Bishop James King, the District Superintendents, six lay persons and four clergy are making progress toward fulfilling the 2012 Annual Conference session’s action calling for the continuation of the study to possibly reduce the number of districts.
The “Hinshaw” amendment called for the Bishop, District Superintendents and five laity to work on developing detailed models for a reduction to seven or six districts, which will be presented at the 2013 Annual Conference session, set for June 2-4 in Macon.
Based on the detailed information developed, the Conference will decide whether to retain the present number of nine districts or change to a fewer number.
Bishop King decided to create a working group of four district superintendents and six lay persons from across the Annual Conference to develop the detailed proposals for consideration by the larger task force.
The working group was later expanded to add four clergy to expand the representation of the various stakeholders. Rev. Creede Hinshaw, the originator of the amendment to the recommendations presented in 2012, and Rev. Jim Cowart are two of the clergy added.
Rev. Stephanie Smith and Rev. Tyler Plaxico represent a group Bishop King calls the “Google Group.” This group is comprised of about a dozen clergy who are in their first five to 10 years of ministry. Rev. Smith and Rev. Plaxico facilitate this group by emailing questions to the group, collecting responses and reporting back to the working group.
Bishop King assigned additional resource people to meet with the task force on an as-needed basis. Eric Mathews, Bishop King’s executive assistant, and Dr. Brad Brady, director of Connectional Ministries, have met with the working group to assist with research. Miriam Hagan, Conference Treasurer, and Warren Plowden, Conference Chancellor, will be working with the group in the coming weeks as initial models become ready for more detailed financial and legal planning.
“After trying to absorb our massive assignment, we developed tentative maps for both the seven- and six-district models,” said Rev. Lowery Brantley, chair of the working group.
“We have also had initial conversations about various ways to organize the work of the district superintendents and district life,” he said. “At our first meeting in January a sub-committee will report on various considerations about the role of the district superintendent, and others will be working on the first efforts to provide for the existing district missions and ministries in a seven- or six-district configuration.”
The entire working group met with Bishop King and the remaining district superintendents in late November, 2012. This meeting provided an occasion for Bishop King to share his observations about various restructuring efforts across the denomination.
“Over the last 10 to 12 years, the whole Church has been going through what I call the ‘Great Experiment’ as conferences have struggled to adapt and adjust to a variety of stress points,” Bishop King said. “At the heart of each conference’s efforts was a realization their disciple-making impact was not keeping pace with population groups and a rapidly changing culture. Each conference realized God’s vision of growing a Christlike world was at the core of why they exist.”
A decline in membership and financial distress are troubling realities that have necessitated action all across the North American church, he said. A variety of budget cutting, restructuring and redistricting strategies have been part of the ‘Great Experiment.’
“While there are some emerging signs in a few Annual Conferences of a glimmer of positive change, no Annual Conference can say, ‘we have the model that works,’” Bishop King said. “In fact, at the recent Council of Bishops’ meeting at St. Simons Island I heard many of my colleagues saying that they were now seeking to repair damage created by the unintended consequences of these experiments.
“I know that the answer is not to be found in ‘structure.’ That is why I have been focusing my energies around the spiritual work of making disciples. Yet, as I told the task force, I will respect the various opinions within the task force and the ultimate decision of the Annual Conference.”
The working group will meet in early January to firm up the initial models before presenting them fully to Bishop King and the other district superintendents in late January. Feedback from that meeting will inform the next draft. Writing and refining the first full draft of the proposals for Annual Conference will occur in February. Presenting the proposal to the full task group (Bishop, District Superintendents, and working group members) will likely be in March.
“We know this is an important decision for our Annual Conference,” Rev. Brantley said, noting that the task force’s goal is to have materials available well before the Annual Conference session so they can be explained and reviewed thoroughly.
“We covet the prayers of everyone in the Annual Conference,” he said. “We are all seeking God’s guidance as we do this initial work and as the laity and clergy who attend our June conference prepare to make these important decisions.”
Emily Anderson, Valdosta First UMC
Butch Frye, Swainsboro First UMC
Agnes McKinney, Rochelle UMC
Jimmy Roberts, Douglas First UMC
Richard Shinhoster, Speedwell UMC, Savannah
Lynn Walker, Brooklet UMC
Rev. Jim Cowart
Rev. Creede Hinshaw
Rev. Tyler Plaxico
Rev. Stephanie Smith
Rev. Lowery Brantley, Thomasville, Chair
Dr. Buddy Cooper, Columbus
Dr. Ben Martin, Statesboro
Rev. Denise Walton, Dublin