The people who were gathered at Missouri UMC in Columbia on September 16 were a new group. There were some familiar faces who were serving in new positions, and many were serving in Conference leadership positions for the first time. The people were the members of all of the teams, boards and committees, most of whom will be serving in these positions for the next four years. Although their responsibilities varied widely, they all shared the bond of the ultimate purpose of the Conference: Leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ.
“You are here as a result of two years of work by the nominations committee,” said Director of Connectional Ministries Sherry Habben during her opening remarks. “You’re not here because we needed warm bodies to fill slots. We carefully discerned that your spiritual gifts are best suited for the needs of leadership in our Conference.”
Habben referred to the scripture I Samuel, Chapter 3, in which Samuel was at first confused by the call of the Lord. He didn’t recognize the voice of God. Eli told him to go back and say, “Here I am Lord, your servant, ready to listen.”
“We must be ready to do the same; listen! We may not even be aware of where we are heading,” Habben said. “God is going to do amazing and powerful work. When you meet, it is not a business meeting. It is a gathering of spiritual leaders coming together to pray, listen and discern what God would have you to do. God uses unexpected places and people, he works at unexpected times, and he works through all of us. ”
Kendall Waller, director of administrative and financial ministries, introduced Bishop Robert Schnase to the group.
“Bishop Schnase has freed innovation and creativity within us so that all across the country people turn to us as a model,” Waller said.
Bishop Schnase began by noting that there are about 870 congregations; 175,000 lay persons; 1,000 pastors and 80,000 in worship in the United Methodist Church in Missouri. Those churches are involved in thousands of community ministries that affect hundreds of thousands of people.
“We can’t take this task lightly,” Bishop Schnase said. “Whatever position you’ve been entrusted with, I hope you take it prayerfully and with a sense of purpose.”
About 20 percent of church attendance in the Missouri Conference comes from the 21 largest churches, and about 20 percent of the attendance comes from the 600 smallest churches.
“We have a vast diversity; urban, suburban, rural, large church, small church... that challenge is some of who we are,” Bishop Schnase said.
Disciples are made through faith communities, and all of the worship, faith development and mission service that takes place there, Bishop Schnase said. The purpose of the Conference is to help congregations fulfill their mission of creating disciples of Christ. The United Methodist Church has made a commitment of 75 million dollars for the Imagine No Malaria campaign.
‘’In our lifetime we can eliminate malaria from sub-sahara Africa, and the United Methodist Church will take a critical role in that,” Bishop Schnase said. “This has special meaning to us because of the relationship we have with Mozambique in our Conference. If you’ve been to Mozambique, it is likely that you have met someone who has lost his or her life, or the life of an immediate family member, to malaria. Because of our personal relationship, we should be among the leaders in the United Methodist Church in this effort.”
In the spirit of accountability, the Conference is currently exploring obtaining a consultant that will look at all aspects of the Missouri Conference and make recommendations regarding effectiveness.
Lay Leader Brian Hammons noted that of the four drivers of vital congregations, one is a high percentage of spiritually engaged laity in leadership. Director of Congregational Excellence Bob Farr said 18 of 22 new church starts in the Missouri Conference are still making it, and the goal is to try to start 33 new churches. The Conference is beginning to explore a new model for Hispanic church starts using bi-vocational part-time pastors.
Jeff Baker, director of Mission, Service and Justice ministries, announced the hire of Dan Steska as the new Missouri Conference disaster response coordinator. Audrey Phelps will now be the coordinator for all Volunteer-In-Mission teams, whether they are Missouri teams or international teams.
Waller mentioned that he and others in his position are working through changes around pensions and health care, some of which are related to this year’s passage of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden encouraged people to visit the website www.thecalltoministry.org, which provides information to help support congregations in noticing, naming and nurturing candidates in ministry and those considering ministry. Bishop Schnase told the group that he hopes their new leadership position is something that blesses them, and they feel a sense of accomplishment and sense of purpose. The day was closed with a service of communion.