This is my 11th year to preside over the work of the annual conference and it has been a blessing,” said Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. A distinct aspect of the Missouri Conference is its sustained focus to its mission, “Leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ.” The work of the Annual Conference is to strengthen the ministry of the local church. “That’s where the action is – that’s where lives are transformed,” Bishop Schnase said. “The Conference exists to encourage and support the congregations.”
A recent restructuring of the Missouri Conference put focus on two fundamental areas of excellence: congregational excellence and pastoral excellence. Bishop Schnase said these core areas must be proficient to enable other ministries to take place.
“We should expect of each other real fruitfulness,” he said. “All of our work should be Christ-centered. We should strive for excellence, exceeding expectations whether reconstructing lives or homes. We must hold each other accountable. We must always work in collaboration with each other and other groups in our communities.”
The Missouri Conference now has 799 churches. There are about 1,000 clergy in Conference, with around 600 active and 400 retired. About 40 percent of active clergy are licensed local pastors.
Last year the total raised for Imagine No Malaria grew to $1.3 million, even though the Conference goal had been met, many small groups were called to continue to support the ministry.
The Mozambique Initiative continues to be extraordinary with 200 pastors being supported, and 250 church partnerships. There were 19 safe water wells completed 16 others started.
In the past year 14 Missouri Conference Haiti Clean Water teams each installed 100 water filters, providing approximately 8,400 people access to clean water.
Local church giving to apportionments last year was 87 percent of the asked amount, which is the highest percentage given since the Missouri East and Missouri West Conferences merged to form the Missouri Conference. There were 625 churches that paid 100 percent, and of those 36 churches paid more than 100 percent.
The Missouri Conference Center built an addition in the past year which will house the staff of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries, which has been leasing a different location. The Missouri United Methodist Foundation will also be moving into this new building. A grand opening is planned for August 24.
“We view this as a completion of the process that was started when the Conference Center was built in 2006,” Bishop Schnase said.
Last year’s WOW weekend youth rally again drew more than 2,000 young people together. The Missouri Conference has also offered exploration events for youth considering the call to ministry, and confirmation weekends.
Bishop Schnase recalled how the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson brought years of unresolved issues related to race, trust, and governance to the forefront of public discourse. The Missouri Conference started a new church, Wellspring, in Ferguson three years ago, and the church has been at the heart of healing in that community. Bishop Schnase urged those present to not sit on the sidelines during this important opportunity for social progress.
“Don’t miss this season. Engage the conversation, even if it’s a bit awkward and uncomfortable,” he said.
Rev. Karen Hayden, director of Pastoral Excellence, presented the work of her department.
“I have declared 2015 as the Year of the Mentor,” she said. “The role of a mentor is critical in the development of candidates as they move through the process.” It is vital to have someone who can help the candidate move through an often complicated process but also to help with spiritual development and troubleshooting.
There are other groups available for clergy, such as the Compass program, offering clergy a 2-year covenant learning experience.
Soul Connections provide for days apart spiritual formation for both clergy and laity. Converge provides invigorating worship, enlightening workshops and time of renewal for clergy and church leaders. The Soderquist Renewal program offers retreats for married and single clergy and individuals.
The Rev. Kim Parker is joining the staff this year to lead Next Generation Ministries. She has 25 years of experience leading youth and college-age ministries.
Rev. Bob Farr, director of Congregation Excellence, noted that the addition of Suzanne Nicholson as associate relating to churches of different languages and Dustin Bryson, church plant advisor, are helping exciting things happen in the conference.
To date 114 churches have gone through the Healthy Church Initiative, and 32 other conferences have adopted their own version of Missouri’s HCI.
“HCI has been customized to allow congregations to select their own level of HCI engagement,” he said. “We have started three new congregations in the past year, all in more rural settings.”
The Hispanic ministry has grown, with one congregation buying their own building and another spinning off a satellite congregation. Churches with congregations from other countries are no longer only Hispanic churches in Missouri, Farr said.
“A couple came to us and wanted to start a Vietnamese faith community. They didn’t ask for money, they just wanted to do it,” Farr said. “Not three weeks behind that, a Congolese congregation was started.”
The book 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Church by Farr and Kay Kotan was given to everyone at Annual Conference. A workshop on the material covered in the book was offered on Sunday. Farr said the 10 prescriptions are something to consider for congregations who are ready to give their church a tune-up.
Bishop Schnase concluded his report by explaining that Rev. Sherry Habben will be leaving her post as Director of Connectional Ministries to be district superintendent of the Mid-State District. Rev. Kim Jenne will step in as the new director, coming from Webster Hills in the Gateway Central District.