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New district structure officially begins

New district structure officially begins

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New district structure officially begins

June 30, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0324} 

An e-Review News Feature
By Janice Buchholz** and Tita Parham

ORLANDO — After a year of preparation the switch from 14 districts to nine will officially take effect July 1.

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker dedicates the superintendents who will serve in the nine new districts effective July 1. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0180.

At the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event delegates approved the "Connecting for Transformation" proposal, which recommended that the conference's districts be reduced from 14 to nine, redefined the role of district superintendents in light of the change in districts, and required all churches to be part of a cluster of churches within their district.

The new districts have been restructured to be as equal as possible in terms of number of churches and missions, membership, finances, land size and ease of transportation within the district. The number of churches and missions within the districts ranges from 67 to 96.

Since the proposal was approved, conference leaders, district superintendents and district staff have been working through the details to make the change a reality, including determining the location of district offices and parsonages and staffing needs. Five district offices were closed and parsonages sold. Some superintendents relocated, moving to the more logical office and parsonage, given the change in configuration of the district.

The Rev. Jeff Stiggins said the biggest challenge for everyone is getting to know each other — pastors moving to new appointments, churches becoming part of a new district, district superintendents getting to know the pastors and churches that weren't in their district before.

"The name of the game is getting to know people," Stiggins said, adding each superintendent is working hard to learn about the churches and ministries in his or her district.

Stiggins has been serving as superintendent of the Orlando District and is now superintendent of the new East Central District, which includes 89 churches from the old Orlando, DeLand and Leesburg districts. He said he has already begun worshipping at two different locations each Sunday and plans to systematically visit churches new to him once pastors get settled into their appointments.

Stiggins said the larger distance is also making a difference and time for travel will have to be considered. He said meetings may need to be less frequent, but longer, and conference calls may be utilized more often. Stiggins has already set up an 800 number so churches that are farther from the district office, which is located near downtown Orlando, will not have to make long-distance calls. He said he is surprised at the number of people who are already using it.

Some district offices that operated with only one administrative staff person may also need to hire an additional person, according to Stiggins. He said the general model is to have a staff person to deal with administrative responsibilities and another to handle district finances, although "nothing is absolutely uniform," he said. "What's difficult to establish is what 'normal' will be."

 In addition to the more practical aspects of the change, districts will be focusing on more weighty issues. Congregational transformation will be a major emphasis, according to Stiggins, who said some districts that have never had a committee focusing on church transformation will begin developing one. The Rev. Dr. Kendall Taylor, director of the conference's Office of Congregational Transformation, will be visiting the districts to help them establish a strong transformation ministry.

Although the restructuring wasn't a major emphasis at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event, it was acknowledged and celebrated. At the opening session June 2, 14 pitchers of water were poured into a fountain on the center stage of the arena where the business sessions took place. At the end of the conference nine pitchers of water were taken from the fountain, symbolizing the switch to the new structure.

Delegates were also given an opportunity to meet with the superintendent and other members of their new district to ask questions related to church clusters: how they will be formed, who will lead them, what they will accomplish and other key issues.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker dedicated the superintendents of the new districts at the conference's closing session June 5. They are the Rev. Tony Fernandez, North West District; the Rev. Dr. Rick Neal, North East 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, South West District; and the Rev. Deborah McLeod, South East District.
Superintendents ending their terms 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, who has served for seven years as superintendent of the St. Petersburg District; the Rev. Dr. Sharon Patch, who has served for five years as superintendent of the Ft. Myers District; and the Rev. Dr. Terry Markins, who is ending three years of service as superintendent of the Leesburg District.

For more information about the new districts, including churches within each district, location of district offices, and e-mail addresses for superintendents and administrative staff, visit the Florida Conference Web site at


This article relates to Florida Conference Transformation.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.