairs looking
forward to special session

If any group has a finger on the pulse of the United Methodist public, it's the delegation chairpersons for the special called session of General Conference, set for Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis. They have heard the hopes and fears in the run-up to a legislative meeting aimed at preserving denominational unity. 

Read story from United Methodist News Service.

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Korean leaders say they
are wary of One Church Plan

It would be difficult for Korean United Methodists to accept a gay bishop if that were made possible by the church adopting the One Church Plan, Korean leaders said during a recent meeting with bishops. But the top executive of the denomination's Korean Ministry Plan said if the plan would put the conflict to rest, he thinks Korean United Methodists could live with it.

Read more from United Methodist News Service.

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Clergy Excellence

Duke study: Clergy are notoriously
bad at taking care of their own health 

The results are in from a Duke University-led health and wellness program offered to North Carolina-based United Methodist clergy and funded by The Duke Endowment. 

“There’s a health disparity with clergy that people aren’t aware of,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an associate research professor with Duke’s Global Health Institute and a principal investigator on the study. “Parishioners generally don’t think about what their pastors’ personal life is like. Clergy are called and passionate about their work, but also experience substantial stress due to the emotional labor they provide.”

Proeschold-Bell is the keynote speaker for Orders & Fellowship for the Great Plains Conference clergy, Jan. 16-17 at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

Read more about the findings of the study.

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‘Living Well’ theme of 2019
Orders & Fellowship, Jan. 16-17

The 2019 Orders & Fellowship, the annual gathering of the clergy of the Great Plains Conference, will be Jan. 16-17, with a meet-and-greet scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 15.

It is an opportunity for you to refresh and renew, drawing deep upon the Living Water of Christ, so that you may Live Well in the next season of your ministry. The event is being held at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas.

From 6:30-8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 15, will be a time to meet and greet other clergy at Church of the Resurrection. Cookies and beverages will be provided. You can also register at this time as well as take a tour of the new worship space at COR.

Wednesday morning begins with worship and communion at 8:30 a.m. Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. will bring us the word for this service. Registration will be open at 7:30 a.m.

The plenary speaker for Wednesday and Thursday is Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, associate professor of global health at Duke University and research director of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative since 2007. She co-authored “Faithful and Fractured” with Jason Byassee. The book is about pastors taking care of themselves, setting priorities so that they have the space and time to do the ministry they love, and becoming healthier and more whole, to become whom God has created.

Watch this video greeting from Proeschold-Bell.

After lunch on Wednesday you will have the opportunity to select among 11 different workshops that will explore healthier living, whether it be spiritual, emotional, physical, mental or social health. Pre-registration is required so that we can have adequate space for each workshop.

Wednesday ends with a time for the Order of Elders and Deacons and Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members to meet with Bishop Saenz to learn about opportunities in the conference to strengthen your congregation and the vision for 2019.

Thursday morning will end with worship to send us on our way home. Rev. Kevass Harding, Wichita Dellrose UMC, will be the preacher for this service.

Many hotel blocks are set up for the meeting that are near the Church of the Resurrection, although the deadline has passed for the group rate. To view more details about hotels, click Lodging.

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Equipping Disciples

Guest speaker bringing
message of healing to OneEvent

The keynote speaker for The OneEvent 2019 says she’s coming to the Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina on Jan. 5-6 with a message of healing.
The Rev. Michelle Manuel, associate pastor of The Loft at The Highlands United Methodist Church outside Houston, said the Lord pointed her toward that topic.

“Tell my young people that I want to heal them,” she says in this video interview. “I know there’s places where they’re hurting and there’s brokenness and tell them there is a love that passes all understanding that wants to come and heal them.”

Watch the complete video interview here.

Please, join us in thanking the Elkhorn Valley, Gateway, Salina and Wichita East districts for meeting their challenge of registering 70 youths and adult volunteers! There is still time for your church to register for the The OneEvent.

The 2019 OneEvent’s theme, “WORD,” is rooted in the Gospel of John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We are excited to offer several workshops that will proclaim the Word in various forms:

  • The Word in Leadership for those working with youth.
  • The Word in Relationship inspired by the practical relationship between the Rev. Lora Andrews and the Rev. Molly Just from Winfield, Kansas.
  • The Word in Laughter with Jo Castillo, an incredible speaker and storyteller using sand art.
  • The Word in Body with LaTasha Gibbs who combines Zumba dance and spirituality in an electrifying atmosphere.
  • The Word in Mind with Rev. Dr. Gary Nelson, an expert with over 40 years of counseling experience with youth and families.

To learn more and to register, click this link

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Campers learn to handle Grinchiness during Christmas at Fontanelle

The Grinch may have tried, but there was no way he was going to steal Christmas Camp out at Camp Fontanelle this past weekend.

Thirty-six campers and eight adults learned about grinchy people, in the Bible and how to handle grinchy things, even if they were the source of the Grinchiness! It was the perfect weekend for indoor and outdoor activities. 
Highlights of the weekend included the campers picking out a gift for a family member or friend, sledding, ziplining and a visit from Father Christmas AND the Grinch. Missouri River District UMW donated tied fleece blankets for every camper. These blankets were tied at their fall district meeting. Campers also received a stuffed animal with the blanket.
The weekend culminated on Sunday with family worship and sharing a meal.

Thanks to the Nebraska UM Foundation and many supporters, campers experienced the blessings of the season with memorable activities and Christmas gifts lovingly picked out for each camper. 

Christmas Camp is a weekend camp for children/youth who may not feel Christmas is going to be very merry. Due to family, financial, emotional or health issues, children/youth come to camp to feel the love and joy of the Christmas season. The camp is traditionally held the second or third weekend in December. There is no cost to the family; through grants and donations, the weekend is a gift meant to pour out blessings upon blessings.

Donations may be given throughout the year to support the Christmas Camp ministry. If making a donation for Christmas Camp, please indicate it on the memo line of your check, or in the note area of online giving.

-- Jane Van Horn, camp coordinator

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Summer camp counselor
positions available in Great Plains

If you are a college student or a high school senior who is interested in spending your summer investing in people's lives through a Christian summer camp, then check out our Great Plains United Methodist camps.

We offer summer camp counselor positions, as well as many other Christian camp positions, job opportunities and internship positions. This summer camp job will be one that will impact your life for years to come!

Apply now to be a part of one of the six Great Plains camps' summer staff in 2019! Visit our website to learn more:

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Mercy & Justice

Author aims to break
myths about immigration

 “Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” was the title of the keynote by Avi Chomksy during the International Educational Week at Creighton University in Omaha in November. Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her books are widely read and one of them was on the United Methodist Women Reading list a few years ago (“They Take Our Jobs! Twenty Myths about Immigration”).

“We need to abandon the narrative that this is a country of immigrants and has been a country that has welcomed immigrants,” she started out her presentation. Going back to the time when the first settlers came from England to what today is the United States, Chomsky pointed out how immigration by white people was always favored whereas other races were often excluded. And yet, students learning about history in school today are hardly ever exposed to this information.

When Chomsky had entered the student center that morning, she saw posters about the Immigration Education Day and about Native American History Month. Talking about how these two themes are interrelated, Chomsky explained the term “settler-colonialism,” where settlers strive to replace the native population.

Watch her presentation here.

A variety of organizations had booths at the event to share information about how they engage with diverse populations and work towards making our communities more welcoming. To be able to do this work, it helps to know our history not only through the eyes of the dominant group of people or the victors but also from the point of view and experience of those more vulnerable.

Immigration issues are of great concern to people of faith, especially at this time of year as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, who with his parents was a migrant at a very young age, fleeing violence.

May this Advent and Christmas season remind us that God’s love has no borders and encourage us to take action to share God’s amazing love.

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'Tis the Season we remember
a baby born to immigrant parents

'Tis the season when we remember the wisdom of God's choice to be born in poverty to immigrant parents. From this place of suffering, God makes oppressive thrones shake, the so-called powerful and mighty perish, and the unjust bend to their knees. In a world that is shattering into pieces, a vulnerable child with a courageous family transforms and brings hope to all.

Join the journey with your contribution to Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
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Disaster Response

UMCOR grants to support programs
for oasis near U.S.-Mexico border

With a local Mexican state’s government reporting that there are more than 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers stuck in just one city along the United States – Mexico border, local resources are being overwhelmed and refugees are still in great need. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is committed to supporting groups working to assist individuals fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries. UMCOR leaders recently approved $144,793 in grants that will increase the capacity of local partners to serve migrants, resulting in more immediate relief and an oasis along the way. 

Read more from UMCOR.

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How churches can avoid the ‘Parking Lot Tax’ -- get rid of reserved spots

You may have heard that as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, an obscure provision was included that had the potential of forcing churches to pay unrelated business income taxes if they provide parking to employees. Tax experts and others debated what this provision would really mean for churches and other entities for much of the year until, finally, the IRS issued its interim guidance last week.

The guidance is voluminous and a daunting task for most folks to parse. The upshot is that per the IRS’s instructions, the vast majority of churches should not have to worry about paying unrelated business income tax because of their parking lot. HOWEVER, churches that reserve parking spaces for pastors or employees need to stop the practice and take down any signage by March 31, 2019, to avoid being taxed on those spaces.

Some churches may still face a tax liability in some cases. To learn more, we encourage you to see GCFA’s guidance on the matter, or a new article from Church Law and Tax Update, that is offered to you free for a limited time and offers tips for determining whether your church’s parking lot will trigger a tax bill with the IRS.

-- Scott Brewer, treasurer/director of administration

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A message from your
conference benefits officer

2018 is quickly ending and tax filing will begin. I want to pass on the information regarding tax filing for clergy. I am not able to give you tax advice, but I want you to be sure your tax preparer truly understands preparing clergy taxes. Remember knowledge will protect you from future financial hardships from the IRS.

Nate Berneking, director of finance and administration of the Missouri Conference offers a very helpful class on clergy and taxes. You can view his PowerPoint at

IRS has changed the forms for 2018 tax filing. Everyone will be filing a Form 1040 and may have to file one of the new Schedules 1 through 6. Clergy will still need to file the Schedule SE (for self-employment tax) and then you will be recording the numbers on Schedule 4 of the Form 1040

You and your tax preparer should understand Publication 517 – Social Security and Other Information for Members of the Clergy and Religious Workers Great Plains Conference strongly urges clergy NOT to file an Exemption from Self-Employment (SE) Tax

-- Peggy Mihoover, conference benefits officer

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IRS announces standard
mileage rate for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued the 2019 standard mileage rates. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck will be 58 cents per mile for business miles driven (up from 54.5 cents in 2018).

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Nebraska UM Foundation gives two
grants in ‘Spirit of Christmas’ project

The Nebraska United Methodist Foundation is blessed with support and friendship from laity and pastors alike, throughout the Great Plains Conference. We are thankful for each and every one of you. As a way to show our gratitude, our ministry called “The Spirit of Christmas Project” provides us a way to give back and say thank you to all of you through gifts to United Methodist organizations or ministries. This year, the Foundation is pleased to be awarding $1,000 each to the United Methodist Women of the Great Plains Conference and Camp Norwesca. The Foundation gives these gifts in honor of the Spirit of Christmas.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and many blessings from the Nebraska United Methodist Foundation!

Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  

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Across the Connection

Student's question leads
to collaborative Christmas program

A question asked by a confirmation student at the Palco UMC in Kansas led to a Christmas play partnership and deeper connections between two congregations. During a confirmation lesson, a student asked the Rev. Tricia North, “Why can’t we have a kids’ Christmas play during worship?” She responded, “That’s a great question. Why can’t we?” 

Talking to parents of Palco’s Kids Kingdom participants (a Wednesday evening program) and the youth director of the Ellis UMC’s United Methodist Kids Fellowship and United Methodist Youth Fellowship, North sought input. All were interested in this new ministry.

Returning from their first Culture of Call event (taking part of a meal, fellowshipping and worshipping at the Fort Hays State University’s UMC campus center), the Ellis youth leader asked her students if they were interested in a Christmas play partnership with the Palco UMC’s students. The Ellis youth excitedly, unanimously voted their approval. The two churches’ groups first met together for a meal and practice at the Palco UMC in late November, and excitement spread as roles were chosen, lines were memorized, costumes were selected, and music filled the air. Nine students and the pastor performed the first play during worship in Palco on Dec. 9. For their second performance during worship in Ellis on Dec. 16, additional roles had to be written because more students wanted to be a part of this first-ever play partnership between the two churches.

In both locations, congregants responded with encouraging and enthusiastic support. Altogether 12 elementary, junior high and high school students performed, and five adults helped with practices or direction. One Ellis student commented about the experience, “That was great! I actually got to meet new kids and work with kids I didn’t know.” Another added, “It was fun and especially that the Palco kids decided to help us. I’m happy that they did.” One Palco student was thrilled she could perform in two plays. In fact, the Palco Kids Kingdom group plans to perform an Easter play next.

After the Ellis worship service on Dec. 16, the UMKF and UMYF hosted a Bible Buddies Christmas card exchange and reception. Forty attended as adult faith mentors shared the gifts of wisdom and cards with the youngest generation. Young people reciprocated with cards and words of appreciation. After receiving a Christmas card from his adult mentor, one student said, “It was fun because you got cookies. It felt good to give a card.” 

During this special season, the Palco and Ellis UMC congregations acknowledge that ministry ideas can come from simple questions, conference grant funds can eliminate financial barriers, thirty minutes between the churches cannot squelch connections, and the gifts of joy and laughter can warm hearts across county lines

-- Rev. Tricia North, Palco-Ellis UMC

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Northwestern Kansans learn
to take action on poverty

“It was a powerful experience that connected many dots. People living in poverty want to better their conditions and others want to help. We all want to see lives truly changed,” said Kathy Davis-Vrbas, an Atwood resident who attended the Northwest Kansas Poverty Education Training on Monday, Nov. 12. Fifty-one people from 10 counties came to Colby United Methodist Church to learn from two Kansas leaders who are dedicated to this cause. In addition, the next day groups gathered in Atwood, Colby, Goodland and St. Francis to have follow up discussions about county specific needs, questions, and actions.
Deborah Factor, CEO of Youth Core Ministries, taught information from “Bridges Out of Poverty,” a resource that allows participants to experience the hidden rules of our class-based society and to see that poverty is more than just a lack of money. Learners were challenged about their own assumptions of what they think poverty is and why people seem to be stuck in a particular way of life. Factor shared from her personal work with youth and young adults across Kansas, emphasizing that genuine, hands-on relationships teach skills and provide encouragement that people need to make important, life-improving changes.
The afternoon session was taught by Rebecca Lewis Pankratz, director of ESSDACK Learning Centers. Pankratz shared her personal story of overcoming poverty which has led her to become a national speaker and trainer in order to help others do the same. Participants watched the movie “Resilience,” which describes the physical effects of childhood trauma and offers solutions to relieve this epidemic which often occurs in families from generation to generation.
Since trauma and poverty are so intertwined, Factor and Pankratz join forces to assist rural cities like ours in northwestern Kansas. The main approach they use is Core Circles, an intentional community of residents who work together to help people get their own way out of poverty, to find their own way to thriving instead of barely surviving. Core Circles meets once a week with a meal, childcare and a learning opportunity. It is a place of acceptance with no judgment, a place of accountability with forgiveness, a place of safety and peace.
Sue Evans, Colby, said she is excited about the possibility of having Core Circles in Colby. She knows people and families who want this kind of community. “I was reminded of my middle-class assumptions and challenged by seeing the different views of what a day looks like in poverty.”
“The message that excited me most was learning that resilience can be built up in any person, regardless of age. Again, we heard the importance of forming positive relationships is key to building resilience. So in the end, the answer, again, is relationship.” responded Davis-Vrbas.
The Rev. Abby Caseman, who lives in Colby and works in Atwood, has participated in Circles communities in other cities in Kansas. She is organizing a regional effort to continue educating people about Circles and Resilience, about poverty and trauma. Groups of interested people are forming now and more information is available by contacting her at

--Rev. Abby Caseman, Atwood UMC

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In other news

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Human Relations Day is Jan. 20, 2019. This page from provides resources, including a pastor and leaders kit.

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Blogs and commentaries

  • ‘Simple majority’ is a foundation of sand: A simple majority vote at General Conference on plans for the future of the church provides an unstable basis for denominational unity, writes the Rev. Darryl W. Stephens (pictured above), director of United Methodist studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. While the low bar of approval has been touted as an advantage by proponents of some of the plans, Stephens argues that also makes it easy for a future General Conference to undo the work of 2019. 
  • ‘There is danger when there is gender imbalance’: “What are the roles of women and men in the life of the church, and are they equal?” Gilbert C. Hanke, top executive of United Methodist Men, says men and women should have opportunities to serve any role in a local church or a denomination. “We each have gifts, and those gifts come to us regardless of gender,” he writes. 

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