April 23, 2015

By Fred Koenig

In effort to help people prepare for the Annual Conference 2015 session in Springfield, June 5-8, the Missouri Conference staff have conducted four pre-conference events around the state. 
    
All annual conference lay and clergy members were invited by the Bishop to attend any of the four events. These gatherings provided opportunities for lay and clergy members of the Annual Conference to receive more information and background about the decisions before us as a conference and provided an opportunity for questions and answers in preparation for conference. 
    
The events presented the theme, Discipleship: Growing in Grace, the workshops and events of Annual Conference 2015, General and Jurisdictional election processes of lay and clergy delegates, recommendations from the camping board, a statement from a group opposed to the camping board recommendations, clergy health care/insurance and the proposed conference budget. The meetings were conducted in Farmington, Springfield, Moberly and Lee’s Summit. Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase opened with a presentation of the theme. He told how his favorite scripture since he was a teenager was Romans 12. “That’s what this theme, Discipleship: Growing in Grace, is about - how we put ourselves in a place to grow in God,” he said. 
    
Director of Connectional Ministries Sherry Habben advised people to go to www.moumethodist.org and press the Annual Conference button to learn more about the theme. Annual Conference members are being asked to read Listen: Praying in a Noisy World by Reuben Job in preparation for the Conference. Habben went through an overview of the Conference schedule. 
    
Thursday evening, June 4, there will be a preconference workshop: The Church as Peacemaker in the War on Children. The opening worship service will be led by Rev. David Gilmore of Centennial UMC in Kansas City. Friday evening we will hear some of our young people tell their faith stories.
    
On Saturday morning the Bishop’s Learning Time will be led by Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey. Rev. Willis Johnson will be sharing about his experience in Ferguson and an offering for ministry in Ferguson will be collected during the service of commissioning and retirement on Saturday morning. The Ordination Service will be Saturday evening, with Kibbey preaching.
    
The Bishop’s Learning Time on Sunday morning will be led by Rev. Jeff Brinkman of Woods Chapel UMC. The preacher for the Sunday morning worship service will be Rev. Alice Fowler of Trinity UMC in Bloomfield. On Sunday evening there will be short talks around the greatest ideas that are being implemented in the church. 
    
The Bishop’s Learning Time on Monday morning will be led by Bishop Schnase, and will be about topics discussed in his new book Just Say Yes: Unleashing People for Ministry. Bishop Schnase said people are welcome to invite their friends to worship at Conference. 
    
Throughout the schedule business sessions will be interspersed – with much of the business involving electing six clergy and six laity to attend General Conference in 2016, and six more of each for jurisdictional Conference. 
    
Missouri Conference Lay Leader Brian Hammons shared that it is his hope that the elections are seen as an opportunity to participate in a process of spiritual discernment, not a political contest. He encouraged people to go to the Conference website at www.moumethodist.org and read the laity delegate profiles, because voting will begin right away during the Annual Conference schedule. 
    
“Voting is somewhat complicated, but you will get the idea after first ballot or two,” Hammons said. Bishop Schnase encouraged those present to elect people who would represent the Missouri Conference with good insight and passion for Jesus Christ. Bishop Schnase then transitioned to the topic of proposed changes for Missouri Conference camps, explaining that he first became aware of the recommendation late August. He then asked Ron Watts, chair of the Camping and Retreat Ministries Board, to discuss the process and recommendations.     
    
Bishop Schnase noted that the recommendations from the camp board fundamentally changes the way to do camps, with hope that we reach more young people. 
    
Watts explained that shortly after Annual Conference in 2012 the CRM board decided to take a comprehensive look at what they were doing, and what could they could do to more effectively carry on work. 
    
For the first 18 months of this discernment process, there was no talk of closing or selling any of the camps, Watts said. But last September, they decided to present a proposal to sell the camps at Annual Conference, and it was decided not to offer camping opportunities at Missouri Conference owned camps in 2015. A few weeks later the proposal was affirmed by a joint meeting of the Mission Council, Board of Trustees and Conference Finance and Administration Team.
    
“To maintain four properties takes a lot of time and energy – and the focus becomes filling camps rather than meeting the mission of the church,” Watts said. “This isn’t based primarily on finances, but finances come into play.” 
    
Missouri Conference Director of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries Jeff Baker explained that this year residential camps are being offered at alternative sites that the Conference has leased, mobile camps will take place at 10 local churches, and hundreds have signed up for summer mission work camps. 
    
“If you think we’re not doing camps that’s just not true. We’re just doing them in a different way, and I think in a super exciting way,” Baker said. 
    
A representative from SaveMOCamps, a grass-roots organization that is opposed to the sale of the camps, was given an opportunity to speak. In Springfield that spokesperson was Rev. Steve Johnson, director of Camping and Retreat Ministries for the former Missouri West Conference, standing in for Jerry Akins who was unable to be present. They called for a feasibility study, and for time to allow Conference-owned camp advocates to develop a plan for camp operations. 
    
Following the discussion about camping, Director of Financial & Administrative Ministries Nate Berneking discussed upcoming changes in healthcare and insurance. Changes are being driven by the Affordable Care Act. As in the past, local churches are responsible for paying the health insurance premium for fulltime clergy. 
    
“For 2016, that rate will be $8,760 a year,” he said. “That’s been flat for five years in a row.” The big change is that clergy will now have the choice of five plans, one of which is the same as the plan they are on now. More information about this is available at the Annual Conference benefit roadshows scheduled around the state, and at Annual Conference Session workshops.