Clergy and lay members to the 2012 Annual Conference session overwhelmingly voted in favor of continuing a district reduction study for another year.
On Monday afternoon, June 4, the South Georgia Cabinet presented a District Feasibility Study report to the conference with a recommendation that the 2012 South Georgia Annual Conference session retain the nine current districts.
This District Feasibility Study comes as a result of a motion made at the 2011 Annual Conference Session for Bishop King and the Cabinet to study the financial feasibility of reducing the number of districts by one or more.
In the fall of 2011, Bishop King named a study group to investigate the financial feasibility of reducing districts. This study group, chaired by Rev. Cindy Autry, researched some of the logistical issues related to reducing districts, established several financial models, and recommended to the Appointive Cabinet the reduction of districts by two or three.
The Appointive Cabinet received the study group’s report this spring and continued further deliberation by exploring the missional complexities of reducing districts while living into Bishop King’s strategy for the superintendency.
“My desire is to shift a district superintendent’s primary focus away from management tasks toward being more intentional in offering spiritual leadership,” said Bishop King in response to a question during debate during the Monday’s Annual Conference business session. “My overall goal is to increase the disciple making impact within each local church.”
The Cabinet’s recommendation to retain the current number of nine districts was based on these missional concerns and the inability to calculate the ultimate financial benefit to be gained by reducing the districts.
“We are very grateful to the district feasibility study group for their thoughtful work,” said Rev. Lowery Brantley, Dean of the Cabinet, in his presentation to the Conference.
“We appreciate the time and energy the group gave toward carefully looking at as many details as they could possibly calculate,” he said. “The Cabinet received and valued their work. However, we were aware of several complicating financial and missional issues that were facts outside the study group’s assigned scope.”
Because the District Feasibility Study report came at the end of the day, discussion was tabled until Tuesday morning.
When discussion resumed on Tuesday morning, several delegates asked questions and sought clarification regarding the Cabinet’s presentation. Rev. Creede Hinshaw, senior pastor of Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah, made a motion to amend the motion by extending the study for another year with an expectation that specific details will be presented about reducing by two and reducing by three districts at next year’s conference session.
In speaking to the motion, Rev. Hinshaw said that he did not come to annual conference prepared make this motion or any motion. He stated that he woke at midnight the night before out of a deep sleep and began to think about the process that would happen during this debate.
“Out of those wakeful moments at midnight came this motion,” he said. “I believe it was God directed.”
Rev. Hinshaw believes there is a real hunger in the Annual Conference for mission driven district superintendents and districts as well as a real desire for a balanced budget.
“We have discussed reducing the number of districts for 20 years in various forms and it looked like we were very, very close to making that a reality this year,” Rev. Hinshaw said. “I simply wanted to make this motion to move the process along.
“We were so close, and I think the Cabinet and study committee both did excellent work, but we were on the verge of doing something significant and I am not sure that it would have happened if someone had not made this motion,” concluded Rev. Hinshaw.
Individuals respectfully responded to the Cabinet’s presentation while expressing a belief that there are creative possibilities that will permit both a reduction in the costs of the superintendency and a mission-focused leadership role for District Superintendents.
The lay and clergy members approved several “friendly” amendments to Rev. Hinshaw’s original motion. Rev. Marcia Cochran, senior pastor of St. Simons United Methodist Church, moved that at least five laity be added to work with the Appointive Cabinet on this project. Carl Childs, lay person from Ft. Gaines United Methodist Church, moved for the group to explore ways to utilize communication technologies that will drive down costs and travel time while maintaining face-to-face contact. Bill Hatcher, lay person from Statesboro United Methodist Church, moved that the final report include details about the spiritual and temporal aspects of district life with a six and seven district configuration.
Much work lies ahead for the Appointive Cabinet and five laity between now and the 2013 Annual Conference session. This group is charged with bringing detailed plans for a six-district, a seven-district, and a nine-district configuration to the 2013 Annual Conference session. The detailed plans are to include:
• Definition of the role of the District Superintendent in six- and seven-district configurations.
• Maps of new district lines.
• Plans for District property matters, with cost/benefit projections based on new district lines.
• Plans for District operational matters, with cost/benefit projections, based on new district lines.
• Plans for District missional matters, to include consideration of the spiritual and temporal matters in the life of the districts, with cost/benefit projections, based on new district lines.
• Summary of all financial matters based on new district lines.
• Special attention will be given as to how to use communication technology to enhance ministry and maintain connection while reducing costs and improving efficiency in our disciple making capacity.
The 2013 Annual Conference session will receive the report and determine whether to maintain the current number of nine districts or to reduce to six or seven districts. Pending conference action in 2013, the implementation date for reduced districts would be with the appointments flowing out of the 2014 Annual Conference session.
Districts are regional groups of United Methodist churches in a geographic area within the Annual Conference. Each district is led by a district superintendent (“DS”), an elder appointed by the bishop. The DS oversees the ministry of the district’s clergy and churches, provides spiritual and pastoral leadership, works with the bishop and others in the appointment of ordained ministers to serve the district’s churches, presides at meetings of the charge conference, and oversees programs within the district. The DS is one of the primary connecting links between local churches and the larger Church within the United Methodist structure. The nine districts within the bounds of the South Georgia Conference are the Americus District, the Columbus District, the Dublin District, the Macon District, the Savannah District, the Statesboro District, the Thomasville District, the Valdosta District and the Waycross District.