On Wednesday, March 20, the 21-person District Study Task Force completed nearly six months of work and released its report in preparation for the 2013 Annual Conference session.
The task force is following through on a motion approved by the 2012 Annual Conference session. Their assignment was to provide the Annual Conference – without recommendation – a comprehensive report detailing the configuration of a six-district model and seven-district model, as compared to the Conference’s current nine districts.
The task force, made up of Bishop James King, the appointive cabinet, six lay persons and four clergy, has worked since last fall to gather the requested data.
“I was very pleased with the work and the outcome of the work of the District Study Task Force,” said Bishop King. “We were able to take various views and positions and continue to allow ourselves to stay focused on the charge given to us by the motion. We put aside our own opinions … to satisfy the motion, which was basically asking for information. I think we were able to get to the heart of the motion so that we would not make recommendations, but would bring information back that would allow the Annual Conference to make decisions.”
District Superintendents and other task force members will present information at the upcoming district conferences, which will be held in late April or May. The group will also make a formal report at the upcoming Annual Conference session in Macon.
The task force will present the report for information and clarification on Monday afternoon, June 3, with time allotted after the presentation for questions and answers. Any action on the report will be conducted on Tuesday morning, June 4, said Rev. Lowery Brantley, task force chairman.
Interested persons are invited to access the full report at www.sgaumc.org/districtstudy. Conference members will receive it in the pre-conference mailing or, if they’ve opted to go paperless, download it from the Annual Conference session webpage (www.sgaumc.org/ac2013)
Included in the report are maps showing the current nine districts and the seven- or six-district configurations.
“In the new models, we attempted to balance and equalize the distribution of churches while keeping all churches located within the same county in the same district,” said Rev. Brantley. “There are some 438 charges in the Conference. We did not achieve complete equalization, but we approximated it as much as possible.”
In the current nine-district model, the number of charges per district ranges from 34 (Columbus) to 63 (Dublin). In the task force’s seven-district model, the number of charges ranges from 59 to 72 per district. And in the six-district model, the number of charges per district ranges from 64 to 80.
Should the Conference vote for a reduction in districts, each newly formed district will have a new name based on its geographic area rather than a city.
“Every district would have a directional name instead of a city or town name,” Rev. Brantley said. “They’d be names like north west, south west, central, north central, north east, and coastal.”
The full report includes an appendix that provides details about every local church. In it, churches are grouped by their present districts, and the amount of 2013 conference and district apportionments is listed. Also included are the proposed new districts for each church along with projected total apportionments based on 2013 figures. This information will help Annual Conference members more fully understand the proposal as they decide how to vote.
The study found that $2,784,192 is spent yearly for all aspects of district ministries. The task force calculates that amount will reduce to $2,436,221 should the Conference vote to reduce to seven districts, and $2,246,663 should the Conference reduce to six districts. Overall projected yearly savings for the seven-district model total $356,504; the savings for reducing to a six-district model would be $550,328 per year.
The report identifies four funding streams for district ministries. One stream is the Conference budget, which funds the salary, benefits and reimbursements for the District Superintendents. This expense is found within the “Clergy Support” section of the conference budget and is apportioned to all local churches.
District Superintendent Expense
The report shows that the current total cost of providing for nine District Superintendents is $1,337,310 per year. Should the Conference vote to reduce to seven districts, the total cost would be $1,077,527, which is a projected reduction in cost of $261,383. A decision to reduce to six districts would cost $946,834, for a projected savings to the Conference budget of $392,076.
The report is quick to identify some of the possible benefits and probable challenges associated with a reduction in the number of districts. A section outlining the duties of the District Superintendent shows the expansive nature of a Superintendent’s work regardless of the number of districts.
Likewise, the report contains a section that acknowledges the difficulty in making a tangible calculation on the spiritual impact that District Superintendents make while providing spiritual and pastoral leadership across the Annual Conference. In short, the task force recognizes that the Conference’s decision is not simply a financial one.
District Operational Budget
A second funding stream is for district operations, which includes administrative assistant compensation, office expenses, program expenses, and other administrative expenses.
The current yearly district operational budget for nine districts is $637,976. Should the conference decide to reduce the number of districts to seven, the cost would drop to $537,713, which represents a projected savings of $94,257. A reduction to six districts would drop it further, to $508,848, which represents a projected savings of $129,122.
The reduced operational costs would come from a reduction in staff and the associated expenses of maintaining a district office. The transition plan provides for a severance package for current administrative assistants impacted by the Conference’s decision.
District Missional Ministries
A third funding stream provides for the various district mission agencies, projects and ministries located within the district boundaries. These ministries include district Boards of Missions, Wesley Foundations, Hispanic Ministries, and District Campgrounds.
The current total of district missional ministries is $646,981 per year. This total funding level would be maintained regardless of any decision made about the number of districts.
However, the task force’s report specifies a plan to provide for the continued funding of these ministries should the Conference vote to reduce the number of districts. Ministries located within each newly configured district are grouped together in the report.
The final funding stream provides for the District Superintendent’s parsonage or housing allowance. Currently, seven of the nine districts provide a parsonage for the Superintendent. The other two currently provide a cash housing allowance instead of a parsonage. Churches within each district pay the amount of housing for the District Superintendent.
Should the Conference vote to reduce the number of districts, the District Superintendent’s housing will be a natural transition question. In some cases, maintaining the current parsonage will be the most appropriate decision. In others, the district trustees and other key leaders will explore the feasibility of selling the current parsonage and moving to a housing allowance.
The Task Force report identifies the current cost to provide housing for the District Superintendents as $160,329 per year. For the sake of transparency, the report assumes the higher costs that would occur should each district move to a housing allowance of $24,000.
Should the Conference vote to reduce to seven districts, the cost would increase slightly to $168,000 if all districts went to a housing allowance. A decision to reduce to six districts would generate a cost of $144,000 based on the same assumption. Any district maintaining a parsonage would be apportioned based on the actual expense to the district for maintaining the parsonage.
Rev. Brantley stressed that the task force was not charged with making a recommendation to the Annual Conference, but to provide detailed information on various configurations so that the Conference can make an informed decision.
If the Conference does vote for a reduction in the number of districts, the changes would go into effect after the 2014 Annual Conference session. Much work would need to be done between sessions to facilitate the transition, he said.
Though charged with a daunting task, the task force worked well together, Rev. Brantley said.
“I am very grateful for all who participated in the work. When we began to talk about what we had to do and looked at the ripple effect of every change, we realized very early on how much we had to accomplish. It was not simply a matter of redrawing the district lines, but the impact of everything. The ripple effect made it a very challenging task, but this was an excellent task force to work with.”
Bishop King urged prayerful consideration of the report and its impact.
“I hope that, whatever our decisions are, we will ask the question, ‘Does this enhance the vision, does this help us to grow a more Christlike world, and does this help us to make more disciples of Jesus Christ?’
Members of the District Study Task Force
The Appointive Cabinet
Bishop James King
Dr. Wayne Moseley
Dr. Edwin Cooper
Rev. Denise Walton
Rev. Tommy Martin
Rev. Mike Huling
Dr. Ben Martin
Rev. Lowery Brantley
Rev. Henry Bass
Rev. Benjy Varnell
Dr. Brad Brady
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
The Hinshaw Motion
We move that the 2012 South Georgia Annual Conference session determine that the present number of nine districts be retained. Further, we move that the Bishop and Cabinet, and at least five lay persons, present a proposal to the 2013 Annual Conference to reduce the districts by two or three.
· The detailed plan will include the following in a 6 or 7 district configuration:
· Define the role of the District Superintendent in six and seven district configuration.
· Map of new district lines.
· Plan for District Property matters, with cost/benefit projections based on new district lines.
· Plan for District Operational matters, with cost/benefit projections, based on new district lines.
· Plan for District Missional matters, to include consideration of the spiritual and temporal matters in the life of the districts, with cost/benefit projections, based on new district lines.
· Summary of all financial matters based on new district lines.
· Special attention will be given as to how to use communication technology to enhance ministry and maintain connection while reducing costs and improving efficiency in our disciple making capacity.
· Pending approval or modification of that report in 2013, the implementation date for reduced districts would be with the appointments flowing out of the 2014 Annual Conference session.
This motion was adopted by the 2012 Annual Conference session in Macon on Tuesday, June 5.