Report of the Great Plains Annual Conference,
May 29-June 1, 2019
Pastors Lance and Lori were joined by Woodlawn Lay Members Lyle Smith and Caitlin Ott, and Conference UMW president Karen Dunlap to attend the 2019 session of the Great Plains Annual Conference held May 29-June 1 in Topeka. The theme for the conference was “Go and Serve.”
Bishop Reuben Saenz presided over the plenary sessions. In his opening remarks, Bishop Saenz said that “the United Methodist Church has been through a trying year. We have harmed one another with our words and our actions. Anger has not subsided; our wounds are still raw.”
The bishop said he hoped the denomination would go beyond the politics that divide it. “Our present impasse over human sexuality ethics and ordination has created a fragility in our denomination that has caused us to pause and assess the gravity of our situation and weigh our options,” he said.
Worship--Services during Annual Conference included an opening service with Holy Communion and a youth-led service opened Friday’s session. A Memorial service was held Thursday evening where the name of clergy and clergy spouses who had passed in the previous year, as well as a bit of their biography, was read and candles were lit for each person. And finally, Friday evening’s Ordination service included the ordination of ten elders and one deacon, the transfer of one deacon to elder, and the recognition of an elder from another Methodist denomination. Several persons from Woodlawn traveled to Topeka to witness the ordinations of Daniel Kipp and Jordan McFall, both of whom have roots in the Woodlawn UMC. Rev. Vic was honored to be chosen by Daniel place his ordination stole around his neck.
Retirees--A record 54 retiring clergy were celebrated on Thursday for their decades of ministry in the Great Plains Conference.
Conference Speaker--The Rev. Mike Mather of Indianapolis spoke to the conference on Friday about the ministries with the poor that he has been involved in with his church, Broadway UMC. He spoke of how his church shut down its thrift store and food pantry and began working with those in the neighborhood to find out what skills they could put to use.
Mather, whose book, “Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places,” said the successes came from simply asking questions of people in the neighborhood.
Treasurer’s Report--In his report to the conference Friday, the Great Plains Conference treasurer praised churches and districts for their successes – but warned of difficulties that may lie ahead.
- Disaster has caused more than $1.3 billion in damage in Nebraska and Kansas since mid-March, up to and including damage this week in Lawrence and Linwood, Kansas. As of Wednesday night, Brewer said, $701,165 has been contributed to the conference’s disaster relief program.
- Methodists, Brewer said, are facing the greatest existential crisis since the 1840s. Not only is the denomination threatening a split because of human sexuality issues, but many churches have remained dormant.
- In 2018, he reported, in the Great Plains, 72% of churches had no confirmation classes, 54% had no professions of faith, 41% had no vacation Bible school, 32% had no ministries to the poor, and 23% had no children or youth.
Offerings--The UMCOR truck in front of the Expocentre received 386 cleaning kits, also known as “flood buckets,” 1,650 hygiene kits and 1,421 school kits. In addition, Great Plains youth created another 104 school kits. The conference also received $3,873.31 in cash donations.
Other Offerings at GPAC totaled $17,672.93.
- Great Plains Disaster Relief received $6,907.15 in the Wednesday night offering.
- The Youth Service Fund received $5,599.04 in its special offering.
- The Crounse Fund received $5,166.74 at the ordination service, providing grants for clergy and their families in case of emergencies and hardship.
New church plants--in Wichita, Omaha, Kansas City and Overland Park were celebrated while 10 churches were officially closed by vote of the conference. Twenty-two churches in the Great Plains were recognized as celebrating their 150th anniversaries in 2019.
Delegate Elections--In order of their election, the Great Plains clergy attending General Conference in May 2020 in Minneapolis will be:
- Rev. Adam Hamilton
- Rev. Amy Lippoldt
- Rev. Junius Dotson
- Rev. Kalaba Chali
- Rev. Dee Williamston
- Rev. David Livingston
- Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell
Laity chosen to attend General Conference are:
- Oliver Green
- Lisa Maupin
- Scott Brewer
- Randall Hodgkinson
- Steve Baccus
- Dixie Brewster
- Lisa Buffum
The clergy joining the General Conference delegates to attend the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July 2020 in Houston, will be:
- Rev. Dr. Anne Gatobu
- Rev. Mark Holland
- Rev. Eduardo Bousson
- Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson
- Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
- Rev. Zach Anderson
- Rev. Andrew Conard
The laity joining the General Conference delegates in attending Jurisdictional Conference will be:
- Abigail Koech
- Dan Entwistle
- Jesi Lipp
- Shayla Jordan
- Ally Drummond
- Esther Hay
- Joyce Jones
Clergy alternates are the Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, the Rev. Kurt Cooper and the Rev. Nathan Stanton. Lay alternates are Roy Koech, Abraham Ruffcorn and Charles File.
Actions and Resolutions--Other business included:
- Clergy Renewal Leave--would allow clergy up to three months of leave “for personal reflection and self-renewal,” funded by the local church and annual conference passed. The next day this resolution was returned to the floor for reconsideration, and was referred to GPAC Clergy Excellence for refinement for the 2020 GPAC.
- Safe Gatherings--A resolution allowing churches the ability to conduct their own training to ensure safety of children and at-risk adults was referred to the Connecting Council for review with no further action taken.
- Creation Care— Asks the conference secretary to send a message to state and national representatives urging them to support policies that promote renewable energy, reducing emissions and providing "adaptation assistance for those struggling to survive in a changing climate." It also asks the conference Creation Care Team to work with the Great Plains Disaster Response Ministries to incorporate climate change mitigation into their responsibilities so that the church can become more proactive as well as reactive to increasing catastrophic climate events. It also urges Great Plains Conference churches to reduce their carbon footprints through specific measurable actions such as becoming a Creation Care Church and becoming involved and take actions promoted by United Methodist Women in their Be Green program, among other tactics. Passed by a show of hands.
- Climate Change—This resolution was referred to the Connecting Council to assess recommendations for implementation in time for next year's annual conference session. It would have required churches to calculate their carbon footprints and set goals for reducing it over a three-year period. Churches would be expected to report progress each year and to offer educational materials to parishioners. An amendment was added to add conference properties such as parsonages and offices to the same kinds of evaluations and reporting mechanisms.
- Rejection of Traditional Plan—Members to annual conference voted 607-396 to affirm a resolution, which states: "The Great Plains Annual Conference (GPAC) condemns the decision of the 2019 General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan and apologizes for the harm that it has caused LGBTQ+ persons, their families, their friends, and the body of Christ. 'We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,' but we also assert and affirm that no human being is incompatible with Christian teaching."
- LGBQTIA+ Missional Leaders— Makes $20,000 in grant funding available to local congregations for ministries that raise up LGBTQIA+ persons as missional leaders in the conference. It passed by a 548-385 vote.
- UMC Next —Affirms the four commitments set out at the UMCNEXT meeting May 20-22 at UM Church of the Resurrection: "We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness. We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities. We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation. We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together." It further encourages local churches to have an open dialogue about the 2019 General Conference actions. It passed 586-396.
- Annual Conference planning — In a resolution passed by a show of hands, this legislation urges the bishop to rework future annual conference agendas so legislation is discussed during the first plenary session after the episcopal and laity addresses.
- Science of Human Sexuality Study Guide — This petition passed with a show of hands urging the General Board of Church and Society to assemble a study guide on the science behind human sexuality and to offer the guide to local churches as a means of providing information to parishioners. This is similar to studies on reproductive health previously provided by GBCS.
- Conference Budget--With little discussion, the conference approved a 2020 budget of $15,330,047.