Cindy Reynolds and Caroly Johnson
AKRON, Ohio – The North Central Jurisdictional Conference approved Wednesday afternoon, July 18, a proposal from the Episcopacy Committee to move the announcement of the assignment of bishops from a Friday morning worship setting to a Thursday afternoon business session. That means bishops, conference delegates and guests will know which bishop will be assigned to each episcopal area for the next four years during a 5 p.m. plenary session on Thursday, July 19.
The Indiana Conference has asked the NCJ Conference Episcopacy Committee to return Bishop Mike Coyner to Indiana for a third term which will run from Sept. 1, 2012 to Aug. 31, 2016. Coyner will join eight other bishops to be assigned. Assignments made by the Episcopacy Committee are approved by the entire NCJ Conference.
During a report by the NCJ Conference Treasurer, the Rev. Mark Dicken of Elkhart, Ind. proposed to the conference that the 2013-2016 budget of $1.1 million be reduced by 20 percent to $921,240, the amount of money received by the NCJ during the past four years. The reasoning was to keep that money in the local churches for local outreach, especially during these hard economic times. The Dicken’s motion was defeated.
The jurisdictional Black Methodist for Church Renewal organization hosted a forum to discuss the future of the NCJ during a Wednesday evening informal session. Carolyn Johnson of West Lafayette, Ind. served as the convener of the session.
The Rev. Cindy Reynolds, Indiana North District Superintendent, was the first speaker in the forum. She spoke to the structure of the jurisdiction. In summary, she said, we need to agree that what we have been doing is not working (in the North Central Jurisdiction). Our prior purpose no longer exists. God is still working in our midst. We cannot talk about adjustments or minor repairs. We need to have honest and discerned conversation to make radical changes for the 21st century. Communication has changed the way we do things. We must move out of the old ways.
She continued we need to ask questions (of the NCJ) such as a jurisdiction not doing program but doing HR. What is the role of the church today? How do we resource congregations? How do we create healthy partnership? What do we stop doing today to focus on our mission? What has changed? How do we bring budgets into line with the ministries for the church?
She said we need to create a task force to look at these questions and bring about legislative changes that we (NCJ) can take to General Conference.
Other delegates also emphasized that the NCJ and the General Church need to change to become more accountable. The jurisdiction needs to be more nimble as well as create and support vital congregations and not programs.
A second set of speakers focused on diversity. During the hour-long session, speakers said that the church has to become a global church with both domestic and global diversity – race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and culture. It was agreed that global diversity is very complex. Global issues aren’t the same around the world. The challenge is giving up our powers both ethnic and cultural, and that maybe the U.S. conferences need to become one of many Central Conferences.
A third set of speakers focused on the vitality or lack of vitality of the church, referencing statistics from a report written by Lovett Weams of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., such as 84 percent of the American population is urban, whereas United Methodist churches and pastors are in areas where only 16 percent of the population lives. Only 15 percent of our churches are vital congregations. More than 60 percent of our churches do not receive even one confession of faith during an entire year. This is a constant statistic. We continue to function in a way popular in the 1970s, but we now live in the 21st century.
We need to see a change in which people come into our churches and hear a message that will alter their lives. By and large, this isn’t happening. That fact needs to change or we, as a denomination, are living in our evening hours. As a church, we need to shift our priority to serve new people in new incarnational ways with strong encouragement of ministry on local levels.
The BMCR sponsored session was not an official session of the NCJ Conference, therefore no action was taken on any issues discussed. Some of those issues may be coming to the floor today. The Indiana delegation would like to see a NCJ-wide task force assigned to exploring the future of the jurisdiction (like Imagine Indiana) and come to the next General Conference in 2016 with recommendations for change.