Delegates express both hope, uncertainty about clusters

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Delegates express both hope, uncertainty about clusters
June 18, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0316}

NOTE:  This story is a sidebar to e-Review Florida UMNS #0315 - Leaders strive to clarify issues related to clusters at annual gathering.

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

LAKELAND — People are generally positive about clusters and seem to have a good level of understanding about their structure and purpose, but there is still some resistance to them.

That was the general feeling among delegates at the recent Florida Annual Conference Event as they left question and answer sessions relating to the church clusters that will be formed in each district by the end of September.

Members of a task team that helped shape the development of the clusters were given an opportunity at the opening session of the conference June 2 to further explain how clusters will work. Delegates then had the option of attending breakout sessions with other churches in their new districts to learn more if they still had questions.

Forming church clusters was approved at last year's annual conference event, along with reducing the number of districts in the conference from 14 to nine. The new district structure officially takes effect July 1.

LAKELAND — A delegate participating in the South East District's breakout group to discuss clusters waits to be recognized. Each new district held a question and answer time focusing on clusters after the opening session of the annual conference event June 2. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0197.

During the breakout sessions some people still had questions about the basics — who decides which churches will be in each cluster, what's the purpose of the clusters — but interest in and hope about what the clusters can accomplish was also expressed, according to the Rev. Marilyn Beecher.

Beecher works with the Healthy Church Initiative in Orlando in the East Central District. Based on comments made during her district's breakout group, she said people find the potential for churches and ministries to be more connected through clusters attractive. What people are hesitant about is how they will function.

"Until we actually begin working in the clusters, it's hard to know how to live them out," she said.

The Rev. Beth Gardner, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bunnell, was also in the East Central District's group. She said some of the resistance could be attributed to the fact that some aspects of clusters are mandatory — that all churches must be part of one, for instance. She said issues of trust and "misconceptions about pastors being in charge" may also be a factor.

One misconception is that clusters are "top down," according to the Rev. Matt Wallis, a local pastor serving at First United Methodist Church in Perry. He was part of the discussion in the North West District's group.

He said one reason people may believe that about clusters is because the suggestion to create them came from the bishop and Florida Conference Cabinet. "When, in reality, it's supposed to be grass roots," he said.

He feels there hasn't been enough communication about the clusters, but the word is finally getting out that people will have a voice in the process. He says clergy bear the responsibility for better informing members of their congregations.

"There is some confusion ... I have heard some grumbling," Wallis said. "Any change creates fear. It's simply due to a new structure versus old. So much remains to be worked out."

Mozelle Thomas felt there was a good level of understanding in the North Central District's breakout session, but said there may be "more noise when people get into a group."

LAKELAND — The Rev. Dr. E. Keith Ewing answers a question during the South East District's breakout group on clusters. Ewing has been serving as suprintendent of the Miami District while the conference moves toward implementing its new district structure, effective July 1. Miami District churches will be part of the new South East District, led by the Rev. Debbie McLeod, superintendent of the former Broward Palm Beach District. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0198.

Thomas is a member of Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. She said it will be important for the clusters to incorporate a variety of churches, not just "one kind of church," and that there needs to be an intentional effort to gain input about the clusters from many people, to ask, "Has everyone been brought to the table?"

Denise Morrell, also a member of Ebenezer, agreed. She said the clusters must have a good mix of churches, like a cake with its variety of ingredients. "You can have too much butter or too much sugar," she said, making the cake a mess. She said clergy must make great efforts to get input from their congregations and not "take over."

"The pastor must present it in a way that (shows) the grouping (cluster) will be good for the Body of Christ in bringing people to the church," Morrell said.

Disney Weaver, a lay delegate from Community United Methodist Church in Belle Glade, felt most people in his breakout group — the Atlantic Central District — were more positive and less resistant because of discussions that have taken place around the district in other groups.

He said people understand the "big picture" related to clusters, but are more concerned at this point about the details — what's the first meeting going to be like, will people have a voice when choosing cluster leaders?

Wallis' district is giving people the opportunity to have a voice. The district leadership council developed a survey for every church in the district to complete, providing feedback on how they'd like to be clustered. The leadership council will use that information when making final decisions about church clusters.

"You can't make everyone happy," Wallis said, but there are those in his district who are going to do their best. He said at the end of his district's session one person promised, "We're going to work 'til we get it right."
More information about clusters, including commonly asked questions and answers, is posted on the Florida Conference Web site at

This article relates to 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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