Exploring Options: Appointed Task Force Studying SCJ Realignment

Date Posted: 8/11/2016

Following 2012 General Conference, a jurisdictional task force has been researching hypothetical scenarios regarding the possible realignment of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ). Rev. Jim Welch, representing the Texas Annual Conference on the study committee, collaborated with other SCJ representatives in developing a list of possible alignment plans presented at this year’s SCJ Conference – as a starting point for discussion.

What’s all the buzz about “episcopal balance” or “alignment” across the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ)? When did this topic originate and why? What is the timeline for discussion and what are the next steps?

Bottom line: Forward-thinking denominational leaders continually study missional effectiveness -- factoring in priorities such as episcopal workload, cultural affinities and ways to best position the conferences and jurisdictions for the future. At the 2012 General Conference, leaders determined that it is very likely that the SCJ will be required in 2020 to make a reduction of one bishop. This change would be based on expected membership declines and in accordance with the Book of Discipline (BOD) (which requires 5 bishops per 300,000 members and 1 additional for the next 300,000.) Therefore, a task force was appointed in 2012 to begin planning in case that requirement was issued in 2020.

As Texas delegation co-chair Rev. Chappell Temple explains, “The group was charged with looking at how to balance the jurisdictional and conference lines in the likely event that the SCJ loses one bishop in 2020.  The proposal is thus a hypothetical one at this point. However, due to a change in the BOD that will dramatically shorten the time frame for making such changes, it would be extremely helpful to have already adopted some permissive language to allow a new task force to follow up on the Mission 21 Report presented at the July gathering of the SCJ.”

SCJ Mission 21 Task Force Composition (appointed in 2012)

  • Bishop Mike Lowry- Central Texas Annual Conference
  • Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey – Louisiana Annual Conference
Lay and Clergy members:
  • Arkansas - Justin Ledbetter
  • Central Texas – Darlene Alfred
  • Great Plains – Lisa Maupin
  • Louisiana- Juan Huetas
  • Oklahoma/Ok Indian Missionary- Carlos Rameriz
  • Missouri- Robin Roderick
  • North Texas- Pavielle Jenkins
  • Northwest Tex/New M- Susan Brumbaugh
  • Rio Texas- Carl Rohfs
  • Texas – Jim Welch
According to Jim, the Mission 21 Task Force met seven times over the last four years. “We worked together during and between meetings to gather and review information, decide on considerations and priorities, create maps, review multiple scenarios, develop a draft report, gather input and ultimately present to the recent SCJ Conference.” Some 135 individuals participated, at least one from every annual conference with an even split of lay and clergy. The Task Force sent a draft report to the heads of delegations and the College of Bishops with a request to share with delegations and key conference leadership.
Notes Chap, “The group thus looked at several scenarios, the most ambitious of which was to redraw almost all of the lines in the southern half of the jurisdiction missionally along what are now population and affinity area groupings.  (Those conferences in the north, particularly Kansas East, Kansas West, and Nebraska, have already merged during the past quaddrenium and so no changes are being contemplated there.)  A second way option is to adjust only some of the conference lines in order to essentially distribute major population centers so that every conference has at least one.  This is the reason for not simply combining the Dallas and Ft. Worth episcopal areas (as was once the case)—the group felt that Ft. Worth is needed to “anchor” a conference stretching through NW Texas which does not have such a significant metro area.  This is the option that would most dramatically impact the Texas Annual Conference.  The third way is to simply pair a few adjacent conferences other than North and Central Texas and let them share a bishop.”
The task force presented all three proposals with a recommendation to take the second one as a “starting place” for any future (hypothetical) discussions should they be necessary.  This option is titled Mission 21 option.
Adds Chap, “The motion that was adopted was merely advisory and not binding.  If a new task force is called into being to do this work for formal adoption by the 2020 SCJ, the option identified is, again, only a starting point.” The amendment was to include additional members to the task force from impacted conferences. According to the report, “If implementation is required in September 2020, the SCJ must begin working now and during the next four years so that the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference can formally approve a final boundary change. If implementation is not required, work can be put on hold. If a specific alignment is approved, the SJC will need to establish a new Task Force to work on implementing the changes.”
Important Clarification
The resolution was not an approval of the Mission 21 configuration. It was to create the committee to research options further and discuss implementation scenarios. The appointed committee was charged with getting input and developing a proposal that will be brought to the 2020 SCJ for approval by the delegates at that time, if necessary.  As Bishop Janice Huie explains, “At this point there is no commitment on the part of the SCJ to approve any specific plan. She says, “We are very early in this process and many decisions will have to be made before a final plan is developed for a reduction of an Episcopal area. As a matter of fact, the first question is, ‘Is this really necessary at this point in time.’  It has been suggested that we explore amending The Book of Discipline to allow for a more mission driven formula for deployment of Episcopal leaders rather than a flat membership count.”
Incoming Bishop Scott Jones adds, “There are currently four different study committees discussing the shape of the United Methodist Church both globally and in the United States. I believe that any possible realignment discussion for our annual conferences will wait until 2018 to take these larger trends into account. I fully expect the Texas Annual Conference to be consulted about changes that may or may not become necessary in 2020.”
The adopted resolution states:  The Mission 21 Task Force petitions the South Central Jurisdictional Conference to establish a Task Force designated as the SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force to continue the work of the Mission 21 Task Force and implement the recommendations approved by the 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference. 
The SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force shall make a detailed report to the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference for realignment of the South Central Jurisdiction.  The report will include specific recommendations and a strategic implementation plan. The Task Force will operate under the following provisions:
  • The SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force will build on the work already done by the Mission 21 Task Force, with an emphasis on the following priorities:
    • Mission/Cultural Affinity/Creativity – Focusing on groupings that serve the mission of the church, capitalize on similarities and emphasize creativity rather than doing what is easy.
    • Position for the Future – Developing groupings that position annual conferences and our jurisdiction for the future, taking into account population trends and future needs.
    • Episcopal Balance – Considering issues faced by bishops, including balanced supervision responsibilities and maximizing effectiveness, that allow our episcopal leaders to efficiently provide guidance and oversight to their areas.  Some of these factors include number of clergy under supervision, number of annual conferences over which a bishop presides, and geography.
  • The SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force shall be named by The College of Bishops in consultation with the Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee.
  • The makeup of the SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force shall:
    • Include two Bishops
    • Have one representative from every Annual Conference in the South Central Jurisdiction
    • Contain appropriate diversity
    • Include individuals who will consider the needs of the whole jurisdiction and the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world over and above defending turf or guarding established institutions, conferences, or areas of privilege.
      • Amended to include 2 members, one lay and one clergy, from conferences potentially impacted by realignment.
  • The SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force will be authorized to identify subcommittees for specific tasks:
    • In order to facilitate the work of the Task Force, the members can name subcommittees of representatives from the areas directly impacted by the possible realignment to bring recommendations to the Task Force as a whole.
  • Adequate financial resources shall be designated to allow the SCJ Realignment Implementation Task Force to meet as needed and to engage one or more consultants to guide the process and navigate implementation issues, including:
    • Leading or coordinating the implementation development process,
    • Developing maps, and
    • Negotiating pensions and health benefits issues and other challenges