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United Methodists to redraw some NEJ boundaries

Bonnie Marden of the New England Conference, vice chairperson of the Northeastern Jurisdiction boundaries committee, presents the report on annual conference boundary changes, which were overwhelmingly approved.
A UMNS photo by Don Perry.

By Linda Bloom*
July 16, 2008 | HARRISBURG, Pa. (UMNS)

Northeastern United Methodists decided July 16 to redraw some denominational boundaries as a way of providing more effective mission and ministry.

Voting on a resolution from the boundaries committee, delegates to the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference overwhelmingly agreed to support changes already affirmed by the six annual (regional) conferences involved. The action reduces the number of bishops in the jurisdiction from 10 to nine beginning in 2010.

Boundary changes to take place by 2010 include:

  • A new annual conference in New York state, formed by the current North Central and Western New York conferences and churches of the Wyoming and Troy conferences located in the state;
  • A relocation of Troy Conference churches located in Vermont to the New England Conference; and
  • A new annual conference in Pennsylvania, created from the Pennsylvania churches of the current Wyoming Conference and all the churches of the current Central Pennsylvania Conference.

Bonnie Marden of the New England Conference, vice chairperson of the jurisdiction boundaries committee, noted that while much work remains to be done on the reorganization, “I believe a leap of faith is in order.”

She recalled when her father, retired Bishop Clifton Ives, asked the jurisdiction to consider a similar action 16 years ago. At that time, three conferences combined in the Boston area to form the New England Conference.

“Like all leaps of faith, this will include both blessings and some adjustments,” she said.

According to a formula in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the number of bishops in a jurisdiction is based primarily on church membership. Although a new episcopal area — the Albany (N.Y.) area — was formed in 1990, recent membership declines in the Northeastern Jurisdiction meant a reduction in bishops was probable.

A report presented to the jurisdictional boundaries committee from a special task force of the four New York state conferences outlined some of the decision-making behind the recommendations.

The report noted how the region had changed over the years, in terms of demographics, finances and mission. But instead of dwelling on membership decline and financial issues, conference members said they decided to talk about ministry and vision, “a conversation focusing on a new missional strategy for our region.”

Like gasoline and groceries, the financial cost of ministry is rising, Marden pointed out. She hopes the new configuration will lead to new models of cooperative mission, along with new opportunities for leadership.

Marden also acknowledged that the Northeastern Jurisdiction could lose another 50,000 church members over the next five years and cautioned that another reduction in episcopal areas could occur “unless we begin to grow our ministry and membership and meet our needs now.”

During the conference’s episcopal address, Bishop Jane Middleton of the Harrisburg (Pa.) Area noted that the action taken on the boundary realignment “is positioning us to do ministry in new ways.”

Middleton, who leads the Central Pennsylvania Conference, commended the four upstate New York conferences for taking the lead. “This is a model for us to be willing to move into God’s future,” she said.

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

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York,  (6... or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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