By Dale Stone
Greetings from the Mark Twain District, a town and country district located in northeast Missouri. Our congregations and pastors gratefully serve alongside the diverse United Methodist churches throughout all Missouri. Like everyone, we have our challenges, bumps, and victories. We are becoming more sensitive to the needs around us and want to be vital witnesses of God’s love and living presence. We find hope in remembering God did amazing things in small communities such as Bethlehem and Nazareth as well as in the cities of Jerusalem and Rome.
I have found it interesting that our namesake, Mark Twain, had few positive words about the church. I believe he was okay with God, in fact saying, “None of us can be as great as God, but…any of us can be as good!” (Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902-1903). It seems it was the organized part of religion that he was less sure about. We hope our ministry in northeast Missouri is faithful, creative, and caring.
Early in my appointment as Superintendent, I traveled from Kirksville to Brookfield on Missouri Highway 11. In those 50+ miles there was one village, and beautiful ridge roads, pasture land, meandering rivers, and country churches down six or seven gravel roads. I thought, this characterizes much of the Mark Twain District! I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the congregations and good people of this area.
In January of this year, our 87 churches and 49 charges were served by 54 clergy of 11 appointment classifications. Elders, lay pastors, local pastors, and certified lay ministers serve in a variety of full-time, part-time, and retired-serving statuses. Like much of rural Missouri and America, our congregations tend to be small in terms of numbers. The realities of our economic and population demographics call for creative, persistent efforts in reaching people for Christ. In 2012, we did celebrate an increase in worship attendance, baptisms, professions of faith, and membership over the previous year. Our Conference apportionment giving increased by 3% and District apportionments were paid 100% by each and every congregation!
I appreciate the commitment of our pastors and churches. In parishes large and small, Sunday worshippers are asked, “Where have you seen God at work this week?” I am encouraged by stories of lives touched, missions served, new folks visited, and people changed through Christ. In particular, the SERVE ministry each September has served as a catalyst for many district congregations to ask, “How are we serving the people and community outside our walls.” On the SERVE week-end in September, people roll-up their sleeves to go and serve the Christ of all their community!
Our clergy practice a deep collegiality. This spirit allows lay pastors, elders, certified lay ministers, and local pastors to support one another, learn together, and keep the focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ. Our District Committee on Ministry is committed to this unity of spirit.
I believe Mark Twain himself would moderate his perspective on church by spending several days visiting our congregations getting to know the people, learning their ministries and sensing their spirit!
The observer of the Mark Twain District’s county side beauty and fruitful ministries is often led to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, so even King Solomon is all his glory was not clothed like even one of these. Yet, if God clothes the fields and flowers in this way, will God not provide for us” (Matthew 6:28-30). With a faith in God who provides, we join our United Methodist family in witness and ministry.
This is the first of what will be a regular feature from various members of the Missouri Conference cabinet.