By Daniel R. Gangler

Both Indiana United Methodist conferences have approved to begin plans to unite the two conferences into one.

Meeting at Purdue University in West Lafayette, the North Indiana Conference cast ballots on June 1 that were sealed and counted June 8 along with the South Indiana Conference ballots that were cast June 8 at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington.

The North Indiana Conference votes totaled 663 for unity and 190 against - 78 percent approval.

The South Indiana Conference votes totaled 550 for unity, 267 against and 6 invalid votes - 67 percent approval.

A simple majority was needed to approve the recommendation to become one conference. In both locations, the vote was cast following a 60-minute discussion and time of prayer.

Upon hearing the results of the election, Coyner said, "This is an overwhelming decision in favor of moving forward to form one Indiana conference."

During the next step of the process, Coyner will appoint an implementation team to report back to the two Indiana conferences in June 2008 with a detailed plan of implementation to unite the two conferences. A vote will be taken next year for approval of an implementation plan to form one conference in a process that began last year. Unity discussions have been taking place, formally and informally, during the past decade.

Coyner said, "What this means in simplified terms is that during this year's annual conference sessions, the two conferences became engaged by approving the recommendation of the Imagine Indiana Planning Team to unite the two conferences. Next year, they plan to get married."

If the implementation plan is approved next year, the North Central Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC also would need to approve the uniting of the two conferences. With full approval, the earliest the new conference could meet would be 2009.

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

Each Indiana conference, a church legislative body composed of equal number of laity and clergy, was attended during this past month by more than 1,300 delegates at each of two locations representing a total of 1,218 congregations in Indiana.