2022 Great Plains Annual Conference

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Meeting in person for the first time in three years, the Great Plains Annual Conference session took place June 8-11 at the La Vista Conference Center in La Vista, Nebraska, outside Omaha.

Following the theme of “Imagine Discipleship,” the conference featured plenary session speakers Alex and Hannah Absalom. They taught “Five Practices That Will Refresh Your Disciple-making Pathway,” with an emphasis on words beginning with the letter “P.” The first priority is prayers, they said, then throwing parties, becoming a person of peace, having profound conversations, and feeling the presence of God.

The conference was to consider three resolutions. One, which would have the conference endorse and campaign for Kansas’ Value Them Both anti-abortion referendum, was stricken from the agenda during the first few minutes of the conference. Another, for the conference to evaluate alternative insurance arrangements for small churches, was referred to conference trustees. The only resolution receiving a vote was for the conference to provide matching funds from its reserves to provide matching grants for capital maintenance projects. The resolution passed.

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. presided over the conference, and he delivered the ordination ceremony sermon. Missouri Bishop Bob Farr gave the sermon during the opening worship, and the Rev. Hyemi Jones of Monticello UMC in Kansas preached at the memorial service.

Those attending the conference gave a rousing, extended standing ovation to the Rev. Dee Williamston, assistant to the bishop and director of clergy excellence, as an endorsement for her candidacy for bishop during a delegation report provided by the Rev. Adam Hamilton. New bishops will be voted upon in November at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The absence of the Rev. Nathan Stanton, director of congregational excellence, was felt throughout the conference. Stanton, who battled ALS, died in March. He and Bishop Saenz both played college football and had a shorthand of saying “move the chains” to indicate progress in ministry. “Move the chains” was heard often throughout the conference, including an award associated with New Church Development in Stanton’s name given to Ronda Kingwood, pastor of Wichita Heart of Christ UMC.

Twelve churches were allowed to disaffiliate — From Kansas: Bethlehem, Enterprise, Nickerson Fairview, Jarbalo, Logan, Louisville, Minneola, Neutral, Stull, Wilsey, Goddard; From Nebraska: Pierce. Other disaffiliations will be voted upon during an online special called session, scheduled for Sept. 10.

Nine churches were approved for closure — From Kansas: Angola, Wichita Cedar Chapel, Chetopa, Randolph Fancy Creek, Fowler, Linwood, Moline, Eskridge; From Nebraska: Stanton. None had given coronavirus as a reason for closure.

The number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and their average ages were:

  • Provisional deacons, 2 with an average age of 40
  • Provisional elders, 9, with an average age of 39
  • Associate members, 0
  • Full deacon, 2, with an average age of 30
  • Full elder, 8, with an average age of 42
  • Full elder (orders recognized), 1, age 45
  • Full elder transfer from another conference, 2

The conference recognized the retirements of 39 pastors.

  • Key statistics for the Great Plains Conference include:
  • Membership stands at 192,415, down 6,993 from the previous year.
  • Worship attendance (in person and online) stands at 123,898, down 36,679.
  • Church school attendance stands at 16,421, down 1,731.
  • Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2021: 2,064, down from 2020 by 23.
  • Adults and young adults in small groups for 2021: 29,788, down from 2020 by 4,830.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission for 2021: 4,895, up from 2020 by 243.

David Burke, Great Plains Conference content specialist

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