Conference begins process of putting transformation plan into action (Aug. 9, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference begins process of putting transformation plan into action

Aug. 9, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0133}

n  Bishop announces new districts and superintendents

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

LAKELAND  Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said clergy and laity should look to district superintendents for leadership and guidance as the conference begins the transition from its current 14 districts to nine between now and July 2005.

Delegates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event approved a new structure for the districts that was developed by the Florida Conference Cabinet. The cabinet's "Connecting for Transformation" restructuring proposal was originally presented during a Jan. 30 Conference Table meeting.

In a statement issued last month Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker announced the superintendents of the conference's nine new districts, effective July 2005. Delegates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event approved a cabinet proposal that reduced the number of districts in the conference from 14 to nine. Graphic by Michael Wacht, #04-0057. NOTE: A district map was published with e-Review Florida UMNS #0088 June 7. This current map reflects minor changes and is the latest.

The conference will have nine districts, instead of 14, and churches are encouraged to form clusters. The responsibilities of the district superintendents will also change. Each district will have between 50 and 85 churches and missions and will be as equal as possible regarding membership, finances, land size and ease of transportation within the district.

In a statement issued last month Whitaker announced the superintendents of the new districts, effective July 2005. Whitaker said selecting the people to be superintendents "wasn't easy because all of the 14 superintendents are effective in their work."

The new superintendents and districts are the Rev. Tony Fernandez, Northwest District; the Rev. Dr. Rick Neal, Northeast District; the Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan, North Central District; the Rev. Wayne Curry, Gulf Central District; the Rev. Dr. Bert Blomquist, South Central District; the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, East Central District; the Rev. Mike Oliver, Atlantic Central District; the Rev. David Herman, Southwest District; and the Rev. Deborah McLeod, Southeast District.

Superintendents who will be ending their terms in 2005 are the Rev. Dr. Jim Maxfield, interim superintendent of the Lakeland District, the Rev. Dr. E. Keith Ewing, interim superintendent of the Miami District; the Rev. Dr. Kevin James, with seven years of service in the St. Petersburg District; the Rev. Dr. Sharon Patch, with five years of service in the Ft. Myers District; and the Rev. Dr. Terry Markins, with three years of service in the Leesburg District.

Whitaker said the plan allows district superintendents to function more as leaders in the mission of the church and the region, rather than enforcers of the [Book of] Discipline and managers of the present institution. He also said the cabinet adopted a series of resolutions governing their behavior in implementing the transition so they have a plan and timeline to follow.

"Members of the cabinet will need to take initiative in implementing the plan we've agreed upon among ourselves, and we need the cooperation of everybody in implementing that plan," Whitaker said.

Each new district will hold a gathering of clergy and laity in the fall of 2004 to elect the district's 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, and the district leadership council will review budgets and determine the district's connectional giving responsibilities. A district annual conference orientation will elect the district leadership council this fall.

Whitaker said he announced the new superintendents so they could begin working the present superintendents to implement the next steps.

"I hate to make those decisions so far in advance, but there's was no way to avoid it in order to implement the transition," he said. "For example, part of the plan involves creating a nominating group to elect people who would serve as the leadership council, at least provisionally until the annual conference formally elects the leadership council. We will need the leadership council to exist before the annual conference meets in order to help make some decisions about what should be done in the future of districts, so district superintendents will need to get in touch with people in their district and ask them to be a part of this group, called the nominating group, and move forward."

Whitaker said he anticipates a smooth transition that is not disruptive to local churches. He said district offices will feel the most impact, requiring decisions to be made "sooner, rather than later."

One of those decisions is the closure of district offices that may no longer be needed within the new structure. Whitaker said that decision will be made on the local level by people in the regions directly impacted. According to the cabinet's plan, a district will have several years to decide where the district office will be located. Whitaker said the district office and parsonage could remain where they are if a superintendent serves two or three years. He also acknowledged there would be a plan to make a change in the location of either if a superintendent's term ended at a particular time.

"It's going to vary from place to place," he said. "What we will provide will be an overall approach to the transition and leadership from the superintendents in implementing particular decisions that have to be made, will be made, by the people within those areas."

Whitaker said strong support for the proposal at annual conference bodes well for the plan.

"The really important part of the plan will be the creation of clusters, and that will take a little longer than the establishment of new districts," he said. "...because there has to be a discernment process about what relationship clergy and congregations will have with other clergy and congregations. We want this to be a natural thing and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the process. In most cases it's my assumption that we'll have the new district structure and new district offices functioning before clusters will take place. This is going to take several years for us to implement."

The "Connecting for Transformation" plan, combined with the work of the conference's New Church Development and Congregational Transformation offices, will improve the conference, Whitaker said.

"While I'm gratified annual conference approved this plan, and I'm hopeful about what it will mean in the life of the annual conference, we've only begun the work of fulfilling the promises of the plan," he said.


This commentary relates to Conference Transformation.

*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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