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Indiana United Methodists take step toward unity

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Bishop Michael J. Coyner
June 12, 2006

By Dan Gangler*

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (UMNS) — The North Indiana and South Indiana United Methodist Annual (regional) Conferences came a step closer to uniting into one conference following an affirmative vote tallied from both conferences.

The vote, taken during the South Indiana Annual Conference meeting at Indiana University, was announced June 10. It asks Indiana Area Bishop Michael Coyner to appoint a task force to develop a plan for uniting the two conferences for a recommendation to the 2007 Indiana annual gatherings.

The plan will be developed with input from all constituencies, both laity and clergy, of Hoosier United Methodists as well as all United Methodist-related institutions and agencies in Indiana. Information and plans from other conferences and denominations also will be sought.

The North Conference totals were 708 in favor, 167 opposed and 5 abstentions. The South Conference totals were 544 in favor, 138 opposed and 1 abstention. Eighty percent of both conferences favored continuing talk about a new conference.

If a plan of unity is approved by both annual conferences next year, the conferences would seek approval for a plan of unity from the United Methodist North Central Jurisdiction. The jurisdiction oversees a nine-state region of the United States. The new conference would come into being following the jurisdiction’s blessings, probably in May or June of 2009 or 2010, according to Coyner.

The task force will be charged with a process “to discern the future regarding merger (the creation of a new Indiana Conference), including the compelling reasons that support the outcome,” according to the Indiana Area Episcopacy Committee, which brought the proposal to the floor of both annual conference sessions for a vote.

Questions the task force will use to discern the future begin with “what is God leading us to do?” The No. 1 priority of the merger is to better serve the state’s 1,260 United Methodist congregations and their pastors.

Other items the task force will consider are best ways to create a connectional ministry beyond the local church, building on each conference’s strengths, what administrative and ministries functions need to be shared, the most effective way to deliver service to local churches, what is essential and what can be eliminated.

A ?blank page’

Earlier this year, Coyner said, “I believe that merger of the two conferences is inevitable.” Financial factors, efficiency and effectiveness are the reasons he gave for merger.

Coyner sees the move as a step toward a creative new conference to accomplish mission and ministry.

“I have even asked our various planning groups to think of a ?blank page’ as we ask how God is leading us to redesign our structures and administration here in Indiana,” he said. “Thinking about merger can open us to new ways of being the United Methodist Church in Indiana.”

Coyner does not see merger as just a way to cut back to save money.

The Indiana Area Episcopacy Committee sees merger as a creative opportunity for United Methodists in Indiana to make a new start in the way ministry is carried out. A merger will provide for a unified approach to ministry with one vision, one coordinated leadership team, one budget and one set of meetings. Two annual conference sessions would become one annual conference session.

The committee also sees challenges related to creating a new conference. “What is God seeking to do?” is an overriding priority question. Understanding change and transitions that are necessary will be a challenge to communicate. With a new conference, there will be fewer opportunities for laity and clergy to serve in the traditional administrative roles in each of the current conferences and in representative membership of general and jurisdictional committees and agencies. Other large challenges will revolve around such items as clergy pensions, insurance and conference offices.

*Gangler is director of communication for the United Methodist Church’s Indiana Area.

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

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