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Leaders strive to clarify issues related to clusters at annual gathering

Leaders strive to clarify issues related to clusters at annual gathering

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders strive to clarify issues related to clusters at annual gathering
June 16, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0315}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

LAKELAND — For more than a year conference and church leaders have been abuzz with discussion about the formation of church clusters: which churches will be in which clusters, who will lead them, what will they do?

Members of a task team formed to help shape how clusters will be developed and function were given an opportunity at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event to further explain how this new level of ministry in the conference will actually work.

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 and redefining the role of district superintendent in light of the change in district structure. All were recommended in the Florida Conference Cabinet's "Connecting for Transformation" proposal. The new district structure officially takes effect July 1.

LAKELAND — The Rev. Jeff Stiggins, superintendent of the former Orlando District and new East Central District, clarifies key points related to the new church clusters beginning this year at the 2005 conference event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0195.

The Rev. Jeff Stiggins acknowledged before the gathering of clergy and lay delegates at the opening session of the conference event June 2 that the whole idea of clusters "will take some time to get used to."

Stiggins has been serving as superintendent of the Orlando District and will serve as superintendent of the new East Central District. He has been leading the task team on clusters in its work and shared key points relating to clusters with delegates.

One point of confusion he strove to clarify was how many churches will be in each cluster. Stiggins said he's heard church members saying it will be both four to eight and five to seven. More important than an exact number, "we're talking about a small bunch — to improve the effectiveness in ministry and health of our congregations," Stiggins said.

Stiggins also clarified what the term "cluster team" means. Each cluster will be led by a team of clergy and laity, in equal numbers, that represents the churches in the cluster. A leader, a clergy person in most cases, will be chosen to lead that team. The small group of churches makes up a cluster; the leadership team is not the cluster.

The cluster team will gather on a regular basis to get to know each other, celebrate what the churches in the cluster have accomplished, "seek God's heart" to discern what needs to be done by the cluster of churches, and improve the effectiveness of churches within the cluster "in touching the world," according to Stiggins.

In response to a pastor in his district who asked, "Why are clusters being formed? What's the bottom line? What's really going to make a difference here?" Stiggins offered four reasons.

He said clusters can become a "vital web of relationships," an encouraging community for laity and clergy. "Every United Methodist church is connected," he said. "Even if they feel they can do it on their own, they can't do it on their own."

An extension of that relationship is the ability of clusters to remind members of their mission and vision as Christians. Clusters can "keep reminding us what we are about," Stiggins said. "Why we are out there in the first place."

Stiggins said churches can lose perspective in the day-to-day life of their work. Clusters are a way of reminding members of "God's call to us. It's about Kingdom-building, not keeping the status quo ... every church's goal is to bring people to Christ."

Clusters will also help keep churches accountable for fulfilling that goal. Stiggins said they are a safe place for "all of us to grapple with the current reality of how we are being fruitful in ministry."

Stiggins and the task team say clusters, finally, are places where churches can seek God's guidance together.

LAKELAND — The Rev. Catherine Fluck Price, a member of the task team that focused on shaping how the clusters would be formed and function, urges delegates at the June 2 session of the annual conference event to "think missionally and spiritually" about the churches with which they would like to cluster. "What churches will stretch you? With what churches do you naturally relate?" she said. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0196.

The Rev. Catherine Fluck Price, a member of the cluster task force team, told delegates she was initially somewhat skeptical about clusters. But after experiencing being grouped with other churches last year for a multi-church charge conference she decided she needed to rethink clusters.

Price is co-pastor of a fairly new church, Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton, with her husband, the Rev. Steve Price. The church was part of the Sarasota District, but will become a member of the new Gulf Central District. She said she went to her charge conference thinking she wanted her church to be in a cluster with churches more like it. The churches with which Harvest was grouped for the charge conference were in different circumstances than Harvest, and after hearing their stories, she said she "felt enriched by these churches and committed to praying for them."

"We don't share our stories enough together," she said. "Now, I think God can do wonderful things through clusters."

Price said clusters are "an opportunity to connect when we sometimes feel isolated or not as supported," and urged delegates to educate themselves and others about the clusters. She also encouraged them to pray about and seek God's guidance when thinking about which churches they would like to be with in a cluster. "Think missionally and spiritually ... what churches will stretch you? With what churches do you naturally relate?" she said.

Price said each district's leadership council will take the input it receives from churches about the clusters they'd like to be in and make a final decision. The council's job will also be to assign churches that don't offer suggestions on their own about the cluster they'd like to be in to a specific cluster.

She said clusters should be formed by Sept. 30, with cluster team members and leaders chosen by Oct. 31 so team leaders can attend a training Nov. 9-11 at the Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg. The training will be more like a retreat where team leaders gain information, but also experience together what it's like to be part of a cluster. The training will also offer potential themes and topics that can be used at the cluster team meetings that will take place throughout the year.

Price encouraged churches to prayerfully make decisions about the members who will serve on the cluster team and the person who will lead it. "Get the right people," she said. "People with leadership gifts, prophets, those with a heart for this."

Price said each cluster will be different and likened them to wildflowers. "No two clusters will be alike," she said. "All are different, but all are expressions of the beauty of God's creation."

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.