New Conference Directors
Bishop Bob Farr announced his intent to appoint Rev. Tina Harris as Director of Mission, Service and Justice and Rev. Jeff Baker as Director of Next Generations effective July 1.
These Cabinet-level appointments involve a change to the conference’s current organization and will require a change to the standing rules when the annual conference session meets for worship, learning and business June 9-12, 2017 in Springfield. The structural change aims to help local congregations by equipping them in the areas of social justice and next generations as they seek to serve Christ.
According to Bishop Farr, it became quite apparent through the conversations with the Mission Council, episcopacy committee and in listening sessions held around the state that there is passion and need expressed in the areas of social justice and next generation ministries.
Last year’s decision to merge the Creative Ministries and Social Justice teams came about because the two teams desire to collaborate together for the sake of leading congregations in the area of mission, service and justice; as well as the belief that the work of mission and service can never be parted from social justice. By moving camping ministries out of the Office of Mission, Service and Justice and appointing Harris to the post, Bishop Farr is hopeful that the team will equip the local church for issues related to social justice and mission that works toward the transformation of both individuals and the world.
“With Tina’s experience in diversity initiatives and her passion for local and global mission, I am excited about the strategies she will bring to help resource our local churches struggling to deal with the rampant poverty in both rural and urban communities,” Farr said.
“Methodists have a long history of working toward justice. Unfortunately, many of the societal ills John Wesley fought against are still problems today. We cannot avoid the personal and the social dimensions. That’s what Wesley called, ‘holiness of heart and life.’”
Rev. Lia McIntosh, recently named as Associate Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence, will continue to work in collaboration with the Office of Mission, Service and Justice focused on social justice and churches where poverty and urban issues intersect.
“The Missouri Annual Conference remains committed to working toward diversity and inclusion, particularly in our conference leadership,” Farr said. “Adding Tina’s voice to the Cabinet room will help us work toward those values in a real way.”
Camping and Next Generation ministries are currently housed in separate conference offices and supervised by two different directors. Camping ministries will now fall under the NextGen umbrella. As camping has stabilized and grown, the Bishop is prepared to focus attention on children, youth and college-age discipleship within one office. According to Baker, camping can be expected to take 25% of the office’s focus. This summer looks to be a big year for the team including 10 core camps, 22 mobile camps, 70 mission sites to choose from for mission camps, and the return of Intrepid Wildfire Camp at Central Methodist University June 17-22. The move to its own office with a dedicated director will allow the team to work on discipleship for children through college-age discipleship throughout the year.
The prime directive to the team is to create encounters with Christ for children, youth and college-age adults and to equip local churches for this work. Last summer, 300+ kids professed a belief in Christ for the first time publicly and WOW 2017 continues to increase the focus of the weekend event on discipleship, equipping youth to explore their faith within their local church.
In their January meeting, the Mission Council tasked the Rules and Procedures and Council on Finance and Administration to develop the necessary recommendations to the standing rules and the 2018 budget in order for this vision to happen. Director of Finance and Administration Rev. Nate Berneking believes the restructure can occur within the confines of the existing conference budget and anticipates the apportionment levels to remain flat.
The Annual Conference session will vote on the standing rules revisions and the 2018 budget at the annual meeting.
Jeff Baker named Director of Next Generation MinistriesBishop Bob Farr has announced that Jeff Baker has been named the new Director of Next Generation Ministries effective July 1 .The position relates to all Conference ministries for people from birth to about age 25, taking in camping ministries, youth mission ministries and college-age ministries.
Baker grew up in Hallsville. He became active in the church through mission work, like Habitat for Humanity, at Fairview UMC, and found a real connection to his faith through hands-on mission. He has a degree in business administration from Columbia College, with an emphasis in finance. He worked at a bank through college, and following college he attended a police academy and was employed as a Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy from 1997–2004. Following his time as deputy, he was self-employed as a home security alarm contractor and a carpenter. He has also worked in new home construction.
Baker started on staff with the Missouri Conference in 2008 as the Volunteers In Mission coordinator for mission work within the state of Missouri. He first became involved in international mission following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
“That experience really brought me out of the bubble I was living in, and caused me to develop much deeper spiritual maturity,” he said.
In 2012 Baker was named the Conference Director of Mission, Service and Justice. He has been the only lay person to serve as a Missouri Conference Director since the Conference structure was introduced.
At this time Baker is focused on making a good, clean transition into his new role, and to the next director that will follow him at what was known as Mission, Service and Justice Ministries. When that transition is made, he plans to focus on growth of all of the Conference’s Next Generation ministries.
“I really want to hear what our local churches need and want from the Conference relating to children, youth and college-age ministries,” Baker said.
Baker has three children, ages 13, 16 and 18. He has been encouraged by positive experiences he has seen in his own family that came from Conference-level ministries relating to youth. In January one of his daughters invited two unchurched friends to WOW this year, and they loved it.
“She knew WOW was a great experience, so she was comfortable inviting friends and knowing they would enjoy it, too,” Baker said. “We need more of those opportunities.”
At WOW this year, 40 youth directors came together to talk to each other about their ministries.
“We need to use our connectionalism to provide ways for people who are working with children and youth to be able to come together and share success, ask questions and access resources,” Baker said.
Baker’s wife, Laura, teaches a dozen children at the children’s church at Hallsville UMC. “I’d like to see more training and sharing of resources for people in that role at small churches across the Conference,” Baker said.
Baker also hopes to see an improvement in college-age ministry and believes the United Methodist Church should be able to develop just as strong of a presence in that demographic as the non-denominational campus ministries that do so well.
“Right now our college-age ministry is basically a granting process. I’d like to see it be more than that,” Baker said.
As a father, Baker is intimately tuned in to the importance of faith development in his own home. As a leader in the church, he finds reaching children and youth to be one of the most critical challenges that the church must rise to meet.
“When you have your heart filled with the love of Christ you want to share it,” Baker said. “We’ve got to do better. Providing kids with some playtime on Sunday morning isn’t enough. We need to do a better job of growing our future leadership.”
Tina Harris named Director of Mission, Service & Justice MinistriesBishop Bob Farr has announced that he intends to appoint Rev. Tina L. Harris as the next director of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries. Harris is a provisional elder in the Missouri Conference. She is a native of Galesburg, Illinois. She graduated with honors from DePaul University in Chicago (B.A. ’93) with a degree in American Studies, and worked in human resources for a couple of years before going to Northern Illinois University College of Law (’98 cum laude).
“Law school was both tough and terrific all at the same time,” she said. “I made lifelong friends there and it taught me to think differently, and once you start thinking like a lawyer you can’t stop.”
Harris began her legal career in Kansas City. She practiced law for several years before becoming the first Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at Shook, Hardy & Bacon law firm and the first Chief Diversity Officer at Bryan Cave law firm.
After moving to Kansas City for work, she was interested in meeting with other people of color in professional fields, and she was advised to go to St. James UMC.
“Everyone said it was the place to go,” she said. “I had a great time there connecting with people and listening to sermons from Rev. (Emanuel) Cleaver (II) every week. You couldn’t help but to grow in faith.”
Being an active in church was a new experience for Harris. Her parents had grown up in church and grown weary of it, so their family rarely attended when Harris was growing up. During that time keeping the Sabbath meant gathering the family together around the breakfast table on Sunday morning and focusing on family time. They were also active in volunteering and serving the community.
Harris really enjoyed attending worship at St. James for several years, and the connections she was making there. But she realized there was more to it.
“God started dealing with me, and I was faced with the question, ‘You’re getting a lot out of church, but what are you giving?’” she said.
Her first step toward giving was a literal one, and she responded to the call to do more by opening her pocketbook and becoming a tither. She then started attending Bible studies and taking on leadership roles.
“I hit a turning point,” she said. “Church was no longer just a social outlet.” Faith and church involvement continued to increase, and Harris answered her call to ministry in 2008. She enrolled at Saint Paul School of Theology and joined the staff at St. James in the area of discipleship. After graduating seminary with a Master of Divinity degree in 2012, she served as pastor of children and youth at St. James. In 2014 she became the first African-American pastor to serve then 150-year-old Grand Avenue Temple in downtown Kansas City. She was the 37th pastor of the church, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015.
Grand Avenue Temple has a congregation that is very diverse demographically but less so economically.
“The congregation is about 80 percent materially poor but rich spiritually,” Harris said. “Some of our church family slept on the street the night before, some worked on the street, some are straight out of prison, some are struggling with addiction, some have been abandoned, others have made it through addiction and hard times and are on the other side of it,” Harris said.
“Some live in the suburbs and have a 30-year pin Alcoholics Anonymous. We have people from all walks of life, all stations and all seasons. The people are grateful, faithful and just incredible. Every time we gather I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.”
Harris describes worship at Grand Avenue Temple as wild, weird and wonderful. “You never know what is going to happen here but you always know that the Holy Spirit is breaking chains, healing hearts and building an authentic community.”
“We have to rely on the Holy Spirit here, because we know there’s not going to be a check showing up to cover everything we need,” Harris said.
The appointment at Grand Avenue Temple has been a good primer for Harris’s new role as Director of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries for the Missouri Conference because she has been working with people from all walks of life on a daily basis. Prior to answering her call to ministry, her legal work involved developing innovative and forward‐thinking diversity initiatives.
“I think my experience translates well to the ministry area of social justice. We have serious issues before us, and Jesus is the only answer,” Harris said.
Harris is encouraged by the Conference putting an additional emphasis on this area, and is honored to be appointed to the position. “Bishop Farr has made it clear that the church is about Kingdom building, not just maintaining the status quo,” Harris said.
She will deeply miss the incredible people of Grand Avenue Temple, but is excited about her new role with the Conference. “I look forward for this opportunity to serve, challenge and love in the areas of Mission, Service and Justice.” Harris said.