By Lisa Diehl, Kansas communications director
Sept. 1 marked the beginning of a new era in United Methodism in Kansas and Nebraska when the two states and three annual conferences became part of the new Great Plains Episcopal Area.
Previously, the Kansas East and Kansas West conferences shared a bishop as part of the Kansas Episcopal Area. The Nebraska Conference had its own bishop.
The United Methodist Church uses an episcopal system of governance, which means bishops provide the top leadership.
Bishops are directed to provide oversight of the entire church but have specific leadership responsibilities in a geographical area, called an episcopal area. An episcopal area is comprised of one or more annual conferences.
In 2008, the General Conference, the top legislative body in the United Methodist Church, voted to reduce the number of bishops in the United States by one in each jurisdiction to allow more bishops to be elected in areas where the church is growing fastest, such as Africa.
Kansas and Nebraska are part of the South Central Jurisdiction, which also includes Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The bishops in the jurisdiction decided that Nebraska and Kansas should share a bishop and made that announcement in September 2009.
Since that time, a team of people from the Nebraska, Kansas West and Kansas East conferences has met together to determine the best way to become one episcopal area. That team recommended becoming one new annual conference in January 2014. Clergy and lay members of the three conferences approved this recommendation earlier this year by more than 70 percent.
The three conferences then petitioned the South Central Jurisdiction in July to establish new boundaries for the Great Plains Annual Conference. The motion was approved, and later in the conference session, Bishop Scott J. Jones was named to lead the new conference.
“I am excited to be the first bishop of the Great Plains Area,” Jones said. “What better opportunity is there for someone as deeply rooted in United Methodism as I am than the opportunity to create a new annual conference? I’m excited about that. I think it’s a huge opportunity to rethink how The United Methodist Church can best accomplish its ministry in the 21st century.”
The bishop will spend much of the fall traveling around the Nebraska Conference, visiting churches and getting to know the clergy and lay leadership.
The Great Plains Transition Team continues to meet and work on the structure, apportionment formula, staffing, health benefits and other major decisions that must be made as the three conferences come together. The proposals will be presented at each of the three conference sessions in 2013, and will be voted on at the Uniting Conference, Aug. 22-24, 2013, at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.