A report on the 2015 Missouri Annual Conference from Lay Person to Annual Conference, Stacy Brown Braeske:
I am tasked with telling you a little bit about the Missouri Annual Conference, which I attended back in June as your lay representative, along with Pastor Diane. Each year clergy and laity from every United Methodist Church in Missouri gather in Springfield for three and a half days of worship, education, prayer, and voting. Voting is usually limited to approving the conference budget, minor policy changes, and maybe some redistricting. Not very exciting. This year was a barnburner compared to the last 3 conferences I attended.
The main issue that caused debate was a proposal by the camping and retreat ministries board to sell off all four of the Methodist campgrounds in Missouri, including Camp Jo-Ota in Clarence, Missouri. The camping board recommended selling the four properties to generate $1 million - $2 million from the sales and to save another $.5 million a year that goes into maintaining the campgrounds. As an alternative to campground ownership, they proposed using rented facilities for overnight camping, while putting most of the budget towards a new concept called mobile camping. The mobile camping idea is an interesting one, as it brings everything, curriculum, staff, and all materials into a community so that Vacation Bible School becomes a real opportunity for community outreach. As an example, this summer they brought mobile camping to Ferguson, Missouri, which allowed 150 children to participate in a week-long VBS.
The sale of the campgrounds was an emotional issue for a lot of people and the voting was quite close. Eventually it was decided to sell off three of the properties, but to retain Camp Jo-Ota by giving it to a foundation for a period of seven years to see if they can profitably run it. Starting in 2016, Camp Jo-Ota should be available once again for Methodist retreats.
It was also an election year and so clergy and lay delegates had to be elected to attend the general and jurisdictional conferences in 2016. The Jurisdictional conference is held every four years and it is where, among other things, new bishops are elected. We are getting both a new bishop and a new district superintendent next year as Bishop Robert Schnase and District Superintendent Kurt Schuermann are both nearing the end of their term limits.
The General conference is also held every four years and it is where the Global United Methodist Church revises church law and adopts resolutions on moral, social, and public policy. The last general conference in 2012 was marked by controversy when an effort was made to add language to our social principles acknowledging differing views on LGBT rights. When this proposal failed, there were vocal protests and the 2016 general conference is expected to revisit this issue.
A few other things I learned about at this annual conference:
The first is a new program called the Holy Ground Initiative that is being started in the Gateway Central District. Its goal is to take advantage of the connectional nature of the UMC by partnering churches that have resources with churches in impoverished neighborhoods that have more community needs than resources. The idea is to build relationships between the congregations, to facilitate not just mission work and service projects but also dialogue and discussion on issues of race, poverty and cultural differences. The organizers of this program have volunteered come to churches to talk about this program. I have their contact information if this is something we want to learn more about.
Another exciting development this year is the Center for Social Empowerment & Justice launched in August by Pastor Willis Johnson at Ferguson’s Wellspring UMC. Its goal is to become a hub for discussing community solutions to urban problems and to be a faith leader for growth in the community.
The last thing I wanted to share with you is Bishop Schnase’s new book which I think would make a great subject for an adult education class. It is specifically designed for use by laity, and it’s called Just Say Yes: Unleashing People for Lay Leadership. The book talks about all the ways churches say no to new ministry ideas and end up stagnating and fading in relevance, especially to young people. He posits that growing churches take risks and are willing to try new ideas for ministry, even if some of those ideas ultimately fail. The book resonated with me, and I thought it might be a helpful springboard for discussion about whether we are a church that says yes to new ideas.
Finally, I need to mention that I have one more year in my term as lay representative. I believe that changing up a church’s lay representation is in the best interest of the church. So please think about whether this is something that you have a calling to do, and talk to me or Diane if you want to learn more about it. Thank you.