Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey, the current United Methodist Bishop of the Michigan Area, is once again opening up the discussion of the merger of the two Michigan Conferences. She writes in her column “Honest conversation about the future”:
One of my goals for my first year in Michigan was to ‘get to know the territory’, and to listen to the people throughout this great state. I have talked with and heard from, literally, hundreds of people across both the Detroit and West Michigan annual conferences.
I have heard:
many stories – both celebrative and painful;
many exciting reports of ministries happening both in local churches and across the districts;
heartfelt sharing of hopes and dreams for local congregations, annual conferences, and the denomination;
words of frustration as well as praise and excitement.
But through it all, one question surfaced again and again at nearly every place I found myself.
That question:“When are our two conference going to come together?
This has been voted down several times in the past, but the margins were slim enough, that some people, are bound to feel disappointed that this never happened. Bishop Judith Craig brought representatives of the Conferences together to vote on this. As I recall, West Michigan voted for it and the Detroit Conference narrowly voted against. So, no merger. (I think I voted for it that time.) Bishop Donald Ott raised the issue for us again. As I recall, Detroit Conference voted for this and West Michigan defeated it. (I think I voted against it that time, because I was involved with the West Michigan Conference Youth Council at the time, and I felt that such a merger would seriously change the nature of the council — possibly making it impossible to have such a thing in the form in which it existed.) Then under Bishop Jonathan Keaton, the issue was raised again. This time around a great deal of planning and preparation and interpretation went into this. I was heavily involved in the planning for the merger. Nonetheless, the Plan of Organization that was finally proposed set off alarm signals for some people (like myself) that did not trust Bishop Keaton. It seemed to consolidate power in an unwarranted way in the office of the Bishop. The invitation for us to attend the meeting that would vote on this merger, stated things like it had already passed. I’m sure it was annoying for a lot of people to get a invitation that told you in advance how you were going to vote. Well, this time, in spite of the excellent groundwork, Detroit Conference passed it and West Michigan voted it down. I think Bishop Keaton and the proposed Plan of Organization killed it. It felt like manipulation.
1.) There is no question in my mind that a merged Conference would be far more impersonal than the two Michigan Conferences already are.
2.) There is no question in my mind that the whole concept of merger arises from the need to manage the denomination’s decline. Consolidation arises from the need to save money, reduce overhead, and be more efficient. I don’t think the decline of the United Methodist Church is something that should be accepted.
Nonetheless, I’m sure there would be advantages as well. As a retired pastor, who is not involved in the structures of the Conference (and wishes to remain that way), I have no ax to grind one way of the other. Administration would be consolidated, Bishop Kiesey would no longer have a two-point charge, appointments across the state would be easier to make. And, so forth.
Bishop Kiesey goes on to say:
I believe the time is right for us to have open conversations around what it would mean to become one conference. I am not talking about a “merger”, where one annual conference ‘takes over’ the other, but I’m talking about creating a “new thing”. What that might look like is certainly not decided.
So … today I am opening the door to that conversation, and I would ask all of us to prayerfully consider where God is leading us.
Head on over to her post “Honest conversation about the future” and add a comment.
This could be a very interesting conversation.