It is a season of transition. I have had the opportunity to serve as the preacher at Berryton United Methodist Church since July 1, 2018. On Sunday, I announced during worship that I have received a new appointment from Bishop Ruben Saenz to serve as the pastor at Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church in Topeka beginning July 1, 2019. I will miss the good people of Berryton and am grateful for the care our family has received from both the church and community. I look forward to meeting the people of Susanna Wesley, learning more about the ministries, traditions, hopes, and dreams of the congregation, and continuing to reach the mission field with the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. I am also looking forward to learning from Rev. Maria Campbell who has served Susanna Wesley faithfully these past seven years!
The Staff Parish team at Berryton UMC has been in conversation with our District Superintendent, Rev. Kay Scarbrough, about who will be appointed to serve as the next pastor. We will share that news when it is available. Will you take a moment to pray for our community, congregations, Bishop, District Superintendents and our family?
If you would like to get or stay connected with me, here are a few ways:
Website – You can follow my personal website and blog right here at www.AndrewConard.com. I have written on a wide variety of topics over the years and will continue to write in the days ahead
It is not often that I confess in writing. Most often, I confess verbally.
There is something different about putting your sins down on paper. Seeing the words on the page makes them more tangible and seem more ugly. The sheet of paper is filled up with things of which I am not proud in my life. Yet, it is also cleansing. There is something powerful in naming the places where I have messed up and am in need of God’s grace.
I have written a prayer of confession on Ash Wednesday for thirteen years. Sometimes, it seems, that I find myself writing some of the same things from year to year. All too often, I seem to cling unintentionally to some of the thoughts, words, and actions which separate me from God and other people. There are areas where God has been at work to help me make progress and there are new areas which I have not found necessary to confess in years past. All of this is part of the journey of going on toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
Each of the years that I have written my prayers in this way, I have also had the opportunity to place them in a fire to be burned. This is a cleansing ritual and helps me begin the journey toward Easter. I am so glad to be on this journey again.
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Each year, I set aside some of the palm branches which we use on Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalsem. Over the months they lose some of their color and they completely dry. Then some days before the beginning of the season of Lent, I burn them. While the ashes are still warm, I use a mortar and pestle to finely grind them to be used for Ash Wednesday.
Yesterday afternoon, we had an all-church conversation at Berryton United Methodist Church to process the 2019 special session of the General Conference. I put it on the calendar about a month ago. While it was, of course, impossible to predict how things would go, I did figure that we would need some time and space to process whatever it was that was passed. This was true.
The weather was bitterly cold and it was snowing for the first part of the morning with about 3 inches accumulated before the first worship service ended. It was the second lowest in-person worship attendance in the last two years. In spite of the conditions, we had a great turnout on Sunday afternoon to talk about General Conference.
I shared these documents with those that were gathered:
The first document was a statement that I shared in worship and the second was shared at the meeting in the afternoon. Both were adapted from resources provided by the Great Plains Annual Conference.
I am glad that people gathered and were willing to share their pain, questions, confusion, and hope. It felt inadequate. There needs to be and will continue to be more conversations in local congregations just like ours across the United States and around the world. People are moved to take action.
This morning, I met with a group of clergy colleagues in what is a regularly scheduled gathering. Today we shared, reflected, grieved, considered the future and talked about what and how to best share with our local congregations the events of General Conference. I shared an image of the disorientation that I am feeling in response to the passing of the Traditional Plan…
It’s like I am driving our minivan down the highway. I am making progress toward my destination. Everything seems to be running pretty well. We are on the way. I stop to refill the fuel tank and pick up some snacks. As I get out of the vehicle and start to head inside the convenience store, I take a look back and suddenly, it’s not my the minivan. It turns out that it is a truck.
Wait a minute… What?!
I thought I was driving toward a destination and all of a sudden, I realize that I have been driving inside a completely different vehicle. What happened to the familiar surroundings of the vehicle with which I was familiar? What have I been driving all this time?
The re-affirmation of the Traditional Plan three times over – in the prioritization, in legislative committee, and in the plenary session of General Conference 2019 is confusing. I thought that I have been part of a denomination that is moving toward full inclusion throughout the entire life of the church – albeit slowly and hesitatingly. Yet, the evidence of the voting demonstrates that this is not true – at least not on a denominational level. It is frustrating to find that the United Methodist Church turned away from greater inclusion. Yet, it also illuminates the truth: There is a need action in new ways, with creative approaches, and bolder vision. I don’t yet know what this looks like, however I want to help figure out what’s next for a more inclusive church.
Since being appointed to serve within the Topeka District of the Great Plains Annual Conference, I have had the opportunity to serve as the lead for the Topeka District Strategy Team. I have been learning as I go, seeking to get to know congregations and leaders of the area. Here are some of my current thoughts on how this team can be most effective to create a strategy for the district.
During some years in the past, the Great Plains Annual Conference (and three conferences) has operated with a structure that encouraged local churches to send both people and resources to be part of initiatives and ministry efforts that originated and were executed at the annual conference level. This lead to a measure of success. However, this model is not working as effectively as it once was.
In recent years, there has been efforts made to push the resourcing and leadership “down” from the annual conference toward the mission field of local churches. Some of this is being accomplished with the creation of Networks which connect local churches to more effectively reach their collective mission field. It also is being accomplished through the work of district strategy teams which work alongside the District Superintendent to develop a strategy to reach the mission field within the district.
What does not need to happen is for a district strategy team to come up with a layer of strategy, events and planning which local churches are encouraged to add to their existing ministries and goals. Instead, I believe that a more effective approach will be to look for common goals that exist among many congregations in the district and consider what resources or strategies that district can bring to bear which support those goals.
As part of the charge conference process, goals are developed and turned in annually from every charge in the district. This fall, we are running an experiment by offering local churches goals to consider for 2019 (Experiment_ Topeka District Local Church Goals (PDF)). If churches have an existing process for developing and iterating on goals, great – keep doing it. However, if they do not, they might consider one or more of these goals for the year ahead. The purpose here is to help local churches make progress on goal setting and create the opportunity for local churches to coalesce around similar goals. We’ll see how this goes…
Regardless of whether or not local churches choose from the experimental goals which were offered to them, our next step will be to review the goals from all the churches in the district to see what, if any, similarities there are. Then, create strategies to help support local churches in the goals that they have already set for themselves.
I am hopeful that this approach will support local churches and more effectively coordinate our efforts together as a district.
I have the opportunity to serve as the Network Leader which means convening the pastor and a lay person from each congregation so that we can make progress together and reach our mission field more effectively. I am committed to making our network work. I don’t have time for to add a meeting to my schedule in which we are getting together only to “check the box” that we have completed the task.
We met for the first time as a Network last week. If you are interested in the agenda, click here to download it as a PDF. I believe that our network has the opportunity to be the most innovative in the Great Plains Annual Conference. I am looking forward to building relationships with colleagues and friends and working together to share God’s love with our neighbors and live boldly into God’s dream for southeast Shawnee and northwest Douglas county.