Small churches really can make their voices count

"We already have everything we need to make the next faithful step in ministry," was West Ohio Bishop Gregory V. Palmer's greeting to the nearly 60 lay and clergy attending the Small Churches Can Have a Big Impact: Making Your Voice and Vote Count event at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a discussion about ministry in Town and Rural settings.

Bishop Palmer spent the morning addressing the Towers-Watson Report, which was the basis of many of the proposed changes at the 2012 General Conference. Signs of vitality named in the Towers-Watson Report were: Strong Pastoral Leaders, Strong Lay Leadership, Vibrant and Passionate Worship, and Active Small Group opportunities. These signs of vitality can and do show in all sizes of vital churches and in churches located in areas from Town & Country, Rural, Urban, and Suburban settings. They also are not limited to either "progressive" or "evangelical" churches but can be found in all theological camps.

Other topics of discussion with Bishop Palmer included potential legislation that could be of benefit to those living and serving in Rural, Town & Country locations such as:

  • finding a way for clergy to self-identify their own level of ability to itinerate as well as their willingness to accept less than full time appointments in order to be exempt from itineration
  • how to identify standards of effectiveness for clergy leaders
  • vested pension benefits for clergy without having 20 years in the system
  • the possibility of including a Rural, Town & Country voice on the Connectional Table

The afternoon was spent hearing presentations from:

Rev. Bill McCartney, retired former superintendent from the East Ohio Conference talking about how to elect more Town & Country, Rural persons to the slate to represent East & West Ohio on the General Conference Delegation for 1016 in Portland. Bill discussed the need for a strategy to get persons named and elected, the need for communications as well as partnering with caucuses on issues of mutual concern.

Jeannette Kraus, lay delegate to several General Conferences from East Ohio. Jeannette discussed the commitment needed by delegates to prepare for General Conference and the workload involved.

Rev. Roger Grace, assistant to the superintendent of the Capitol Area North district and current president of the United Methodist Rural Advocates (UMRA.) Roger has been a delegate to Jurisdictional and General Conference from West Ohio and part of the leadership team for UMRA that will be developing legislation concerning Town & Country and Rural issues for presentation to the 2016 General Conference in Portland. Roger spoke of a number of Town &Country-Rural Concerns that UMRA has championed in the past and of their record of leading change.

Rev. John Gilmore, current president of the West Ohio UMRA spoke of the efforts to lift up the ministries of Town &Country-Rural congregations in West Ohio and showed a video of the overall conference winner of the Rural Church of the Year that was presented at Annual Conference.

The four afternoon presenters also participated in a panel question and answer session to end the day.

Report submitted by Roger Grace