Several Missourians had important roles at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Oklahoma City. It started with Andrew Ponder Williams setting the bar for the Conference. This went very well, although Bishop Sherer-Simpson, introduced him as Andy.
“We’ve known each other a long time,” Bishop Sherer-Simpson said with a smile, in reference to William’s leadership on the Conference Council on Youth Ministries when she was Bishop for the Missouri Area.
The first presentation of the Conference was the Episcopal Address, which was given by Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. He shared his thoughts on the state of the church, lack of progress in General Conference Session, and his hope for the future.
The South Central Jurisdiction has 1.7 million United Methodists who are members of 5,927 churches. The population of the area is about 45 million. There are 5,229 active clergy and 2,902 retired clergy in the jurisdiction.
African Americans make up 5.5 percent of United Methodists in the jurisdiction, and 12 percent of the population as a whole. Hispanics make up 2 percent of the United Methodists, and 24 percent of the population as a whole. Native Americans make up .8 percent of the church, and 1.4 percent of the population.
Bishop Schnase discussed how there is much opportunity in the Jurisdiction, and many bright spots of ministry. He also gave a report on General Conference, in which he shared his disappointment and sadness regarding the lack of action taken.
“It’s clear that we cannot look to General Conference to save us, and we cannot rely on General Conference to make decisions that will help us reverse the trends. We need to stay focused on what we are about in our conferences and congregations, focused on the ministry in Christ with excellence, fruitfulness, accountability,” Bishop Schnase said. “We’re convinced as a College of Bishops that the stuckness of General Conference makes what we do in this Jurisdiction and in our Annual Conferences all the more important. We need to continue to learn, to experiment, to innovate. Change in the United Methodist Church is going to happen one person at a time, one congregation at a time, one conference at a time. Change in the church will happen horizontally as we learn from another, not vertically or from the top.”
Bishop Schnase named developing the following areas as top priority:
• Culture of learning
• Clergy Excellence and Accountability
• Starting New Congregations
• Congregational Intervention and Transforming
Two major accomplishments in the jurisdiction that Bishop Schnase mentioned was the formation for the Great Plains Conference (by combining Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska) and the unification of the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences.
Rev. Robin Roderick gave a report of rules and procedures, with the proposal for two changes. The first was to revert the ownership of the Wesley Foundation at South Methodist University from the South Central Jurisdiction to its local Conference, the typical owner of Wesley Foundations. This was passed. The second allowed for the formation of a task force to study Conference boundaries and suggest redrawing the borders where necessary. This passed as well.
“We don’t have any specific need that we feel we need to address by 2016, but we might by 2020,” Roderick said. “In some cases Conference boundaries are based on geographic references that are no longer relative. One example would be a case where a border is based on a rail line that is no longer present.”
Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson gave a retirement speech at the Conference, in which she reflected on being elected Bishop 20 years ago, the first woman elected Bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction. She was assigned to Missouri, where she served 12 years and oversaw the merger of the Missouri East and Missouri West conferences. She visited every church in the Missouri Conference. At that time there were more than 1,000.
“I worshipped in places like Cooter, Missouri, where I saw congregations working hard to embrace the world around them,” she said.
Missouri Conference Lay Leader Brian Hammons had the opportunity to speak about lay ministries in Missouri. He highlighted the Lay Leadership Development program, and told about SERVE 2011 and the upcoming SERVE 2012.
Jerry Ruth Williams was named during a time of remembering people who had served in leadership positions in the South Central Jurisdiction who had died in the past quadrennium.