When representatives from the Mid-America Conference stepped onto the platform at the 2018 General Conference and accepted the vote that created a new conference, it was the culmination of a journey of decades.
While the Alabama Conference was under V.O. Agan’s leadership, 3 churches in Kansas requested to be added to the Conference. While 2 of those churches later closed, it did provide a foothold for Bible Methodism in the Midwest.
Walt Hedstrom has a vision
In 1986 (when this author was only 6 years old!), Walt Hedstrom traveled out to the Mid-central region of the US for the first time. There were only a few licensed Bible Methodist pastors. He was armed only with a vision of connecting holiness churches, and building relationships with the hope of someday creating what no one else could see: a Mid-America Conference of the Bible Methodist Connection.
As Bro. Hedstrom visited with holiness people across the region, some first viewed him and his efforts with suspicion — perhaps he was here to recruit and steal away their pastors and congregations? But his assurances and the integrity with which he conducted himself, soon put those fears to rest. Bro. Hedstrom racked up miles on his cars. He networked, stopped by, dropped in, wrote cards, sent emails at 2 AM, made phone calls… and built a network of holiness men and women that he knew across the midwest.
It is no exaggeration to say that without Walt Hedstrom, there would not be a Mid-America District. From all of us here in the Mid-America Conference: Thank you, Brother Hedstrom, for your vision, your commitment and your leadership!
The Alabama Conference catches the vision
Churches began to be added. Oklahoma City joined while under the leadership of Dale Redman. Todd and Marla Hurst planted Living Hope Bible Methodist Church (Salina, KS). Living Hope then joined the Alabama Conference under the Church Expansion Department. Darrell and Melissa Underwood planted Servant’s Heart Chapel (Clovis, NM).
Bro. Hedstrom couldn’t stay in the Midwest. But he went back and shared his vision with the churches and pastors in the Alabama Conference. Someone said, “Vision is one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s toolbox,” and Walt Hedstrom proved that to be true. He cast the vision, and by God’s grace, the Alabama Conference caught the vision.
To all of those good folks in the Alabama conference, we’d like to say:
Thank you! You have invested so much in us through the years. You have allowed us to borrow your leader. You have helped plant two of our churches. You supported and prayed for us as several of our churches went through years of not being financially able to contribute to conference asking, not being able to bring crowds to camp… and often, were unable to come to camp at all. You’ve put up with our churches being unable to send representatives to events, campground leaf-raking days (can’t say I regret that one!), and camp cleanup days. You’ve sent crews and funds to help in the cleanup efforts after the tornado that decimated Moore, OK, a few minutes from our church in OKC.
We know that without an Alabama Conference, there would not be a Mid-America Conference, and we deeply appreciate you! Thank you. Thank you for investing our churches for the long term. Thank you for believing in the vision of holiness spreading across the continent. I believe your investment is about to pay dividends for the cause of holiness for decades to come.
A Key Meeting
On March 10, 2016, Bro. Hedstrom and four Mid-America pastors met together (with a 5th on conference call), to plan, pray, and lay the foundation for what would become the Mid-America Conference of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches.
As a leader, it was a powerful moment for me, as I realized that we were participating in reaping the fruit of seeds sown before I was born — seeds of the contribution and giving and support of many people.
A committee was formed to oversee the transition to a Regional Conference.
The Vision Becomes a Reality
In a series of meetings, the details were hammered out. The 2018 General Conference would propose the creation of a category conference called a “Provisional Conference.” This category would allow the transition of a group of churches toward full Regional Conference status. The Provisional Conference would operate under the supervision of the Connectional Committee, and would allow a new Regional Conference a chance for a “rolling start” to establish all the necessary mechanisms (financial policies, leadership structures, etc.) to operate in a stable manner. Each quadrennium, the Provisional Conference will be allowed to apply for inclusion as a regular Regional Conference, or continue for another quadrennium as a Provisional Conference.
In anticipation of this moment, the 2018 Strategy Meeting of the Mid America Conference elected four conference officials:
Darrell Stetler II, President
Darrell Underwood, Vice President
Todd Hurst, Treasurer/Secretary
Steve Oliver, Outreach & Discipleship Director
This proposal was unanimously accepted at General Conference and the Mid-America Conference of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches was created.
As the General Conference Body rose in a unanimous vote of welcome, The Mid-America Conference officials joined Michael Avery, and the other General Conference officers on the platform to celebrate the creation of a new Conference. Walter Hedstrom was asked to join the others on the platform in recognition of the fulfillment of his years of investment.
Our Strategy of Partnership
The strategy for the future of the Mid-America Conference looks a bit atypical for a Regional Conference. In our most recent strategic planning meeting, we adopted four strategic priorities for our first year as a Regional Conference:
> Connection of holiness people in the Midwest.
Each spring, the Bible Methodists host the Heart for the Shepherd Seminar for holiness pastors and church leaders in Ponca City, OK. Out of this comes our desire to connect holiness people in the region across denominational lines. We are investing time and resources in creating databases of churches that have a similar definition of holiness, working with organizations like Youth Challenge to bring youth events to the Midwest, and creating network relationships with other holiness denominations.
> Partnership in large events.
The Mid-America Conference isn’t currently large enough to sustain some of the more expensive projects typical of the other conferences: Campgrounds, Youth Camps, and more.
At this stage, Mid-America does not plan to have a campmeeting of our own. Instead, our vision at this time is to partner with other events and camps already in place: the Kansas State Holiness Association, Heartland Holiness Association, and others. Todd Hurst (Salina, KS Bible Methodist Church) is founder and president of Kansas State Holiness Youth Camp, and our churches in Oklahoma cooperate with the youth camp in Ochelata, OK.
> Connecting potential church planters.
In our strategic planning, we have repeatedly returned to the fact that this conference has church planting in its DNA. Three of the 5 churches (OKC, Salina, and Clovis) were planted in the last 25 years. Oklahoma City has as part of its vision statement, “to help plant five churches in US cities,” and one of those (Clovis) has already been planted.
We are investing in the development of a website that will allow holiness people who are interested in church planting to find others who are interested. We believe that connecting holiness people together will allow us to locate potential planters and plant churches more quickly and effectively.
A Vision for The Future
While the Mid-America Conference has not formalized a vision for church planting, I would like to ask your prayers for the fulfillment of this vision: That there would be a Bible Methodist Church planted in every one of the largest cities in the Mid-America region of the country; in places like Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin, St. Louis, Tulsa, Kansas City, Wichita, Omaha, Denver, Colorado Springs, and more.
We know this will require God to raise up an army of church planters. But then, don’t we serve the One who said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest field”? Don’t we follow the King who said, “On this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not be able to stand against it”?
It could be that someone reading this will sense the call of God to be one of those church planters!
We face the future with confidence in our great King, and with gratitude for all those who have gone before us. I am quite confident that when the stories are told in glory, and the rewards are handed out, there will be churches that are planted and new Christians discipled in the Mid-America Conference… and all our Bible Methodist family will share in the rewards and joy of that beautiful moment.