By Fred Koenig
Missouri Bishop Bob Farr began the 16th Session of the Missouri Annual Conference with a nod to history, noting that the United Methodist Church has existed for 50 years, as has the Kansas City Royals. Methodism in Missouri is more than 200 years old and has been organized 42 different ways in Missouri.
Bishop Farr lifted up the mission, “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and the vision, “The Missouri Conference will relentlessly lead our churches to become outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers.”
This year’s theme is for Annual Conference is Free to Lead. Bishop Farr announced the following emphases for the upcoming years:
2018 – Developing principled leaders
2019 - New places, new people
2020- Engaging ministry with the poor
2021 - Improving global health
During a roll call of various different people in Annual Conference, it was noted that there are 125 new people at this session.
Bishop Farr explained the structure of the Missouri Conference, relating to staffing, cabinet, teams and committees. He said that although their work is very important, the truly critical work of the church is what happens in the local church every week.
“No one gets saved at the Annual Conference office,” Bishop Farr said.
This year’s change of Annual Conference Session from three to four days was in response to requests from the members of Annual Conference. During his listening sessions, the number one complaint Bishop Farr heard was about the Course of Study for licensed local pastors. Through the work of Karen Hayden and others worker with the General Board of Higher Education Ministry, there is now a process that is more flexible, more practical and shorter, with completion possible within two and a half years.
“We have more local pastors than we have had at any time in our history,” Bishop Farr said. “That is our future.”
Bishop Farr referred to how Mission, Service and Justice Ministries has been out front on issues, with Director Tina Harris leading a group to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and participating in the Rally Against Racism in Washington, D.C. The Mozambique Initiative had it’s best year ever for fund raising. Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence Roger Ross has initiated a new church planter academy that has 30 participants. Five new multi-site projects are planned to launch in 2018. In Financial and Administrative Ministries, last year apportionments were paid at 88.99 percent, a new conference record. Director Nate Berneking conducted a webinar on filling out year end reports that had 351 viewers.
In Next Generation Ministries, 4,500 lives were touched through Ignite, Core, Spark and Impact camping in 2017, a 10 percent increase. There was a record number of mobile camps (27), reaching 2,929 youth.
The action plan for the conference focuses on three priority areas: new missional leaders, new places for new people, and a pathway out of poverty.
Bishop Farr recently made a trip to Puerto Rico and was astounded by the devastation there from last year’s hurricane. United Methodist Committee on Relief is putting $16 million into rebuilding homes. The Missouri Conference has committed to rebuilding the church in Vieques, restore the parsonage into a guest house, and rebuild and open clinic. Bishop Farr hopes many teams from Missouri will travel to Puerto Rico to do the work, and set a goal of $150,000 to be raised.
In December of 2019, Bishop Farr and his wife Susan will be making a trip to the Holy Land, their first trip back since they went there with his grandmother in 1979. People are welcome to join in on the trip for an experience of deeper learning and spiritual renewal.
Bishop Farr closed with a message of gratitude and of hope.
“Thank you for your good work, your generosity, all you do in your local churches, all you do for the conference, and thank you for being Missouri,” Bishop Farr said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the church is alive in Missouri. I’ve seen renewal and change. Some parts are dying and changing, but that has always been true. We might not be as big as we used to be, but I think we are as strong as we ever were. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep us together as the United Methodist Church in Missouri. You deserve it. I look forward to moving ahead as the Missouri Methodists.”