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Hoosier United Methodists establish new conference

Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner consecrates communion elements during the first worship service of the newly merged Indiana Annual Conference in
Indianapolis. A UMNS photo by Erma Metzler, Indiana Conference.

By Matthew Oates and Daniel R. Gangler*
Oct. 6, 2008 | INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS)

Clusters and cooperation are the touchstones for a new streamlined Indiana Annual (regional) Conference approved by more than 2,000 United Methodist Hoosiers in a special session on Oct. 4.

The uniting of the South and North Indiana conferences comes at the conclusion of more than two years of work by task forces and a team made of clergy and lay members from both conferences to streamline the administrative structure and place resources closer to local churches.

The last structural change of this magnitude in Indiana came in 1968 when the former Methodist Church and former Evangelical United Brethren Church voted nationally to become The United Methodist Church.

The Imagine Indiana Design Team recommended the merger after membership in both conferences dropped to half of what it was in 1968.

The team said a single conference would be more efficient and would allow more financial resources to go to ministries and programs rather than administration. The new conference will make extended use of electronic communication for meetings and the distribution of news and information.

In his first sermon addressed to the new conference, Bishop Michael J. Coyner asked members, “Can these bones live?” based on Ezekiel 37:1-14. “That’s not an organizational question, it’s a spiritual question. Can this new Indiana Annual Conference be alive? The answer is found in the question of Ezekiel,” he said. “The answer is yes, by God’s spirit. That’s our answer today.”

Youth from both the former North and South Indiana Annual Conferences lead
a dance for joy during the establishment
of the new Indiana Annual Conference.
A UMNS photo by Erma Metzler,
Indiana Conference.


Coyner encouraged congregations to join a ministry cluster as well as continue development of clergy cluster groups that are already springing up across the state.

Ministry clusters

Features of the new annual conference include forming clergy into covenant groups and organizing all 1,200 congregations into ministry clusters of four to nine congregations for support, outreach to their communities and accountability to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The current 18 districts will be dissolved and five resource centers to support the work of 10 districts will be established.

A new conference structure will include a conference leaders team and a new conference center in Indianapolis. The team will be led by the bishop and includes representatives from all aspects of the conference at the same table.

“Yes, God wants this new conference to be an effective tool for God’s ministry. It’s up to us – but it’s not all up to us. The answer is yes, by God’s spirit,” said Coyner. “The gentle spirit of God will make us into the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.”

During their presentation, the 13-members of the Imagine Indiana Transition Team encouraged Hoosier United Methodists to pray through aspects of ministry in the new conference by focusing on a particular part of the conference’s ministry each day of the week, beginning Oct. 5.

This past spring, South Indiana Conference members voted 616 to 185 (or 77 to 23 percent), while North Indiana Conference members voted 730 to 192 (or 79 to 21 percent) to create a new conference. In July, the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church affirmed the two conferences’ votes and granted permission for the unification of the two conferences.

The new Indiana Conference represents more than 225,000 United Methodist members, 40,000 children and 1,200 congregations in all 92 counties. The largest Protestant denomination in Indiana, the church is related to three hospital systems, three universities, three children’s homes, six residence facilities for older adults, one half-way house, seven retreat/camps and numerous community ministries.

Response to flood victims

Indiana United Methodists collect flood buckets for the Midwest Mission Distribution Center near Springfield, Ill.
A UMNS photo by Matthew Oates,
Indiana Conference.

In preparation for the special session, Hoosier United Methodists were encouraged to bring flood bucket and health (personal hygiene) kits to contribute to the Midwest Mission Distribution Center near Springfield, Ill., a ministry of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual (regional) Conference.

According to Gary Peterson of Fort Wayne, disaster response coordinator of the North Indiana Conference, the response was overwhelming. Members brought 430 flood buckets and more than 1,000 health kits, as well as school items to the Indiana Area-based Operation Classroom for schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Hoosier United Methodists filled a 35-foot truck from the Illinois center. Flood buckets that could not fit into the truck were divided among Calumet District. That district will take the kits to one of the two United Way Volunteer Response Centers in Munster and Portage in northwest Indiana, to assist flood survivors recovering from mid-September flood damage.

*Oates is a correspondent for Indiana United Methodist Communication and is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Lafayette, Ind. Gangler is director of communication of the Indiana Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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