Category Archives: Our Stories

A Pastor’s Change of Heart

Pastor Nick Talbott serves as pastor of University UMC in Salina, KS. Prior to that, he served as pastor of Stockton and Woodston UMCs in the Hays District. 

Easter Sunday 1997: a man with a voice so deep I can still remember the bellowing sound looked my Dad square in the eyes and said, “You are aware the church is open more than one day a year.” We never went back. That was the extent of my childhood church experience. We went on Easter and sometimes Christmas, I knew that Jesus was a baby and that somehow he rose from the dead. I vaguely remember songs with lyrics I didn’t understand, and being asked to eat flesh and blood. Church was creepy, but intriguing.
My Junior year of high school, I started attending a youth group with some of my friends. The church was behind our house and I quickly became a regular attender.  I loved it!  Church was life changing for me, it came at a time in my life I desperately needed it. After years at this church, getting married, and having kids, I had some friction with Southern Baptist Theology. In a conversation with my wife, she informed me that not all churches think the same way. I was floored!
I set on a quest to find a denomination that was more inclusive. I sought a place where my daughter could be everything I could be. That led me to the United Methodist Church. I landed in what we now call a Traditional UMC. The pastor and congregation of this church taught me about open hearts, open minds, and open doors. It was a perfect fit, it was a church that I wanted my kids to grow up in.
I entered the UMC at a very difficult and divisive time. The argument about inclusion was heating up as we entered the 2012 General Conference. I toed the party line of the church I was attending and serving. I believed the Bible was very clear, and I was not going to change. In the next four years I would go from church member, to church employee, to a licensed local pastor.
The 2016 General Conference was instrumental in my change of heart. It was like a soap opera that I could not stop watching. For days I was glued to the computer screen. I noticed my heart began to change. I saw first hand the harm that was being done.  I entered the UMC because it was a place of open hearts, open minds, and open doors. I now saw myself as someone closing doors, and realized I needed to stop.
Since May 20th, 2016, I have been on a journey. I have read, studied, listened, and prayed. I still have more work to do, but I am a Local Pastor in the Great Plains Conference fully committed to seeing the full inclusion of all of God’s people in the UMC. To those I have harmed with my previous understandings, I am sorry and ask for forgiveness. To those still being harmed, know that you are loved and are not alone.

Young Jurisdictional Delegate Points Toward Hope

Abigail Koech is a Jurisdictional Lay Delegate and first alternate to General Conference. She is a member of Lenexa UMC in Lenexa, KS. Abigail is 18 and a freshman in journalism at Johnson County Community College. She plans to transfer to the University of Kansas.

As a young college student who has grown up in the United Methodist Church, I’ve always felt a sense of consistency and routine in church. Since General Conference, there have been conversations of a split. As you probably know, the Protocol of Separation and Grace Through Reconciliation was recently released. Lately, people have had many questions and concerns about how to navigate the current state that we’re in. I’m not a clergyperson, so I don’t know what it’s like to lead a congregation in that way. However, I think being a young person gives me a slightly different perspective because of my role within the church.

I’ve received a few questions from people who are worried about the future of the whole church and how it will affect both clergy and laity. I also don’t believe that there is only a specific group of people that carry these concerns. If there’s one thing we all share, it’s the stress that comes from the state that our church is in right now. It’s apparent that things are becoming more serious, as legislation keeps coming out. I completely understand why people feel like they don’t know where we’re headed; however, it’s important to note that our society is ever-changing. In five years, the church will most likely be unrecognizable. Not only due to a possible schism, but because of generational and political change.

My optimism lies in the fact that this change is occurring as a result of a shifting mindset. Meaning that people are hopefully willing to take on the responsibility of serving justice and equality. Something that we can do to alleviate uneasiness is have faith in our young people. I believe that the future of the church is ultimately determined by the young members of the UMC. Not necessarily because they have potential to be future pastors and lay leaders, or even because I’m young myself. The fact is that younger generations have a different experience and perspective of the church that is very much needed today. I understand that we are in a very challenging time, but I hope that we can find peace of mind in that we have younger generations of competent leaders.

One Evangelical Pastor’s Journey to LGBTQ+ Affirmation

Rev. Daniel Kipp serves Elkhorn Hills UMC in Elkhorn, NE, and he has served Sabatha UMC (KS) and in youth ministry at Derby Woodlawn UMC (KS).

I am an Evangelical, “born again” in the Southern Baptist church, baptized in a Bible church, and preached my first sermon as a preteen in the Assemblies of God church (it was 45-minutes and 11-points of awesome sauce). I am also an LGBTQIA+ affirming United Methodist Elder.
How did this happen? The story is long but the answer is simple. I believe that part of God’s image, in whatever manner it is applied to the human soul, is revealed in human love. God’s presence burns brightly when one loves another selflessly.
Many have asked how I deal with the Biblical witness regarding human sexuality. For me, it is about circumcision passages like Galatians 5. “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter. (Gal 5:6 CEB)” The root word for “working” is an intensified version of the word for “work.” In other words, it is energizing work. What matters is having our faith light up with love.
I believe that Kingdom living is about having the light of Christ living (and loving) in us. Therefore, the way that we choose to love as Christ has loved us matters. God is revealed through the love of strangers, friends, parents, children, and spouses. Each relationship offers a new angle to what love is and how God feels about humanity.
I’m awkward and clumsy when talking about God’s love revealed through the identity of others. I’ve been thankful for the grace offered to me by my queer siblings in Christ. I’m angry that I require such grace; so, I am dedicated to recognizing love in all the places it lights up and I will do better. Brandon Sanderson, writes, “Sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a [person] in the process of changing.” This has become a motto for me, I’m not afraid to be a hypocrite as long as I continue to grow and change. 
A year ago I told a friend that I was affirming but I hoped that my children weren’t queer because life would be harder for them. My friend looked at me with grace in their eyes and said that they couldn’t imagine their gay sibling without their spouse. I almost fell over. I had just said that I was affirming and in the next breath showed my need for growth.
I want the United Methodist Church to be a beacon declaring God’s presence in the world. Methodist churches should be hallowed harbors for people who are resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in their communities. I am committed to declaring the image of God in all people. I will continue to blunder and accept grace and work toward a church that is fully open to all. To those of you who continue to reveal God’s image to me, thank you.

A New Day in the Great Plains

Clergy are currently meeting in Lincoln, NE for our annual Orders and Fellowship Gathering. Bishop Saenz answered questions regarding the Protocol on Wednesday, January 15, and we were very encouraged with his leadership. He supports the Protocol and shared that he will live into the spirit of the Protocol and honor the abeyance by not processing charges for LGBTQ+ clergy and clergy who officiate same-gender weddings before Genera Conference. This is huge news! Thank you to everyone who wrote the bishop and shared your stories. We know he has heard us and will stop the harm that charges and trials have caused our LGBTQ+ siblings. We are so grateful the Bishop is joining with his colleagues in support of the Protocol and helping us move forward with grace and hope. He cast a vision for the Great Plains that would seek justice for people of color, women, LGBTQ people while making space for a diversity of theological views. In the Great Plains UMC, there is a place for us all. As Junius said, now we work to help pass the Protocol and to inspire people to remain and embrace a bold new future.

Rev. Junius Dotson Shares Message with the Great Plains

Rev. Junius Dotson is the General Secretary for Discipleship Ministries, a member of the Great Plains Annual Conference, serves as the Co-Convener of national UMCNext Convening Team, and is one of the 16 who negotiated the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace. Your can read his full statement on the Protocol that was introduced this month here. We are so grateful for his leadership. He also has a message for us right here in Kansas and Nebraska:

Great Plains UMCNext:

Your energy and passion to create a vibrant and renewed United Methodism is making an impact. I believe your work is absolutely essential to the future of our church.

We have an enormous task ahead of us.

The first order of business is to pass the Protocol.

The second is to articulate a clear and compelling vision that inspires people not just to remain but to also embrace a bold new future.

I have a vision of an inclusive, diverse UMC that celebrates the core of our Wesleyan theological tradition with its emphasis on saving grace, perfecting love, personal piety and social holiness. I dream of a refreshed emphasis on making disciples of Jesus Christ and sharing the good news of God’s liberating love for all people. I dream of a church reaching a new generation of people who are passionate about Jesus, growing in discipleship and sharing their faith with others. I dream of a church that is developing new mission partnerships and growing in its global witness.

Thank you for being on this journey!

— Rev. Junius Dotson

Omaha-Area Churches Collaborate on Sermon Series Concept and Advertising

Omaha-Area Churches Collaborate on Sermon Series Concept and Advertising
by Rev. Chris Jorgensen, Hanscom Park UMC in Omaha, NE.

A group of six Omaha-area Reconciling (or actively discerning) churches have joined together to promote a shared sermon series in January 2020. The sermon series is called “New Year’s Revolution: Resisting Evil, Injustice, and Oppression in 2020.” The execution of the sermon series will be different at each church, but we will all share advertising based on our United Methodist baptismal covenant which requires us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We are employing shared branding inspired by the design of the baptismal covenant t-shirts . We will be advertising on NPR, posting 120 fliers around the city, and distributing 4,500 invitation cards. Each invitation card is personalized for each individual church to include congregation-specific events on the back side of the card. We plan to resist the harm being done to LGBTQIA+ people inside and outside of the church by growing our inclusive and affirming congregations through invitation to people who might be interested in joining God’s work of love and justice.

Because the collaborating churches are part of the same district network, we were eligible for funding via a conference Network Grant. If you would like to see a copy of our grant application, please contact me at

For your planning assistance, here is the outline that two of the congregations (Hanscom Park UMC and Urban Abbey) have decided to use for the sermon series. 

January 5 (Epiphany)

  • What does it mean to resist evil? How do we resist evil, injustice, and oppression?
  • What does that have to do with baptism?

January 12

  • How do you identify evil, injustice, and oppression?
  • Sometimes it is not as obvious as the Massacre of the Innocents.
  • Maybe sometimes it is, but we just don’t want to see it because of how it benefits us.
  • Do we overlook the Massacre of the Innocents because our hero Jesus survived by fleeing to Egypt?

Scripture: Massacre of the Innocents

January 19

  • The subtlety of evil, injustice, and oppression: microaggressions, garden variety discrimination, systemic issues.
  • Welcoming versus actually affirming and giving voice & power to newcomers.
  • How can our efforts to affirm and include go beyond just welcoming?
  • How do we bear fruit that shows deep repentance instead of just pay lip service to including all?

Scripture: John the Baptist

January 26

  • Sustaining resistance, resilience, eschatology, joy.

Scripture: Magnificat

GP UMCNext Receives Conference Grant!

We have really exciting news to share! We received a $5,600 grant from the Great Plains Conference to assist our work of GP UMCNext! This is a huge encouragement for our ministry and it came about because of your support at Annual Conference for the GP UMCNext Resolution. The GP Mercy & Justice Team works to support the resolutions passed by the Annual Conference and met with one of our co-leaders of GP UMCNext, Rev. Lora Andrews, to learn more about how we are working to support the four commitments of UMCNext. They invited us to apply for a grant and we received the check this month. Here’s a sneak peak of the four ways we plan to use it:

  • Host a Building Inclusive Church Training in the GP so that we can have formal training about what it means to be an LGBTQ+ affirming church
  • District grants so that the work of every district can be supported in a contextually relevant way. 
  • Produce a video or series of videos sharing stories of people like you in the GP who desire a more inclusive church.
  • Further our communications efforts.

We are so grateful for the mission shares that make this grant possible and all of you who support them. Thanks especially to the Mercy & Justice Team for supporting our resolution. Check out January newsletter for more information!

Advent Poem by Scott Groth

This poem is written by Scott Groth. Scott is the chair of the Serve Council (Missions and Justice) at St. Paul’s UMC in Lenexa, KS and co-organizer for the KC District Repent & Resist event. 

“When I can be strong but humble in the face of a difficult task, I can begin without fear. Humility is power. To be common but right, to be ordinary but clear is to be difficult to defeat.”  – Kim Stafford, Early Morning

They told us to wait
No fear
Sit-ins, signs, protests, debates and votes
So many votes
Soft voices, lost in the din
Loud voices, carried on the wind
’72. Atlanta
Weren’t we clear? Weren’t we right?

We waited
Portland, Indianapolis, Baltimore
We worked. We built families. We cried
We were common
St Louis, Louisville, Denver
We loved. We grew. We laughed.
We were ordinary
Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth
Wait, No!
Wait, No
(Softer)… no
We built churches 
We built rainbows
We built bridges
We built a new kingdom inside a crumbling, decrepit vessel
Tampa, Portland (again), St Louis (again!)

Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis
We prayed
We prayed
Merciful Lord forgive us our trespasses
Lord of Justice restore this kingdom
Loving God reclaim our hearts

Work. Build. Cry.
Love. Grow. Laugh.

We are the church betrayed
In Atlanta
We are the church resistant
In St Louis
We are the church arisen
In Minneapolis

We are the church alive
The church of justice
The church of mercy
The church of love
We were never waiting

Why Inclusive Campus Ministry Matters

This is a reflection from KU student, Kailie Hamilton. Kailie grew up in Hesston (KS) UMC and was a part of CCYM. You can learn more about Wesley KU and all of their incredible ministries like Queer Faith, Noodle Night, the Food Pantry, and worship by visiting their website or contact campus minister, Susan Mercer.

Attending a university is generally going to be difficult for students, no matter the level or topic of study. There is an endless amount of time-fillers; managing the price of higher education, writing papers and studying for exams, and attending to friendships that are just beginning to bloom leaves little unoccupied mental space.

For many students, faith is an important part of their lives that they don’t want to drop to make room for everything else. But when they try to attend a worship service, they hear messages that go against essential parts of their being or belief system. With all of the other weight students carry on their day-to-day, it is crucial that our place of worship accepts who we are as we struggle with our identities on top of being a student.

At the University of Kansas, there are four fully inclusive campus ministries. Wesley KU, the United Methodist ministry, is one of the inclusive ministries on campus. We operate with the Lutheran ministry under the name “Westwood House.” Our ministry is focused around the core message of “God loves you, no exceptions.”

Physically, Westwood house is decked in rainbows, equality signs, and is promoted with language that is inclusive in terms of sexuality, gender, and race. But inclusivity goes beyond that, it is found within the way students are fed before they are preached at. Our leaders encourage personal faith exploration by generating difficult questions, and our worship services are centered around group discussions that give room for students to tangle with these mysteries of faith. The goal of our church is to foster community that is available for everyone, and in doing so countless students have found a home where they feel completely valued and loved.

Romy is a student who got involved in Westwood House last spring and has been an active leader in the ministry since. I asked Romy “Why Westwood?” and this was his response:

“Having someone to spiritually connect with was something I had given up on based off of the rejection from my first experience with campus ministry at KU. Attending Westwood House gave me faith in the possibility of there being a place for me within the church as a queer person. After I met Susan [Wesley KU’s campus minister] I knew I had found a home for my spiritual journey to continue.”

The call we see as students of faith is to love beyond scripture, beyond the walls of conventional Christianity. Young people don’t want flashy stage lights and hip music; we want to feel welcomed and cared for. Westwood House continues to pursue a church that sets the standards for pursuing justice; one that is constantly re-defining what it means to uphold the dignity of all people and things.

We call the Great Plains to join us as we redefine what it means to be a church for all.