Shortly after Shane Warta began as lay leadership coordinator for the Great Plains Conference in the fall of 2018, he was approached by Mary Feit, Lay Servant Ministries coordinator, and Lisa Maupin, now the conference lay leader.
“We want to have one big event,” he recalled being told, to celebrate, inform and encourage lay persons in the conference.
“The youth have a big event (OneEvent), clergy have a big event (Orders & Fellowship),” Warta said. “So, what could a big event for laity look like, outside Annual Conference?” The answer will emerge on Saturday, March 21, when the first Laity Summit takes place at Kearney First UMC.
While some districts have their own lay gathering, Warta said, this is the first for the entire conference.
The day will include a participant’s choice of four workshops out of six topics offered, as well as a keynote speech by David Teel, director of laity and spiritual leadership for Discipleship Ministries.
“There’ll be community and networking and walking away with new ideas, tools and resources,” Warta said.
Workshops will be led by Laurie White, Little River UMC, a certified lay speaker, and Mary Brooks, Lyndon UMC, Five Rivers District lay leader; the Rev. Bonnie McCord, Chadron UMC; and Jada Hodgson, a certified lay minister at Parker Plum Creek UMC; Gary Robbins, lay leader at Topeka Countryside UMC, and Randall Hodgkinson, Topeka First UMC, associate conference lay leader and a General Conference lay delegate; Jeffrey Croft, who started an urban church in Ohio in 2003; the Rev. Adam Barlow-Thompson, co-founder of The Neighboring Movement by SoCe Life in Wichita; and Thane Chastain from the Kansas Leadership Center.
The Laity Summit is part of a growing trend in conferences across the country. Warta said he received inspiration from the Central Texas Conference, which held its first summit last year before Annual Conference.
The event is designed to speak to laity at all levels of experience in the church, from the longtime veterans to those who are wanting to make their first steps in working in the church.
“It’s not just for the folks who are already connected with lay leadership rules, or even Lay Servant Ministries,” Warta said. “We wanted to create kind of an inviting space and time as a training ground for emerging leaders, raising up laity that can feel like they have the resources and the tools in their toolbelt to lead in their churches and their communities.
“We’re just hopeful it meets people where they’re at,” he added.
Feit said she hoped the Laity Summit would encourage and inspire individuals.
“To me the main purpose is to give lay persons the opportunity to explore other ways of serving the church and serving the Lord, and a chance to explore their own spiritual formation,” she said. “It’s a discernment kind of thing also.”
Giving encouragement and education to lay persons is part of the shift in the church to clergy and laity working together, Feit said.
“We’re still in the transition phase from clergy being totally responsible for what happens in the church to a lay person-slash-clergy partnership,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, that’s the pastor’s job,’ and they’re reluctant to get involved. That’s one of the places where the summit can do is to encourage those partnerships.”
The decision on what lay persons can do is ultimately up to them, Feit said.
“They need to explore their own passions and figure out what they can do best,” she said. “All we can do is provide the information and let them go from there.”
Warta said organizers wanted to keep the cost reasonable, and the $15 registration mainly covers lunch and hospitality.
He said Feit and Maupin each have a goal of 100 laity attending the inaugural summit, while he is more brash in predicting 200.
“This can be the start of something that hopefully continues for a while,” he said. “Maybe it morphs into something more specific or something regionally.”
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