This year marks the completion of two four-year terms for Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. As he looks back on 2012, he recognizes it as a year of change, and of challenge.
" It's been an extraordinary year and I'm delighted to report what we've been working on our plans for the future," Bishop Schnase said.
With Bishop Schnase, the Missouri Conference has developed a focus on "Leading Congregations to Lead People to Actively Follow Jesus Christ."
"This means the Conference staff and cabinet are all here to serve the local church," Bishop Schnase said.
This mission has been pursued through the Five Expectations (Christ-centered, Fruitfulness, Excellence, Accountability and Collaboration) and the Five Practices (Radical hospitality, Passionate worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking mission and service, Extravagant generosity).
"The five expectations have been the drivers of how we work together," Bishop Schnase said. "The disciplined focus on essentials has allowed us to be exceptionally creative."
Part of that creativity has demonstrated through new church starts.
"We've been more assertive, creative and successful at new church starts than we've been in a long time," Bishop Schnase said.
New churches have been started across Conference lines, with cooperative arrangements between existing congregations, restarting in old facilities, as second sites for existing churches and as remote video sites between congregations.
"The difference between us growing or declining over the last 40 years could have been reversed with just a handful of new church starts," Bishop Schnase said.
Serve 2011 was the Office of Creative Ministries creative way of attempting to get every United Methodist Church in Missouri involved in mission on the same weekend. More than 400 congregations across the state participated.
Converge offered high quality learning and renewal for clergy, and SURGE offered the same for leaders of college-age ministries.
The tornado response in Joplin involved more than 170,000 total volunteers. Of those there were more than 140 United Methodist teams that volunteered through the Missouri Conference.
Internationally, safe water was provided for Haiti through the Hydraid program. The Conference created a system of ambassadors for the Ludhianna Christian Medical College and Hospital in India. Relationships have been established to open more volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica.
Conference sponsored youth activities such as WOW (which had more than 2,400 in attendance), confirmation classes and youth mission trips have grown each year. This summer we have 1,200 youth signed up to participate in Conference-sponsored mission projects.
The Healthy Church Initiative has been our program for turning churches around.
Pastoral Leadership Development has had 96 participants. Lay Leadership Development has had more than 515 participants, and 38 lay leaders are trained LLD facilitators. All of the Healthy Church Initiative consultations have included a Laity Leader.
A new Youth Leadership Development program was started in 2010. There have been nine participants and three coaches trained for this.
With Hispanic ministries, there are fewer sites than a few years ago, but more people involved in ministry at those sites.
Another sign of change will be happening all around everyone this weekend.
"We continue to redefine the meaning of Annual Conference," Bishop Schnase said. "It's less business, and less arguing over business, and more time for learning from some of the best leaders from around the country."
Because 2012 is the beginning of a new quadrennium, or four-year phase, there are several changes ahead this year. The body of the Annual Conference Session will be electing the new Annual Conference leadership for teams, boards and committees for the next four years.
Cabinet is being reduced from 11 to 10 district superintendents. This was tried earlier, when Rev. Steve Cox was appointed district superintendent of the Pony Express and Heartland North District. This year Rev. Bart Hildreth is being appointed district superintendent of the Ozarks North and Ozarks South districts.
Some changes are yet to be determined.
"We"re going to be working hard on the next iteration of Healthy Church Initiative, Pastoral Leadership Development and Lay Leadership Development," Bishop Schnase said. "These things have served us well, so now we"re beginning to consider what the next steps will be."
United Methodism in the United States has declined by about 12.5 percent in recent years, in the Missouri Conference it has declined by 5 percent. Bishop Schnase was hesitant to celebrate a merely slower rate of decline, but said it does show that some things are working.
"To have just declined 5 percent over 10 years is pretty monumental as compared to the Conferences around us," he said.
This July, jurisdictional Conference meets to elect bishops. Rev. Bob Farr is a candidate. Bishop Schnase will have completed two terms of service in Missouri, and could get appointed to a different Conference.
"I've expressed my preference for returning to Missouri, and your representatives on the Episcopacy committee support my return," Bishop Schanse said. He is planning as though he will be here another four years. And he is asking people not to worry about losing Farr if he is elected Bishop.
"Just as God brought us Bob Farr, if Bob is elected God will send us someone else to take his place," Bishop Schnase said. "The work given to us remains the same year in and year out, and I would ask we pray for clarity for God's will to be done."
Bishop Schnase told the Conference that they will hear a lot of numbers in reports, but if there is one single number they need to know, it is that the median age of a United Methodist is 57, and the median age in our communities is 33 or 34. There's a generation of difference between our churches and the communities those churches are in for their mission field, which means a generation of difference in language and culture.
"But if we're going to remain faithful to our children and grandchildren, and faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we've got to figure those differences out," he said. "We won't figure it out through programs, but through one person at a time listening and learning."
Bishop Schnase concluded by saying that it"s been a privilege to serve as Missouri's Bishop.
"I look forward to our work together at this Annual Conference, and in years to come," he said.