I woke up early this morning and decided to take a walk along the river, where there are beautiful paths and gardens. I soon unexpectedly found myself in the middle of the Great Plains Therefore Go 5K run/walk. A minute later I noticed that Pastor Lora and a couple of friends were cheering on the participants from kayaks in the river!
The last morning of Annual Conference began with praise music in both English and Spanish, led by pastors from Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, and the United States. The Great Plains Conference has more than 100 international pastors, most from South Korea, Central America, and various countries in Africa! This diversity is very much honored and celebrated at Annual Conference.
The first report of the day came from the Nominating Committee. We unanimously approved dozens of members on 21 committees or teams. The presenter joked that if you voted against the motion, you would be the next chair of the committee.
There were both Kansas and Nebraska United Methodist Foundation reports and short videos and reports from UMW and UMM.
The Council on Finance and Administration gave their report and presented their $15,490,264 budget, which was overwhelmingly approved.
We did not finish all of the resolutions on the docket yesterday, so we dealt with them today. The Bishop set new parameters for discussion in order to move through them more quickly.
We spent a long time on a resolution to consider Conference, clergy, and laity investment in funds that exclude several major corporations (Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard) that are heavily involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and whose products are being used to oppress Palestinians. Many people had strong opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian issue and there was contentious debate over both the wording and content of the resolution. Most votes at Annual Conference are recorded by voice or a show of hands. The vote on this resolution was too close to call, so we had to vote by standing and being counted. I voted in favor of the resolution, but it failed by a narrow margin.
After a break, we passed a resolution to create a partnership with the Haiti Methodist Church.
Next was a resolution on “Our Sinful Immigration System”, calling for churches and their members to oppose legislation that “prevents family reunification, prioritizes corporate profit over the relief of human suffering, and values security over the lives and well-being of those hoping to escape poverty and violence and seeking a better life in this country.” I had been asked by the Mercy and Justice Team to be prepared to speak in favor of this resolution, if needed. Much to my relief, I did not have to do so! Extemporaneous speaking in front of 1,000 people is not something I enjoy. This resolution passed overwhelmingly.
Next was a resolution on offering Sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. It encouraged congregations to show radical hospitality to all of God’s children, especially those being persecuted, and to help immigrants in various ways. There is always one person at Conference who insists on voicing opinions in an angry and dehumanizing way. The issue and the actual person vary, but there is always someone. This year the issue was immigration and the individual was so unpleasant that the Bishop asked him to stop talking. I had a hard time keeping a heart of peace during these incidents. Thankfully, the resolution passed overwhelmingly.
The last resolution of the Conference encouraged local churches to study immigration and urge Congress to enact comprehensive immigrant, refugee, migrant, and asylum reform. This passed overwhelmingly without any discussion.
Annual Conference ended with the introduction of District Superintendents and the fixing of appointments. I am delighted to report that Lora Andrews will be returning to Grace for a fifth year of ministry!
We sang one more hymn and the Bishop prayed over us all one last time. Then we dispersed to carry on our work in our local churches. You should be proud of Grace, our ministries, and our outreach. Over and over this week when I mentioned that I was from Winfield Grace, people commented on what a wonderful church it was and what great things they had heard about us!
I am honored to have served as Grace’s representative at Annual Conference. I treasure the friendships created and sustained this week and feel good about what was accomplished for the Church as a whole.