Bishop Mike Coyner is piling hundreds of miles on his Buick this month traveling Indiana from Fort Wayne to Evansville. He's off introducing the ministry cluster concept in the ten new emerging districts with what he calls Tip-Off Events.

I caught up with him in Noblesville where more than 400 pastors and lay members representing the congregations of the new North Central District began their ministry cluster experience. This Tip-Off Event seemed like a cross between freshman orientation and a family reunion. Chaos was its middle name.

However, in the midst of this chaos was an excitement of starting something new and dynamic with all sorts of possibilities. The best thing that happened there was not electing and enlisting leaders of the new clusters as planned. The best thing was United Methodists discovering other United Methodists, then praying together as clusters of congregations.

Doing comes after being. Who we are is more important than what we do.

By definition, ministry clusters of four to nine congregations look outward to accomplishing the Gospel mission in a geographic area or with congregations sharing common ministry needs. In either case, as cluster congregations serve together to learn, grow and mature from each other.

Ahead of the curve, congregations of the New Albany District already spent a Sunday afternoon session earlier this year with the Rev. Gary Schaar, director of congregational development of the Indiana Conference in South Indiana. Together, these churches began to explore the possibilities of ministry clusters. Congregations in New Albany have already begun a ministry cluster.

The Lafayette District plans to hold a similar session with Schaar later this month.

Congregations in the Vincennes District also began ministry clusters earlier this year.

As outlined by the Imagine Indiana plan to form the new Indiana Conference, ministry clusters are about collective accountability and assistance in accomplishing the church's mission "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Could there be a better time to come together than when our economic and financial future as a nation and world looks so grim? We need each other more than usual.

We didn't plan this financial crisis, but let us take a lead in finding ways to transcend the present pains and bring the hope of Jesus Christ to our world. Let us not forget that we have been empowered to face the world around us. We need to walk together to see our communities through this crisis before us. What better way than by coming together as clusters of churches in outreach to a community in need?

Our true hope, our true future is in the One who leads us.

Let us spend this Lent, examining who we are as the church and how we can best serve our neighbors by looking outwardly with the inner strength of Jesus Christ, who life, death and resurrection we give thanks and celebrate.

Daniel R. Gangler