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Missouri annual conferences vote to merge

6/12/2002 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Bishop Ann B. Sherer is available at http://umns.umc.org.

By Fred Koenig*

COLUMBIA, Mo. (UMNS) - Members of Missouri's two annual conferences have voted to merge and create a new regional body in the United Methodist Church.

In a joint session on June 3, members of the Missouri East and West annual conferences voted 747 to 528 to become one conference, effective Jan. 1, 2003. The merger will reduce the total number of U.S. conferences, or regional units, to 64.

The proposal was approved by votes of 360-308 in Missouri West and 387-220 in Missouri East.

Both conferences already share a spiritual leader, Bishop Ann B. Sherer, who will continue to lead the new entity until the 2004 South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Corpus Christi, Texas. At jurisdictional conference, bishops for the eight South Central states are elected, retire, reappointed to their current locations or shifted to other annual conferences.

For the past few years, both Missouri conferences have also shared an area staff, which already works with churches on both sides of the state.

After much conversation, delegates acknowledged that the move would not be so much a merger of two separate organizations as it would entail the removal of departmental lines within a single administrative office, which oversees the Missouri Area.

The merger will unite the coordination of ministries and administration of more than 950 churches and more than 1,000 clergy members in the state, said Karen Gordy-Panhorst, communications coordinator for the Missouri Area. However, the change probably won't be noticeable to the state's 180,000-plus United Methodists, she said.

Many joint session attendees were relieved that a vote finally occurred, since merger discussions had been ongoing for eight years as leadership in both conferences examined the best way to organize for mission and ministry, Sherer said.

The leadership first streamlined the conferences' council and team structures, setting up parallel structures in east and west. The conferences then looked at districts and conference staff, and discovered that if both cooperated as a Missouri Area, the number of districts could be reduced from 15 to 12. That would make more effective use of existing resources and eliminate duplication of staff.

The tasks were accomplished in 1999. The conferences then formed a committee that began working on the best way to address clergy support issues as an area, as well as looking at how union might occur. Both conferences found solutions to their issues and told leadership on June 3 that they were ready to be one conference in Missouri.

"Each step of the way, the leadership team in Missouri has sought to discern the best way forward, and I am deeply grateful to this team and their careful, prayerful work that has brought us to this next step along our journey," Sherer said. "The gracious, faithful and committed people who have worked together all these years are a source of great hope and joy to me, and more importantly, to the area. We are excited about what comes next."

The bishop said that as the Missouri Area continues this reorientation of its conference life, "we want to focus on spiritual leadership for our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ whom God can use for the transformation of the world. We believe that we now have a structure in place that will enable us to more effectively and efficiently accomplish this mission."
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*Koenig is associate editor of the Missouri Area Review, the newspaper of the Missouri East and West annual conferences.

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