Four months after an historic vote in Acme, The Michigan Conference takes shape.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
Four months after the Annual Conference adopted legislation that enabled the formation of The Michigan Conference, members of the Design Team are hard at work with leaders across the Area. What started as a concept, then a design, is now being built with real people in real space and time in Lansing, Grand Rapids and points all around.
In a meeting held October 3, 2017 the Design Team heard progress reports on various key aspects of the plan.
An update on re-districting was shared by Bishop David Bard. A Task Force has been at work on borders for the nine new districts. At the present time feedback is being received on what to name the districts; all districts will be renamed. It is anticipated that the map of the new districts will be released by year-end and that those districts will organize with the help of the newly appointed superintendents by mid-spring.
Office relocation is also moving ahead. This fall conference staff currently operating out of offices in Flint and Grand Rapids will move to a new facility near the present Area Ministry Center. First to move to Clark Corners will be Treasury and Benefits employees. The Grand Rapids District Office and West Michigan connectional office staff will have new interim accommodation at First Place in downtown Grand Rapids. These moves are expected to take place by December 1, 2017. Offices will be ready in the Area Ministry Center in the spring to welcome new directors of Connectional Ministry, Clergy Excellence and Congregational Vibrancy. The Rev. Benton Heisler reported, “There are lots of moving parts but all staff have been flexible and adaptive in the midst of the changes.”
Financial leaders are also managing transitions. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration will ask agencies to request bottom-line budgets for 2019 to enable more strategic budget-building later by the newly-formed agencies that succeed them. The Rev. Jerome DeVine said, “We are looking at 2019 as a year of stability.” The healthcare program remains in the development stage and a plan will be presented at the 2018 Annual Conference. The planners’ goal is to provide, “the same level of benefits.”
Mission engagement has been a strong part of the life of both the Detroit and West Michigan conferences and the same is expected for the new Michigan Conference. Former Spotlight and Six Lanes projects have been invited to apply for inclusion in the new approach. The Conference Leadership Team is helping refine this process. Coaching and equipping the local church for mission will be a focus of conference mission leaders. The launch for the new model for mission engagement will take place at the 2018 Annual Conference.
While programs and places are an important part of the life of the Annual Conference, people are primary. The two conferences’ Committees on Nominations have been working together for a year on the vital role volunteers play in ministry and mission in Michigan. A 2019 blended Nominations report for leadership will be brought to the 2018 Annual Conference. It is anticipated that more than 400 persons will be “released” from conference roles and responsibilities to recommit themselves to discipleship in the local church. The Conference Personnel Committee has been active in conversation with present conference and district staff about their roles and a transition plan. Director positions will be announced by the end of 2017.
January 1, 2019 will be the birthing moment for all that has been planned and promised over a 3 ½ year time. In the meantime, the Design Team continues to encourage and watch over the implementation of the plan adopted last June to assure a smooth transition. From the beginning of its work in September 2015, the Design Team has sought to nurture the creation of something new. Their ongoing role will help align what continues to emerge at the conference and district levels with that vision and discourage defaulting to what’s always been done.
In his remarks Bishop Bard put the work of the Design Team and God’s people in Michigan within a faith-framework. He described, “Ripples of love moving in and out with a rhythm of Grace,” taking the process forward with healing, generosity, justice and kindness.