Both of our Conferences here in Indiana voted during their recent 2006 Sessions to approve the recommendation from the Area Committee on Episcopacy and its Merger Task Force to support the request for a plan of union to create a new conference -- this plan to be brought back to the 2007 Sessions for a vote and decision, with possible further decisions in 2008, and an ultimate request to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in July of 2008 to form a new unified Annual Conference. Interestingly, the percentage vote in each Conference was nearly identical: North voted "yes" for the proposal at 80.5% and South voted "yes" for the proposal at 79.6%.

What does this 80% vote mean? First of all, it does not mean that we have already decided to merge and form a new conference. I share that because misinformation spreads quickly. In fact, one person told me after the vote in South Conference that he had heard people talking about the vote to merge the Indianapolis East and West Districts! So, let's be clear about the vote: the conferences voted to ask for a plan of merger to form a new conference, so that a vote on that plan can be taken in the next two years. Even so, the 80% vote is a strong affirmation of our openness to consider this new option, but with lots of details to be worked out.

Since the vote by the two conferences asked me to name the task force to work on this, let me share my thinking about how we will proceed.

  1. I will name an "Imagine Indiana Planning Committee" of 5-7 persons who will serve as the key strategy group to coordinate the preparation of a plan to bring to the 2007 Annual Conference. These persons will be diverse, but they will not be persons who represent the current structures. I am asking my new Executive Assistant, David VW Owen, to staff that group (without vote), and I will also meet with them part of the time to get them started and to respond to any questions or problems they encounter. I am also hoping to find some additional funding (not from either conference budget) to provide that group with expert consultation from a variety of perspectives, including theological insights, business models, new understandings of systems, etc.
  2. I will work with the "Imagine Indiana Planning Committee" to name a series of Sub-Committees to deal with the issues raised during our discussions at the two Annual Conference Sessions. These Sub-Committees will focus upon some of the technical questions which must be answered. One group will deal with the whole question of pensions and insurance for our pastors. Another will deal with technology, financial accounting, and communications systems needed in a new conference. Another will likely deal with the role of the DS and thus the number of districts. Another will deal with staffing. Another group will need to explore the various options for an actual Annual Conference Session if we form a new conference -- where to meet, costs, viability, etc. Still another Sub-Committee will eventually be named to look at the legal and real estate issues which might result from the recommendations of the other groups -- including conference office buildings, district parsonages, and legal connections to our various United Methodist agencies and institutions. Perhaps most importantly, I will name a prayer team to serve as one of the Sub-Committees in order to support this entire effort with prayer for God's guidance. These Sub-Committees will take advantage of current staff and conference leaders who have expertise in these areas (including staff from the General Agencies of our UMC who can be asked to help), but each Sub-Committee will also include a diversity of membership from both conferences, ages, lay and clergy, ethnic groups, etc. All recommendations from these various Sub-Committees will go to the "Imagine Indiana Planning Committee" for decisions about inclusion in the plan which is brought back for vote in 2007.
  3. Finally, I will also name a rather large and very representative "Feedback Group" of persons who will hear from the "Imagine Indiana Planning Committee" and offer responses, suggestions, and concerns. The purpose of this "Feedback Group" is to keep the "Imagine Indiana Planning Committee" rooted in the present realities while they also imagine and explore the future. Such a "Feedback Group" can also help to build widespread ownership for the plans being developed, rather than waiting until next spring to "spring" a plan onto people at pre-conference briefings or at Annual Conference time.

All of the above is designed to get lots of our best people working on this important task. It is an enormous amount of work, and it is best done by harnessing the resources of many people. I am already hearing from people who want to help, and I will consult with many of our current conference leaders as I name these various groups.

So here is my offer: if you would like to help and are willing to serve on any of the groups listed above, please send me an e-mail to Bishop Coyner and let me know of your interest. Please know that I will work hard to provide balanced groups (especially between the two conferences, but also laity/clergy, age groups, etc.), so it may not be possible to include everyone who offers to help in each specific group. But I want to name people who are interested, willing to work, and eager to see this whole "Imagine Indiana" process move forward with our best wisdom, with God's guidance, and with a bright future for our mission as United Methodists here in Indiana … and around the world.

80% means it is time to put the plan together.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner