By Fred Koenig
In a year of turbulence, Missouri Bishop Bob Farr reminded people in his address of the steadfast purpose of the United Methodist Church that binds the churches in Missouri together.
This is the 200th year of Methodist conferencing in Missouri, and the 17th year of conferencing with the Missouri Conference in its present configuration. Bishop Farr asked those gathered this year to remember our “why”.
“Our why is our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Bishop Farr said.
The role of the Conference is to support local churches in that mission as the Conference follows its vision: The Missouri Conference will relentlessly lead our churches to become outwardly focused and spiritually centered.
Bishop Farr also lifted up the Five Expectations the Conference has, and encouraged people to strive for them through Annual Conference Session:
For the past year, the Conference has been focused on three priorities
- New missional leaders
- New places for new people
- Pathway out of poverty
As the Conference continues to build ministries these priorities, it has received a big boost. The Steward Family Foundation in St. Louis is giving the Missouri Conference a $3 million gift over the next three years, with $1 million going toward each priority. David Steward, president of World Wide Technology, is a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Ladue.
Bishop Farr noted that when the Conference adopted the three priorities last year no new money went toward these priorities because he is dedicated to keeping the budget flat. The Steward gift will help empower the Conference to give local churches more assistance in pursuing these goals.
“This gives us money to go above and beyond ministry we are currently doing. I’m deeply grateful to Steward family for offering this gift,” Bishop Farr said.
Progress is being made. Last year there were 424 new missional leaders. A new goal for 600 is set for next year. There have been 512 new places for new people developed, involving 2,000 new people. The goal for next year is for new places to reach another 3,500 people. Pathway Out of Poverty found 54 church/school partnerships, and 34 new partnerships. Bishop Farr said he is excited about the new goal of giving 100,000 books to 100,000 children.
“We’re not just dropping off books, we’re going to hand you a book and get to know who you are, building a relationship,” Bishop Farr said.
There are 720 people in praying for new places for new people in the conference, receiving email guidance and updates from Director of Congregational Excellence Roger Ross. Learn and Lead Podcasts are serving as a resource across Missouri and beyond Missouri.
This year 38 mission teams have traveled from Missouri to Puerto Rico, and 19 more are scheduled to go. More than $143,000 has been raised toward the $150,000 goal for Puerto Rico. There has been $57,000 sent to Mozambique to assist with recovery from the natural disasters there.
Next Generation Ministries has 4,562 campers so far this year and has the capacity to host more than 8,000. New leadership development events were developed, and 128 youth participated.
For the Special Session of General Conference in February, 128 volunteers provided about 3,000 hours of service.
“2019 has been a challenging year. We had to host the General Conference. We didn’t ask for it, but we treated people from all around the world with Midwest hospitality,” Bishop Farr said.
Prior to General Conference, Bishop Farr conducted 21 conversations around Missouri, with 1,396 in attendance. After General Conference he had nine conversations with 3,000 attendance.
Bishop Farr explained that the issue has been a struggle for him, as he strives to be a bishop for all. Both his traditional and progressive friends explain their positions to him, and both make convincing arguments. He hopes to get beyond the current state, where people are choosing opposing sides.
“Can we in Missouri find a Missouri way forward?” he asked. “If we were given the freedom to find our way forward, could we do it? Could we find our own way forward if given the chance?”
Bishop Farr said Missouri has a reputation for leading in the United Methodist denomination, and it may be time for Missouri lead the denomination to a new way of doing things.
“Despite all that is going on the Missouri Conference is still strong, it is healthy and it is vital,” Bishop Farr said. “My goal to remain spiritual community, do no harm to one another, and treat each other as friends not enemies.”