United Methodists in Nebraska and Kansas have agreed to combine the current three conferences into one new conference beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Simultaneous announcements of the vote were given June 9 by Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson and Kansas Bishop Scott Jones.
The vote affects the Nebraska, Kansas West and Kansas East conferences of the church. An annual conference is a regional body that provides supervision for the churches and clergy of The United Methodist Church within that geographic area.
The votes were as follows:
* Nebraska Conference -- 370 yes votes and 158 no votes.
* Kansas West Conference -- 409 yes votes, 140 no votes and one abstention.
* Kansas East Conference -- 415 yes votes, 62 no votes and one abstention.
The motion was approved by at least 70 percent in all three conferences -- Nebraska, 70 percent; Kansas West, 74.4 percent; and Kansas East, 86.8 percent.
"I'm excited, and there is every reason to be hopeful," Sherer-Simpson said. "Our conferences are committed to positive change."
Added Jones, "It's a great opportunity. I'm excited. And there's a part of me that's just scared that somehow we've got to do this and grab a hold of the opportunity we've been given."
Kansas West voted May 24. Ballots were sealed and counted after the votes in the other two conferences. Kansas East voted June 7 and Nebraska voted June 8. All the ballots were counted the evening of June 8. Results were announced at the Kansas East and Nebraska annual conference sessions June 9 and webcast live across both states.
In the next few weeks, the extended cabinets of all three conferences along with the Kansas East Leadership Team, Kansas West Focus Team and the Nebraska Common Table will prepare a plan to be presented to the three annual conference sessions in May and June 2013.
"I am hopeful this shift from three to one offers us as United Methodists in the Great Plains Conference a time to creatively realign our life together," Sherer-Simpson said. "We build on 156 years of faithful witness -- a foundation that each conference rightly cherishes. We look at the mission context in the 21st century as an opportunity for each local church to reach out and make disciples of Jesus Christ whom God can use to transform the world."
The three conferences will not vote on the plan for the new conference next spring but will have opportunity to provide feedback on the plan, which will be voted upon at a uniting conference Aug. 23 and 24, 2013, at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan. Because the conferences still will be separate legal entities, each will vote separately on the plan.
This vote came about as a result of a recommendation from the Nebraska-Kansas Episcopal Area Transition Team, comprised of representatives from all three conferences. The proposal was in response to legislation from the General Conference of the church in 2009 to reduce the number of bishops in the jurisdiction by one.
In the United Methodist Church, bishops sometimes serve more than one conference. The move to one episcopal area potentially saw one bishop overseeing three conferences. The bishop assigned in July 2012 will serve three conferences only from September 2012 through Jan. 1, 2014, when the three conferences become one new conference to match the geography of the episcopal area.
There are nearly 1,000 congregations and more than 229,000 United Methodists in the states of Nebraska and Kansas.