Bishop Saenz opened the first plenary business session of Annual Conference this morning. He joked that is was going to be a great day because he had his “happy socks” on and then pulled his pant leg up to reveal socks printed with happy faces!The session began with organizational details and procedures. One presenter invented the term “Kansbraskan” to describe the people of the Great Plains Conference and shorten the multiple referrals to Kansans and Nebraskans. The Conference Lay Leader gave an address and then Maye Saenz, the bishop’s wife, spoke and showed sweet videos from their children and grandchildren in Texas, with prayers for our Conference and messages of love for the bishop. It was really touching. The Bishop also gave a positive and encouraging address.
The second half of the morning we were divided into laity and clergy. The laity session heard reports on United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, the Disaster Response Team, and several others. Our conference has better financial health than most, disaster response teams and immigration response teams that are the envy of the conferences in our jurisdiction, and unusually high percentages of churches who pay their Mission and Ministry funds in full. All of these are things to be proud of! We also went over upcoming legislation and learned a little more about the issues that would be on the table.
At lunch, I attended a Southwestern dinner. Grace was very well represented! A panel of current SC students talked about their experiences and how Southwestern has helped them develop their faith. Four of the six panelists relate to Grace! Madison Stumbough, Ryan Stumbough, Kirsten Mueller, and Rebecca Dominguez shared wonderful stories about their faith. Future Southwestern student Emily Robinson (who was the lay reader at church last week) spoke about her experiences at Summit, the SC sponsored event for high school students exploring ministry. Charles McKinzie invited alumni to come back and visit Southwestern and support SC students and programs. I am proud of my church’s impact!
The afternoon session started with the bishop introducing all of the ordination candidates. Isaac Chua, former student pastor at Grace, Molly Just, the Director of Discipleship at SC, and several others will be ordained elders tomorrow evening.
There was an introduction of summer interns, including Sandra Fatuma. The whole assembly prayed over them, which was quite moving.
There was recognition of campus ministries and campus ministers, including Ben Hanne, recognition of retirees, and recognition of church camps. During the camping recognition, there were a couple of youth testimonies. As one person put it, “You can’t escape God when you are at camp!” Then there were other assorted reports, most of them not terribly interesting.
The second half of the afternoon was taken up with financial reports. The Conference Treasurer is really funny and makes dry statistics more humorous than you’d imagine. The fun disappeared when people began making amendments to amendments and having minor arguments over parliamentary procedure. We did manage to vote on pensions and health benefits without any issues.
When the Kansas and Nebraska Conferences combined five years ago to create the Great Plains Conference, conference offices remained open in Wichita, Topeka, and Lincoln, just as they had been when we were three separate conferences. Last year, we voted to consolidate to a single conference office in Topeka. Today we heard reports of how employees at the three offices were transferred or “transitioned out” and what happened to the three office buildings, the Bishop’s residence in Wichita, and the Bishop’s apartment in Lincoln. Then we saw photos and heard about the new Conference Office and Bishop’s residence in Topeka. It was nice to see what those spaces look like.
This evening I spent a little time at SoCe, where our Neighboring curriculum was created. Brutal Bear, a folk/bluegrass group made up of several United Methodist pastors, was playing. There were lots of sing along songs and old favorites. It was nice to have some relaxed fun after a long day of sitting.
Pastor Lora and I have not seen each other much at all at Annual Conference, but we did enjoy Brutal Bear and time at SoCe together!