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South Central Jurisdiction will realign in 2012

South Central Jurisdiction

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Sept. 18, 2009

Responding to a directive from the denomination’s top legislative body, United Methodists in the South Central region of the United States will make do with one less bishop in 2012.

Through a Sept. 18 webcast, the 6,400 local churches in the South Central Jurisdiction – representing about 1.83 million members -- learned that the Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West annual (regional) conferences will be combined into one episcopal area at that time.

Dallas Area Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, president of the jurisdiction’s college of bishops, reminded viewers that the 2008 General Conference had directed that body to reduce its numbers from 11 to 10 bishops. “Your college of bishops has taken this task very seriously, with great deliberation and discernment,” he said.

A similar directive was given to the church’s four other U.S. jurisdictions as part of recommendations from a denomination-wide task force on episcopacy.

Bishop Earl Bledsoe

The process began informally during the 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, Bledsoe said, and included input from laity and clergy across the jurisdiction, the study of statistics and demographics, lengthy discussions of various alternatives and prayers for guidance.

“This decision creates an opportunity for new, creative ways to serve Jesus Christ, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world for generations to come in these two states,” Bledsoe said.

An early announcement of plans to deploy one bishop to a new Nebraska-Kansas Area will allow the three conferences most directly affected “to plan for their future together,” he pointed out.

Nebraska and Kansas had been part of one episcopal area of the Methodist Church prior to 1952, when each state was designated as a separate episcopal area.

Covers eight states

The South Central Jurisdiction currently includes 15 annual conferences in eight states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The jurisdiction also includes the south border of the Navajo Indian Nation in northeastern Arizona.

At least three South Central bishops will reach the mandatory retirement age of 68 by 2012: Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson, Arkansas Area Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield and Louisiana Area Bishop William W. Hutchinson.

Details of the realignment will be hammered out by a joint Nebraska-Kansas task force.

In the webcast, Sherer-Simpson said United Methodists in Nebraska are open to change.

“I pray that the pioneering spirit will continue to move among us as we engage in this opportunity to work with the Kansas conferences to develop a new episcopal area,” Sherer-Simpson said.

New possibilities

Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones said he was “convinced that there are real possibilities for new approaches that the leaders of Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West need to consider together.”

The willingness of the other jurisdictional bishops to donate $10,000 each to help meet transition expenses “will enable us to obtain the best consulting help we can find to guide the process,” he noted.

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“Over the last five years in Kansas, there have been significant efforts made at strengthening our mission and ministry in four areas: revitalizing existing congregations, starting new churches, ethnic minority ministry and student ministry,” Jones said.

“I think all of these efforts, including the Kansas conferences’ Bridges to the Future capital campaign, will provide Kansas with a strong foundation for this new future.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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