A new conference and a new district plan

An introduction by Bishop David Alan Bard:

Among the duties of a bishop delineated in The Book of Discipline is the following: to form districts after consultation with the district superintendents and after the number of the same has been determined by the vote of the annual conference (415.4).  Last July, when interviewed as part of the episcopal electoral process, no one asked how I might proceed with forming districts.  Imagine that!  I doubt that anyone thinks about this when discerning whether to offer themselves to the election process for bishops, or among those voting for the candidates.

Fast forward a few months, and here we are!  At the 2017 joint meeting of the Detroit and West Michigan Annual Conferences, we will consider two important proposals regarding districts.  The first proposal is the Nine District Resolution.  It is clearly written and I welcome you to read the attached rationale.  There is also a map to review.  Please keep in mind this map is for illustrative purposes only.  It represents just one possible way we could organize nine districts.

The second proposal is to authorize a task force that will be part of the consultative process.  This task force will examine financial and legal issues that may be involved in the transition from twelve to nine districts, and make recommendations about these issues.

According to the Discipline, it will be my responsibility to draw district lines in consultation with others. I will use as my primary consultation group members of the Full Cabinet, including the Clergy Assistant to the Bishop, the District Superintendents, and some conference staff – including the Directors of Connectional Ministry and the Conference Lay Leaders.  Given the size of the Full Cabinet, a smaller working group may help us get started. 

During this process we will consider the current district lines and charge alignments, accounting for geographic affinities, and working to maintain the incredible spirit I am finding in our current configuration.  It is important to acknowledge that while these actions are significant, the district's lines can always be changed over time as may be needed for mission and ministry.

Once the new district boundaries are established, I would ask District Superintendents to gather a few key leaders, lay and clergy, to offer advice on district names and district office locations.  I have made a commitment to provide an even more detailed process for forming the districts to be made available on April 15.  

In a book I have been reading as part of my personal devotional life, Sister Joan Chittister writes: The marriage of confusion and creativity is the beginning of new life.  We start now from places we have never been allowed to imagine before and out of them we can imagine new conclusions as well. (Between the Dark and the Daylight, 86).  There will be some confusion along the way, but my prayer is for the creative Spirit of God to again brood over the waters – in this case the great lake waters that surround us as Michigan United Methodists – and bring forth something new that shines with the grace of God.