Delegates approve reducing number of districts (June 7, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Delegates approve reducing number of districts

June 7, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0088}

An e-Review Feature    
By J.A. Buchholz**

DAYTONA BEACH — And then there were nine.

Delegates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event at Bethune-Cookman College here passed the “Connecting for Transformation” proposal at the morning session June 5, reducing the conference’s districts from 14 to nine.

The proposal was recommended by the Florida Conference Cabinet as part of the Conference Table report at the afternoon session June 3. The cabinet originally presented the proposal during a Conference Table gathering Jan. 30.

The proposal reduces the number of districts from 14 to nine and encourages churches to be part of a cluster group within their district. It also changes the responsibilities of the district superintendent.

Members of the 2004 Florida Annual Conference approved a cabinet proposal that reduced the number of districts in the conference from 14 to nine. Each district is a new entity, but the move to nine allowed the cabinet to preserve seven of the old districts intact as the base for new districts. Graphic by Michael Wacht, #04-0025. NOTE: This new map reflects the work of the cabinet prior to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event. There may be minor changes as Florida Area Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker consults with district superintendents on the final structure.

Each of the nine new districts will be as equal as possible regarding the number of churches and missions, membership, finances, land size and ease of transportation within the district, and each will have between 50 and 85 churches and missions. Each district will also establish a leadership council of 12 to 15 clergy and lay leaders to assist the superintendent in making major strategic decisions. The council will function as the superintendency, finance and nominations committees, and board of trustees. Districts will continue to have committees on ordained ministry, clergy housing, and nominations and leadership, as well as other groups.

Each new district will hold a gathering of clergy and laity in the fall of 2004 to elect the leadership council, which will act as the transition team empowered to address nominations, budgets, reorganizations, and issues with district offices and parsonages.

District conferences will be eliminated, with the district leadership council empowered to review district budgets and determine the district’s connectional giving responsibilities. A district annual conference orientation will elect district leadership. The new district structures will take effect July 5, 2005.

Before delegates voted on the proposal, conference leadership addressed questions posed by delegates at a series of break-out sessions held in the afternoon June 3 after the proposal was presented. The sessions gave delegates an opportunity to discuss and ask questions about the proposal and others recommended during the Conference Table presentation earlier that day.

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker addressed questions related to how the cabinet arrived at recommending nine districts.

“The cabinet went through a process that took some creative thought and prayer in order to produce the proposal which is before you,” he said. “When we began the process we were not sure what the outcome might be. Now...I can look back and I can identify these three major concerns that we were trying to deal with as we worked on developing our proposal regarding the restructuring of the districts…”

Whitaker said those concerns were the effectiveness of fewer districts, the role of district superintendents and how to improve the connection so people would experience it as a relationship, rather than an institutional structure. He said the cabinet was aware the district superintendent’s role would have to change if the districts were reduced to nine.

“If we had nine districts and each district was approximately 80 charges then we would have no choice but to make sure that the roles of the district superintendent changed,” he said.

The cabinet examined the idea of reducing by two or three districts, but decided that would allow “business as usual to continue,” Whitaker said, adding the more cabinet members studied the proposal for nine districts, the more they realized it was something practical and represented the future norm of annual conferences. It would also be the motivation to change the expectation of district superintendents.

The Rev. Debbie McLeod, superintendent of the Broward Palm Beach District, addressed questions about the district leadership councils. She said establishing a central place where many district functions could be accomplished would be “a good thing.”

“In all of these districts the district superintendent is the only human being that goes to each of these meetings [district committees], and these committees are working very independently of each other,” she said. “What we propose in the district leadership council is to bring those important functions of leadership together to struggle and work and coordinate.”

She said under the current structure the district superintendent is given much more influence than he or she would have “if you had a trusted group of leaders who are working together and helping the district superintendent to think about being accountable for all these leadership issues.”

McLeod said every church will not have representation on the smaller district leadership council, so trust will be a key factor.

“Can we trust a group of people that we elect to do the work that we ask them to do and for which they are accountable to all of us?” she said. “Right now, every church does not have a representative on the district board of trustees…the district committee on superintendency. On the district leadership council you’re going to have to trust a smaller group of lay and clergy to work together to accomplish leadership tasks.”

McLeod added, “You know how it is when you have 35 people in a room trying to head in one direction? It’s much more difficult than when you have 12 or 15 people working as a team on those issues.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, Orlando District superintendent, addressed questions about the district superintendent’s role. He said the intent is for district superintendents to learn to be mission leaders and less managers of institutions. They will responsible for lifting up the mission and vision and advancing strategic initiatives of the conference. He said he believes that is what God is calling the conference to do.

Dr. Randy Casey-Rutland, treasurer of the Florida Conference Council on Finance & Administration, explained the proposal’s impact on conference finances.

“There’s no hidden agenda; there’s no fuzzy math,” he said. “This is a genuine effort to seek to do some of our most important work more cost-efficiently.”

Casey-Rutland said the conference pays the salary, pension, health insurance and other benefits for each district superintendent. He said the conference also pays for cabinet meetings and business reimbursement expenses for district superintendents. The total cost to the conference budget is about $105,000 to $110,000 per year for each district superintendent, according to Casey-Rutland.

The proposals could save the conference $10 million throughout the next 10 years, Casey-Rutland said, adding that although the figure is a small percentage of total conference expenditures, it is a financial benefit worth pursing. “Being good stewards of God’s resources at all levels in our life and work together is vital,” he said.

Whitaker addressed the rationale for churches being part of a cluster of five to 10 churches. He said the clusters will be indigenous and organized by geography, affinity for ministry or mission.
“One reason for the cluster is to help one another be more effective in fulfilling each other’s ministry,” he said. “We believe that by having representatives from congregations gather together as a cluster we can inspire, stimulate, resource, motivate one another to be more effective in doing the ministry that God has called each particular congregation to fill.”

The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of Florida Conference’s Connectional Ministries office,

One of the goals of the Florida Conference Cabinet's redistricting proposal was to make each of the nine new districts as equal as possible in terms of the number of churches and church members within each district. Members of the 2004 Florida Annual Conference approved the proposal June 5. Graphic by Michael Wacht, #04-0026.

attributes the passage of the proposal to the break-out sessions.

“I’m thrilled it passed,” she said. “It went better than I expected. I think that happened because of the break-out sessions. People felt they had a voice in the process, and it built confidence in the house.”

The Rev. Florence Howell, pastor of Northeast United Methodist Church in Tampa, said she favored the redistricting. She attended one of the break-out sessions focused on that proposal.

“I think the session was very helpful,” she said. “It was very strategic because it got everyone involved.”

Howell said the only thing the conference has to do now the proposal has passed is trust God will move the conference in the right direction.

“I think change is excellent,” she said. “I think the bishop has a great view of where the conference should go.”
The Rev. Gary Beam, pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Tampa, said he supported the various proposals presented. He said they are a start and feels confident they will be adjusted as needed in the future.
“We won’t be doing the same things in the same way,” he said. “The most important thing is to be able to share the love of Christ with people, and that, in turn, will bring new people into the church.”

To view daily photos of the event’s activities and business visit


This article relates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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