2019 Missouri Annual Conference

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June 7-9, in Springfield, Missouri

The Missouri Annual Conference met at the Expo Center in Springfield, Missouri, June 7-9. Bishop Robert Farr presided. 

In a year of turbulence, Farr reminded people in his address of the steadfast purpose of The United Methodist Church that binds the churches in Missouri together. 

This is the 200th year of United Methodist conferencing in Missouri, and the 17th year of conferencing with the Missouri Conference in its present configuration. Farr asked those gathered this year to remember our “why.” 

“Our why is our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said.

For the past year, the Conference has been focused on three priorities:
1. New missional leaders
2. New places for new people
3. Pathway out of poverty 

As the conference continues to build ministries around these priorities, it has received a big boost. The Steward Family Foundation in St. Louis is offering the Missouri Conference a $3 million gift over the next three years, with $1 million going toward each priority. David Steward, president of World Wide Technology, is a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Ladue, Missouri.

Farr noted that when the conference adopted the three priorities last year, no new money went toward these priorities because he is dedicated to keeping the budget flat. The Steward gift will help empower the conference to give local churches more assistance in pursuing these goals. 

“This gives us money to go above and beyond (the) ministry we are currently doing. I’m deeply grateful to Steward family for offering this gift,” Farr said. 

Progress is being made. Last year there were 424 new missional leaders. A goal for 600 is set for next year. There have been 512 new places for new people developed, involving 2,000 new people. The goal for next year is for new places to reach another 3,500 people. Pathway Out of Poverty found 54 church-school partnerships and 34 new partnerships. Farr said he is excited about the new goal of giving 100,000 books to 100,000 children.
“We’re not just dropping off books, we’re going to hand you a book and get to know who you are, building a relationship,” Farr said. 

There are 720 people praying for new places for new people in the conference, receiving email guidance and updates from Roger Ross, director of congregational excellence. Learn and Lead Podcasts are serving as a resource across Missouri and beyond the state.

This year 38 mission teams have traveled from Missouri to Puerto Rico, and 19 more are scheduled to go. More than was $165,000 was raised for Puerto Rico, surpassing the Conference’s goal of $150,000 set the previous year. There has been $57,000 sent to Mozambique to assist with recovery from the natural disasters there. 

Next Generation Ministries has 4,562 campers so far this year and has the capacity to host more than 8,000. New leadership development events were developed, and 128 youth participated. 
For the Special Session of General Conference in February, 128 volunteers provided about 3,000 hours of service. 

“2019 has been a challenging year. We had to host the General Conference. We didn’t ask for it, but we treated people from all around the world with Midwest hospitality,” Farr said. 

Prior to General Conference, Bishop Farr conducted 21 conversations around Missouri, with 1,396 in attendance. After General Conference, he had nine conversations with 3,000 in attendance.

Farr explained that the LGBTQ issue has been a struggle for him, as he strives to be a bishop for all. Both his traditional and progressive friends explain their positions to him, and both make convincing arguments. He hopes to get beyond the current state where people are choosing opposing sides. 

“Can we in Missouri find a Missouri way forward?” he asked. “If we were given the freedom to find our way forward, could we do it? Could we find our own way forward if given the chance?”

Farr said Missouri has a reputation for leading in the United Methodist denomination, and it may be time for Missouri lead the denomination to a new way of doing things. 

“Despite all that is going on the Missouri Conference is still strong, it is healthy and it is vital,” Farr said. “My goal is to remain a spiritual community, do no harm to one another and treat each other as friends, not enemies.”

Lovett H. Weems Jr., senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and professor of church leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, is a member of the Missouri Conference. He brought a presentation to the floor of conference that took a look at schism within the Methodist church, and how we got to where we are today. He provided background on various issues that caused division, and how they were resolved. Weems is troubled by people not looking to leadership within the church for guidance. 

“I’ve known countless people who are more conservative than Christian. I’ve known people who are more liberal than they are Christian,” Weems said. “When their faith asks them to consider a position that is different than their favorite political commentator on TV or the radio, the politics win. They ask the church to change to fit their politics. They don’t ask the politician to change to fit their church.”

Weems mourns the energy that has gone into the debate and the talks of division and dissolution. He said people have asked him if they know of any instance of people who have been successful in engaging these issues and keeping their faith together. He said there are thousands of examples all around us. 

“Ninety-nine out of 100 of our churches figured this out a long time ago,” Weems said. “The people of their congregations don’t agree, but they live together, pray together and continue to do God’s work. I haven’t found a church member yet who believes someone who disagrees with them should be put out of their church, and I haven’t found one that is interested in telling a church down the road what they should or shouldn’t do.” 

Weems is concerned about the debate being driven by the extremes on both ends. He called on people to consider how they got to where they are today. 

“How many of you are worshipping in a church started before you were born?” he asked, and most of the hands in the room went up. “We in our current opinions are not the center of the universe. Most of what United Methodism is today was achieved before any of us were on the scene. Elect delegates you trust, but then tell them to find a way to honor conscientiously yet live together. Our unity has never been, and can never be, based on anything but Jesus Christ. May God guide and lead us in the time ahead.”

The Missouri Conference used digital voting devices for the first time, and split up the clergy and laity when votes were being taken on the second day so the same devices could be used for each group. In an historically short election, the entire General Conference clergy delegation was elected on one ballot. In one hour and 15 minutes the Missouri clergy elected its delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

On the first round of voting, all six clergy delegates to General Conference were selected: Andy Bryan, Emanuel Cleaver III, Kim Jenne, Matt Miofsky, Sally Haynes and Trista Soendker  Nicholson.

On the first ballot of jurisdictional delegation clergy voting, four delegates were elected: Cody Collier, Nate Berneking, Charity Goodwin, and Lori Lampert. On the second ballot the final two delegates were elected: Choongho Kwon and Joel Kidwell.

All of the clergy delegates were from the slate proposed by the MO UMC Next organization, which is committed to eliminating discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. 

The laity election, which had occurred a few hours earlier, took a few more ballots than the clergy but had similar results. The laity elected the General Conference delegation in five ballots. On the first ballot Amy Thompson of Woods Chapel (Lee’s Summit) was elected with 400 votes and Ivan James of Asbury (St. Louis) was elected with 287 votes. Jill Wondel of First United Methodist Church (Sikeston, Missouri) was elected on the second ballot. Collette Cummings of Maplewood United Methodist Church (St. Louis) was elected on the third ballot. Jon Copeland of Lafayette Park (St. Louis) was elected on the fourth ballot. Steve DeWilde of Central United Methodist Church (Kansas City) was elected on the fifth ballot.

For the jurisdictional delegation Randy Biggerstaff of The Way (Wentzville, Missouri) was elected on the first ballot. Jon Gray of Centennial (Kansas City) and Margie Briggs of Calhoun United Methodist Church were elected on the second ballot. Abby Wimberly of Northern Boulevard United Methodist Church (Independence, Missouri), Joshua Krakos of Webster Groves United Methodist Church and Brian Hammons of Schweitzer United Methodist Church (Springfield, Missouri) were elected on the fourth ballot. Hammons, the previous Missouri Conference lay leader, was the only lay delegate elected who was not on the MO UMC Next slate. 

This year’s delegation is diverse. The General Conference delegation is 50% female and the Jurisdictional delegation is 43% female. It includes eight people of color, two deacons and represents seven of the nine Missouri Conference districts. It includes several people who have been to at least one General or Jurisdictional Conference before as well as new people to the process. And, it includes a span of generations from Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and even two members from Gen Z who are 20- and 23-years-old.

Tod Bolsinger, author of “Canoeing the Mountains,” presented a learning session on adaptive change. The Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory Fellowship United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., presented a learning session on multiplying ministry through building relationships. 

One resolution came before the conference, and it was passed by voice vote. Resolution 1 will provide $30,000 from which congregations can submit grant applications to assist ministries for the LGBTQIA+ community, or by lifting up persons from that community into missional leadership. This resolution was proposed by the Rev. Kyle Butler of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in St. Louis. It was a reaction to the 2019 Called General Conference vote reinforcing Book of Discipline language that both condemns and embraces the LGBTQIA+ community. According to the Book of Discipline the church is still called to be in ministry to the LGBTQIA+ community. Funds from Resolution 1 will go toward fulfilling that mandate. 

There were 11 people ordained as elders in full connection, nine were commissioned and two people were recognized as associate members. The average age was 41. There were not any openly gay candidates for ministry approved. There were 35 clergy who retired this year. 

Membership stands at 148,633, down from 152,285 the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 68,898, down from 70,261 the previous year. Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 were 1,433 down from 1491 in 2017. Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018 was 38,851, down from 38,995 in 2017. Worshippers engaged in mission for 2018 was 48,363, down from 48,588 in 2017.

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