By Lisa Diehl, communications director
|Rev. Gary Beach, second from right, makes a point during the March transition team meeting. (photo by Lisa Diehl)|
“This team has done great work in pointing a new direction for the United Methodist mission in Nebraska and Kansas,” said Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones. “It has been a privilege to dream, pray and work with this group from the three conferences. Now, it is up to the lay and clergy members to decide if they believe this is the direction God is calling us to go.“
The Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West annual conferences will be asked to vote this May and June on a resolution creating one new annual conference. Kansas West will meet first, May 23-25, and Kansas East and Nebraska will meet June 6-9. The results of all three votes will be announced simultaneously and be webcast on the Internet June 9 at 10:15 a.m. CDT. Links to the live web stream will be available at www.kansaseast.org/stream.
“The transition team has taken the task assigned it very seriously. We have understood this work to have both spiritual and organizational significance,” said Tom Watson, team chairperson and Nebraska Conference lay leader. “We have learned a great deal about each other and our mission field.”
Clergy and lay members of the three conferences will vote on the motion with paper ballots. The ballots will contain the motion and space to write an explanation of the individual’s vote should a person desire to do so. Ballots from the Kansas West session will be collected, sealed at the conference session, then counted at the same time as the other two conferences’ ballots.
The motion will be, “The Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska annual conferences will join together to form the Great Plains Annual Conference beginning Jan. 1, 2014. This will take place in accordance with the principles and guidelines outlined by the Nebraska-Kansas Episcopal Area Transition Team.”
Those principles and guidelines address retiree health benefits in Nebraska, surviving spouse benefits in Kansas West, staffing issues, endowment funds and other designated funds given to annual conferences. They include:
Regardless of how the vote to form one new conference comes out, some changes will be made as the three conferences become one episcopal area. The Nebraska/Kansas Area Episcopacy Committee and the Episcopal Residence Committee, both comprised of episcopacy members from all three annual conferences, will present a resolution at all three conference sessions addressing the changes that must be made as a result of becoming one episcopal area.
Their resolution is “The Nebraska/Kansas Area Episcopacy Committee and Episcopal Residence Committee move that, beginning Sept. 1, 2012, the episcopal residence for the new Great Plains Episcopal Area be located in Wichita, Kan., during the next four years, and the main office for the bishop of the Great Plains Area be maintained in Wichita with adjunct offices in Lincoln and Topeka while a long-term plan is discerned.”
The episcopal resolution will be voted on following the one-conference vote.
With a positive vote for becoming one new annual conference, a staff transitions committee will be established to look at staffing for mission and ministry, including an evaluation of office locations.
In addition, a Council on Finance and Administration team will be formed and tasked with devising a new mission-share (apportionment) formula to be phased in over time, with annual increases and decreases in apportionments of no more than 10 percent annually. The formula will be sensitive to the former annual conferences’ practices, missional needs of local churches and the new annual conference ministries.
“The recommendations the team is making are the result of much prayer, study, discussion and discernment,” Watson said. “We submit them to the three annual conferences for their serious consideration.”
The team also discussed lingering questions about the decision-making process, clergy benefits and what it means to become a new annual conference.
Many have asked if any of the annual conferences are carrying debt. None of the conferences are in debt, Jones said.
Nebraska has some decisions to make about how it will fund health-insurance benefits for those who retire prior to Jan. 1, 2014. These decisions will need to be made whether or not the three conferences come together as one.
Others are asking questions about itinerancy and if pastors could be forced to serve outside their current geographic conference.
“We already operate a modified itinerancy in both conferences,” said Nebraska Area Bishop Ann Sherer Simpson.
Both Jones and Sherer-Simpson continue to say that today’s appointment process takes into account input from the pastors.
“Having more pastors and more churches provides new opportunities to match pastors and churches for flourishing ministries,” said Jones.
A complete list of the lingering questions and their answers will be posted as a supplement to the full transition-team report in the online versions of pre-conference workbooks for all three conferences. In addition, brief reports from each of the five dream teams and the two technical teams will be posted as part of the supplemental materials. The reports will be posted at www.kswestumc.org/ACReports.