Connectional ministries: It's all about focus...


By Paul Black
PEORIA – When it comes to making disciples, it’s all about focus.  And for the connectional ministries of the annual conference, it is about equipping the local church for ministry and providing a connection to ministry beyond the local church.
Utilizing videos from two of Chattanooga, Tenn., entrepreneur Mike Mixson’s commercials, Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Dr. Kent Lolling illustrated the power of focus.  “It seems to be that Mike is pretty focused on what he does,” he said. “Does the church ever get distracted?  Does the church ever forget what it is about and called to do?”
“For us, we fulfill this through mission, innovation, education and through connecting and spiritual formation,” Lolling said.


Lolling updated the Conference session on a new ministry, Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries of Illinois, which was jointly approved by the Illinois Great Rivers and Northern Illinois conferences in their respective annual conference sessions in 2013. The first site in a federal prison in Pekin where 16 prisoners are meeting with significant fruit. A second Bible student is being planned for Pinckneyville in the near future.
At Pekin, Coordinator Howard Woolard shared by video the story of prisoner, who as a result of their engagement with Disciple, decided to tithe off of their meager earnings from doing menial tasks at a few cents an hour and buy personal items that could be given to new prisoners as they are incarcerated. “Talk about a balance of acts of piety and acts of mercy,” Lolling said. “It is something John Wesley would be proud.”
Lolling also mentioned the Liberia partnership where a new initiative is beginning where churches and individuals can sponsor a child in one of the country’s United Methodist schools (see related story on page 17).  Adrian Garcia will be leading a group to Honduras in the summer and a mission trip to the Philippines is slated in August 2014 with the aim of having partnerships on every continent.
Disaster response has been another area of mission as the Nov. 17 tornados ravaged Illinois. To date, IGRC has received $202,180 in offerings and have expended $103,212.  Some of the money is being used to pay for foundations on rebuilt homes in Brookport; to pay for materials for swing sets in the Hope Swings in Washington initiative this summer.
“While other groups may have moved on to the next disaster and photo opportunity, The United Methodist Church is there for the long-term, helping people get back on their feet,” Lolling said. “We have 516 Early Response Team members trained across the conference that are badged and ready when called upon. We also have six UMCOR-trained trainers.”


A new Board of Discipleship is off and running. “The catch phrase they used as they began their work has been, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ A Facebook page is gathering ideas and also focusing their work to better respond to the needs of local churches,” Lolling said.
A total of 18 summer interns are serving this summer throughout the IGRC. “The intern program is a critical part of our intentional leadership development program that allows interns to not only explore ministry possibilities but do so immediately in a hands-on way, allowing innovation and exploration of God’s call at the same time.”
A brand new camp, JEES Bilingual Camp, is being launched for the first time this year.  The camp, operating out of Little Grassy Camp, is done in English and Spanish simultaneously. 
The camping commission has contracted with Kaleidoscope to listen to the hopes and dreams of the five conferenced-owned campsites. Town Hall meetings were held in April and May to provide current information to the Camping Commission’s consultant.  The last study conducted by the camping commission was 10 years ago.


The conference’s evangelism committee completed its four-part series of evangelism events with Doug Anderson. This fall, the committee, in cooperation with Lay Servant Ministries, will be sponsoring Lay Witness Mission training events Nov. 14-15, aimed at specifically helping laity formulate and share their own faith stories. There will also be an Advanced Lay Servant course on evangelism approved by the General Board of Discipleship in the Mississippi River District in late fall and early winter.
The Fruitful Congregations Leadership Institute is now on its ninth edition led by IGRC Coordinator of Congregational Development Mike Crawford.
In development of Latino lay leadership, three persons will be graduating from Juan Wesley Seminary with six more graduating either later this fall or next year. Another will be attending the Indiana Extension School for part-time local pastors.

Connecting and Spiritual Formation

“Probably one of the best kept secrets in camping and one of the most powerful has been the Mom and Me Camp at East Bay,” Lolling said. The camp is for children whose mother is separated from them through incarceration.” The children stay at East Bay and then travel to the prison so they can reconnect with their mothers.
The Five-Day Spiritual Academy for Spiritual Formation had 38 in attendance. It will be offered again in 2015 or 2016.
A conference youth trip to Washington, D.C. was re-established in 2013.  This year, the trip will be to New York City.
Higher education and campus ministry continues to offer a place for young adults to explore their faith questions while being a part of a community.  “Whether through feeding programs like the food pantry at U of I or SIU-C to McKendree’s trip to Washington to help build swing sets for Hope Swings in Washington, campus ministry is alive and well in the IGRC and remains a vital part of the connection and spiritual formation with young adults away from home,” Lolling said.
“To succeed requires the grace of God and a level of cooperation between laity and clergy on a high level,” Lolling said. “So it is important to not only cooperate but adapt, in whatever ways necessary, to the changing world and circumstances – while never losing the heart of the gospel message and the mission of the church.”