As the Imagine Indiana Design Team has worked on the Implementation Plan which will come to both North and South Conferences for a vote this May/June, the Team has not just looked “forward” to try to imagine our future. They have also looked back, examining our history to learn from past successes and failures.

One very helpful book for that study has been Forward Be Our Watchword: Indiana Methodism and the Modern Middle Class, by Kevin J. Corn. That book has helped us to realize the significance of the year 2008. The first Methodists came into Indiana in 1793 when a Kentucky-based circuit rider came into the Indiana territory and started a class meeting near what is now Utica, Indiana. At that time, all of Indiana was a part of the “Western Conference” of the Methodist Episcopal Church which included everything west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1808 the Western Conference created the Indiana District, eight years before Indiana even became a state. 2008 will thus be the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Indiana District of Methodism, and it will be the 40th anniversary of the Methodist-EUB merger which created our current North Indiana and South Indiana Conferences.

If you enjoy history, like I do, this makes 2008 an historically significant year. 200 years ago … 40 years ago … those seem like more than just a coincidence.

Our Methodist and EUB predecessors changed the regional structures, conference boundaries, and district lines many times over these past two centuries. There have been as many as four Conferences on the Methodist side, and the varieties of leaders have included circuit riders, class leaders, district superintendents, presiding elders, bishops, and of course pastors. The issues of each age have been diverse, and the economic challenges have come and gone. One thing is clearly consistent from 200 years ago and from 40 years ago – our forefathers and foremothers were committed to responding to the same questions that we are raising in 2008: how do we best organize to serve our churches and to reach the people of Indiana for Christ?

I don’t know if the Imagine Indiana Design Team will bring all of the right answers to our North and South Conferences for a vote, but I am more and more convinced that all of us are trying to ask the right questions. Just like they did 200 years ago.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner