Missourians at General Conference
General Conference has 864 voting delegates, a dozen of which were from Missouri. Several Missouri Methodists had other roles beyond being delegates, and some Missourians who weren’t delegates were also present.
Before General Conference officially started, Missouri Conference Director of Congregational Excellence Bob Farr made a presentation to the Lay Leaders Association around the ideas presented in his book, Get Their Name. In a final session of the presentation, he was joined by Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase, and the two gave their outlook on issues before General Conference this year.
“The session was very well received,” Farr said. “We had good interaction with the crowd, and a lot of good feedback.”
Farr was proud to see his daughter Amy post a vlog (video web log) on Facebook expressing her love for the United Methodist Church. She was inspired to do make a video statement for the first time after reading a story in the New York Times about a possible split in the United Methodist Church over the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexual ordination.
Rev. Matt Miofsky of The Gathering in St. Louis was part of the presentation from the Connectional Table.
“They asked me to be one of the speakers because The Gathering is an example of new congregation that is younger and more diverse than our average congregation,” Miofsky said. “It fits well with the Connectional Table’s four areas of focus.”
Miofsky and about 20 other pastors participated in a gathering of young pastors during General Conference that was organized by Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection and Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio.
On May 19, Miofsky was one of the leaders in the call to worship for the morning worship service, which involved the commissioning of General Board of Global Ministries missionaries.
Rev. Michael Blacksher was there for that service – not because Miofsky’s call to worship drew him in. He was there to see his friend, Michael Arteen, be commissioned as a missionary in Bethlehem. He spent the week in Portland driving his friend around, but didn’t spend time at General Conference.
“I don’t want people to know I’m here – it would ruin my reputation,” Blackshear joked.
Rev. Cody Collier has served on the General Conference Commission for the past two quadrinniums. He was involved with this General Conference, and will now rotate off the commission.
“Being on the commission was a wonderful opportunity to be part of the development of the focus and planning for General Conference,” he said.
Collier was part of the decision to adjourn General Conference sessions by 6:30 p.m. each day, and to begin the day with worship, and close with a short time of worship. He’s happy to see both those changes put into practice.
“It’s felt good to begin the day with worship, before everyone is too tired, and to end the day with a shorter worship service,” Collier said. “It’s also been good to end the day at 6:30. With the long days and stressful topics, it’s important to give people time to rest to keep us healthy.”
The shorter days have not left things lacking – Collier said the opposite is true.
“I think the focus and experience of worship was more powerful than any I’ve experienced at General Conference,” he said. This is the eighth General Conference in which he has participated.
Yvette Richards was a reserve delegate, but was also engaging the General Conference in her role as president of the United Methodist Women. She looked over petitions pertaining to UMW, and was called upon by a delegate in a legislative committee to speak to four issues during the committee work.
Richards also participated in the consecration of the Deaconesses, and the ceremony celebrating 150 years of the UMW.
In 2015 Richards retired from her position at State Farm Insurance so she could dedicate more of her attention to her role as UMW president and taking the organization to the next level. Because of some conflict with UMW meetings that she wasn’t able to attend, she missed some of the Missouri delegation meetings before General Conference. To make up for this, she traveled to Springfield to meet with Missouri Conference Delegation head Brian Hammons individually so she would have a clear understanding how the rest of the delegation felt about various issues.
“I took my role as a delegate seriously,” she said.
While subbing in as an alternate delegate, Richards had the opportunity to speak to a proposed change calling for alternative women’s ministries to UMW. She opposed the change, noting that these additional ministries already exist and many churches, including her own, and there was no need to make changes regarding the language pertaining to UMW.
Jill Wondel, a lay delegate from First UMC Sikeston, was named to the Standing Committee on Central Conferences. On this committee she will work on the Global Book of Discipline and the Comprehensive plan for Africa.
As he did in previous years, Rev. Larry Williams was serving as an Portuguese translator at General Conference.
Rev. Barbara Phiffer of Arlington UMC was at General Conference to listen in. It didn’t hurt that she has children in Oregon, and could celebrate a grandchild’s birthday on the weekend following General Conference.
In 2020, Missourians won’t have as far to travel if they want to attend General Conference. It will be in Minnesota. That’s the last chance to be somewhat close to home. The 2024 Conference is planned for the Philippines, and 2028 for Zimbabwe.
Delegation Uses Tech, Gets Together EarlyFor the first time, this year the delegation used an application called GroupMe, which allowed them to text the entire group at once, and access the messages on multiple devices, like tablets and computers.
Brian Hammons, first elected lay delegate who was leader of the delegation, also served as group liturgist, and sent the delegation a group text each morning leading with a Bible verse, often around 5:30 a.m.
The group met each morning at 7:30 a.m. for half an hour before worship. They began and ended these meetings with prayer, and shared their experiences from the previous days, and thoughts about the course of the Conference.
Some people used personal social media accounts to share their stories. Reserve delegate Rev. Andy Bryan of Campbell UMC in Springfield posted on his blog each day about his experience as serving as a delegate at General Conference, reflecting about his feelings about what was taking place, and the processes being used.
Rev. Kendall Waller of Missouri UMC in Columbia was an alternate delegate. He posted extensively on Facebook, giving daily reports about the both the worship services, and what was taking place in the business sessions.