*This story was updated May 26, 2023 at 10:30am
Bishop Harvey is setting the table for a new future for the Texas Conference and is excited about a new future in the United Methodist Church as we reimagine ministry together. “We are coming out of a difficult time together,” Bishop Harvey said.
Bishop Harvey and the Conference Leadership Team recently discussed the resolution and the proposal that would be before the delegates at this year’s Annual Conference session.
Proposal to Reduce the Number of Districts
The proposal under consideration would reduce the number of districts from nine to five – in an effort to maintain strong fiscal stewardship. If the motion moves forward, the Bishop along with the cabinet will draw new boundaries.
During the Pre-Conference session, Pastor Cindy Doran of Keltys UMC in Lufkin and chair of the East District’s Leadership Team, presented the proposal through a video. She explained that a number of churches have been lost through disaffiliation.
“As we move through the grief of these losses, we realize the loss is in both people and financial support,” she said.
Doran explained that the Conference has to make changes to reflect a tightening of finances, including the reduction of districts. The Conference Leadership Team, which includes Bishop Cynthia Harvey, clergy and laity have recommended moving from nine to five.
Already, the Bishop has appointed five District Superintendents to lead the nine districts, effective July 1. While each DS will provide leadership to a larger geographic area, the number of churches and pastors in each charge is typically less than in previous years.
The District Superintendents are brainstorming less centralized ways to support each area. “They are already reimagining how to best serve and more ways to work effectively with every clergy person and the members of their congregation in their respective districts,” Doran said.
The Conference is at a crossroads, she continued. While reducing the amount of districts will have an impact, “we are committed to making sure no church feels left behind in this move.”
She also noted that as new faith communities grow, and districts change, the Texas Annual Conference will have to readdress this issue in the future.
“We are committed to connecting, collaborating and communicating as we find these next faithful steps that will enable us to do what we do best – making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Doran said.
A Resolution for Our New Life Together
Rev. Seann Duffin, Senior Pastor at Bellaire UMC in Houston, presented the “Resolution for Our New Life Together” during the Pre-Conference.
“We offer this resolution with two broad hopes,” Duffin said. “First, that we, as an Annual Conference, will commit to leaving behind patterns of behavior that are not conducive to a faithful, hopeful life together.”
The second aspiration, he explained, is to build and nurture a Conference culture marked by “compassion, courage and companionship.”
“It’s been a season of conflict, division, competition,” Duffin said. “More broadly, though, I think we can truthfully say that conflict, division, and competition have permeated many aspects of our Conference culture and life together for decades.”
This can be a new season. Duffin explained that the decision to leave behind old patterns that create conflict must be intentional – to prevent it from repeating.
“Our resolution is much more than a call to just get along,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to commit to building a new way of life together, one that prioritizes companionship over conflict.”
He continued, “Companions don’t always agree. They don’t always see eye to eye or want the same things. But they do sit together at the same table, they do nurture one another with their presence, they do trust that God is made known in the breaking of the bread.”
The resolution promotes unity, joining together in a spirit of mutual respect, support and encouragement. “Committing to creating a culture of companionship here in the Texas Annual Conference means walking forward together, trusting that there are great things to come both for our Annual Conference and for the United Methodist Church,” Duffin said.
He continued, “It means embracing and encouraging one another in this season of transformation and re-imagination. It means building bridges by breaking bread together.”
*The original story published on May 17, 2023 included the resolution, “In Support of Creating a U.S. Regional Conference,” which has been withdrawn from the TAC agenda by its authors.