The Louisiana Annual Conference is currently involved in making significant transitions precipitated by proposed conference staff and budget changes--as well as studying and recommending an alternative structure of the organization for ministry and mission of the conference.
In 2008 the appointive cabinet began to examine these questions: “What does it mean to be a vital congregation? Are our conference structure and budget working effectively to assist local churches in their quest for vitality? Ultimately, what duties should be provided by the conference that cannot be performed by local churches, themselves? And, what duties can be moved from the conference office that can be carried on by districts or local churches more effectively?”
With the assistance of church consultant Gil Rendle, the cabinet embraced a new shift in philosophy. The conference will function more as purveyor of “mission strategy,” and not merely as a “service provider.”
Moving forward with this approach, Bishop William W. Hutchinson appointed a Strategic Vitality Task Force in 2011. The group was charged with the task of examining the conference budget and making recommendations for a sustainable budget that would more effectively meet the needs of local churches as they seek to win disciples for Jesus Christ.
The task force reported at the 2012 Louisiana Annual Conference held June 3-6 at Centenary College in Shreveport. Conference members voted June 6 to accept an amended version of the 2013 conference budget proposed by its Council on Finance and Administration (CFA). The $7,431,578 budget represents a 9.34 percent decrease from the 2011 budget.
The drastic cuts were achieved, in part, by the elimination of several conference staff positions. Those positions include the Director of Louisiana Volunteers in Mission, the Director of Christian Education and the Director of Multicultural Ministry.
The 2013 budget reflects the elimination of one district, reducing the number of districts from seven to six. Cuts were also made to the Conference Administration Fund, Conference Benevolence Fund and other line items.
Appointed by the Bishop, a Transition Team has been hard at work examining this issue: “How will the good works driven by conference staff persons continue on once those positions are eliminated? “
The task is a challenging one, admits Rev. Ann Sutton, Transition Team chair. “In the future, the continuation of all the ministries affected by the loss of conference staff will depend upon the collaborative efforts of individuals and churches with a passion for specific areas of ministry. The team is in conversation with established leaders—lay and clergy—in all of these areas, working to broaden the scope of leadership and expand conference engagement at all levels. What feels like a reduction in resources, must in the end be an expansion of shared ministry."
The process for the elimination of a district is being led by the Appointive Cabinet in conjunction with the Transition Team. The members of the Transition Team include Rev. Donald Avery, Rev. Chris Blanchard, Kathleen Conrad, Rev. Don Cottrill, Rev. Freddie Henderson, Collin Hughes, Scott Hughes, Rev. Erin Oliver, Alice Prophit, Rev. Van Stinson and Rev. Sutton.
The team is set to present their recommendations to conference members at the 2013 Louisiana Annual Conference in June.
Prior to June, the group is participating in a joint meeting with the Structure Revision Team and Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey in January.
The Structure Revision Team, also appointed by the Bishop, was formed to study and recommend an alternative structure of the organization for ministry and mission of the conference. The rationale for this endeavor stems from the appointive cabinet’s examination of the aforementioned questions: “What duties should be provided by the conference that cannot be performed by local churches, themselves? And, what duties can be moved from the conference office that can be carried on by districts or local churches more effectively?”
Margaret Johnson, team chair, said, “The group’s recommendations will be influenced by similar proposed legislation at the 2012 General Conference. Proposed changes, of course, will be consistent with the current Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Ultimately, any proposed structure revision will be designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of conference and local church function.”
Members of the Structure Revision Team include Andrew Blackwood, Rev. John Cannon, Rev. Jerry Hilbun, Rev. Tim Smith, Rev. Leslie Stephens, Ruben Vaughn, Diane Wilkinson, Rev. Deborah Williams, Rev. Ed Boyd (cabinet liaison), Rev. Don Cottrill (Provost/Director of Connectional Ministries) and Johnson.
The team has gathered information from other conferences which have gone through similar restructuring processes, said Johnson. “We identified the strengths of each conference report, discussing how their work could be applied to our annual conference.”
The Structure Revision Team is conducting personal interviews with a diverse group of United Methodists from throughout the state. The group also plans to conduct listening posts throughout the conference over the coming months.
Rev. Cottrill said, “Decisions have been made that require us to rethink and revision our way of doing ministry in the conference. We are truly seeking to work as a connection to do God's work in our midst. Imagine what can be accomplished with 496 churches and 120,000 disciples working together toward our goal.”