Conference Table hears, discusses two restructure proposals (Feb. 25, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference Table hears, discusses two restructure proposals

Feb. 25, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0028}

An e-Review Feature
By Michael Wacht*

WINTER HAVEN - Restating the affirmation of John Wesley that the world is our parish, the Rev. Jeff Stiggins, Orlando District superintendent, said many Florida Conference church members consider the parish as their world and the conference needs to restructure in a way to help churches have healthy and health-giving relationships with each other.
Stiggins was one member of the Florida Conference cabinet who presented "Connecting for Transformation," the cabinet's restructuring proposal, at the latest gathering of the Florida Conference's Conference Table Jan. 30 at St. John's United Methodist Church here. The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of connectional ministries, also presented a proposal to eliminate the Conference Council on Ministries (CCOM) and replace it with a new Conference Equipping Network.
Calling the two proposals "works in progress," Burkholder said the cabinet and CCOM were not looking for approval, but feedback. "Your input is coming at a vital stage of the work the cabinet is doing."

WINTER HAVEN - The Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan (center), superintendent of the Gainesville District, was among the Florida Conference cabinet members who presented the "Connecting for Transformation" restructuring proposal and spent time listening to the reactions of laity and clergy at the latest Conference Table gathering. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0008.
Both proposals must be presented to the Florida Annual Conference for approval.
The cabinet's 13-page proposal would reduce the number of districts from 14 to nine, encourage churches to be part of a cluster and change the responsibilities of the district superintendents.
"The connection is almost entirely lived out through the [district superintendent]," Stiggins said, adding rising costs and increased defensiveness and isolation among clergy and lay leadership are contributing to the high number of churches in maintaining or dying situations. "This is not primarily reorganization, but reorientation. This is just one element of a variety of ways we need to transform the whole conference. This is just the beginning...only one piece."
Each of the nine new districts would be as equal as possible in the number of churches and missions, membership, finances, land size and ease of transportation within the district, according to the Rev. Charles Weaver, Tallahassee District superintendent. Each would have between 74 and 94 churches and missions, and 20,000 to 51,000 members.
The district that would be created from the current Tallahassee District and part of the Gainesville District would be the largest in land area. The new district created from the current Orlando District, half of the DeLand District and 11 churches from the Leesburg District would have the largest membership.
Each district would establish a leadership council of 12 to 15 "spiritually-mature, visionary lay and clergy leaders," Stiggins said. The council would assist the superintendent in major strategic decisions and function as the superintendency, finance and nominations committees, and board of trustees. The council's members would be elected during the district's annual conference event orientation session.
Churches would be encouraged to form clusters of five to 10 churches within their districts. The clusters would be formed by geographic proximity or similar mission or ministry focus. Stiggins said being a part of a cluster would be "as close to being a mandate without being a mandate." He said the cluster system would be "fluid and dynamic," allowing leadership to "experiment and restructure to find what works."
The annual charge or church conferences would be replaced with cluster conferences, at which the
WINTER HAVEN - The Rev. Bert Blomquist, superintendent of the Tampa District, stands in front of a map of the proposed new district structure for the Florida Conference. The proposal, called "Connecting for Transformation," would reduce the number of districts in the conference and encourage churches to work together in new ways. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0009.
clustered churches would meet for a ministry celebration and networking. The district superintendent would preside over the conference and meet with individual churches only as necessary.
District superintendents' jobs would change from primarily administrative tasks to leadership development, with an emphasis on working more with teams of clergy and laity, instead of acting as liaison to every conference and district board, agency and committee.
The Rev. Deborah McLeod, Broward Palm Beach District superintendent, said the new structure would encourage clergy to "learn to be pastors to one another" and break down the isolation that many clergy feel.
The Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan, Gainesville District superintendent, said the laity would have to "take initiative on ministry and learn how to empower each other" to work "together to make disciples."
"The laity's vision has been downplayed because they didn't know how to express it," McClellan said, adding the new structure would give lay people the opportunity and responsibility to express and fulfill their vision.
The Rev. Jim Rosenburg, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Ft. Myers, said the proposal could be strengthened by providing training for people who would take on leadership roles.
"After so many years of dysfunction, I'm not sure we have those leaders," he said.
The Rev. Lois Munn, associate pastor at New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages, said one concern is leaders need to undergo a "personal transformation" because success means having "key spiritual leaders."
The second proposal attendees addressed would eliminate the CCOM and replace it with a structure called the Conference Equipping Network.
"Rather than modify the structure set up in 1968...we wanted to start over," Burkholder said.
The plan is intended to move the conference away from maintaining programs and toward identifying and fulfilling future leadership needs.
The core of the Conference Equipping Network is the Leadership Connection, a team of no more than 15 laity and clergy which "has to be the group that's looking five years down the road and not reacting to current situations," Burkholder said.
The Leadership Connection would be responsible for setting the vision for and identifying ministry needs. It would serve as coordinator for all conference leadership, boards and agencies and assist in cross-disciplinary discussions and decisions. Members would be elected by the annual conference.
The Leadership Connection would create focused task teams as it identifies ministry needs and visions. The task teams would be "called together because of the passion of individuals, needs of the structure or mandates from the [United Methodist Book of] Discipline," Burkholder said.
The teams would be composed of people passionate about a specific ministry issue or with expertise or experience needed to deal with the issue. They would have a narrow and specific mandate and clear criteria for disbanding once the mandate had been fulfilled. The teams would plan and implement ministry initiatives based on issues facing the "many settings of ministry in the Florida Conference," Burkholder said.
The Conference Equipping Network would work very differently from the current CCOM, according to Burkholder. The CCOM plans and executes ministry events, getting people to attend training or networking gatherings, while funding those through money collected by connectional giving and registration fees.
The Conference Equipping Network would focus more on information, research into ministry trends and needs, developing ministries and equipping people for those ministries, and seeking and evaluating input and feedback to assist in future research.
The Rev. Jim Harnish, senior pastor at Tampa's Hyde Park United Methodist Church, called the proposal "a post-modern way of living together."
"It's a more flexible, vibrant, fluid way of being in ministry together," he said.

To read the full text of the cabinet and CCOM proposals and information about a series of interpretation meetings led by Burkholder and Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, visit


This article relates to Conference Table Initiatives and Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

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