Center Lines - October 2008

Well, so much for the "best of intentions." In August 2007, after one year in the position of Director of Connectional Ministries, I resolved to write a monthly column for the annual conference web-site; some written words, thoughts, reflections that would help me better center myself on our essential missions and ministries. I hoped that the pieces might do the same for readers, too. I did pretty well for a while.

Since starting late last summer I missed only January (when the Albany Area Cabinet was on its Gulf Coast VIM trip) and March (for reasons I still cannot figure out). However, after June’s column this year, then came summer, and then came September, and then came autumn, and then came October when a glance at the Center Lines web-page showed how long it had been since I had put fingers to keyboard for this purpose– despite the best of intentions.

As I thought back over the months since the end of June, I realized I had set Center Lines and a few other tasks aside to better focus on issues related to the coming boundary changes. Caring for boundary issues has become time-consuming. This may seem an odd statement to many, because it may appear that little is happening related to these changes which the Northeast Jursidictional Conference (NEJ) approved in July. However, like an iceberg which displays only one-tenth of its mass above the waterline, a lot has been going on "underneath the surface."

You may recall the resolution we and our brothers and sisters from the North Central New York, Troy and Western New York Conferences passed in October 2007. That resolution, which the NEJ affirmed in July, set three separate discussions into motion:   

  • a conversation with the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference and our churches in Pennsylvania to form a new conference in the Harrisburg Area there,
  • a conversation with the New England Conference and the Troy Conference to merge its Vermont churches into New England, and
  • a conversation with the North Central New York Conference, the Western New York Conference and Troy’s and our New York churches to form a new conference in the newly-named Upper New York Area there.  

The three conversations are separate in that each entity- whether a merger in the one case or the creation of new conference bodies in the other two- has a different structure, different needs, different gifts and different graces in its midst, and different visions for its future to be discerned and fleshed out. However, while the conversations are separate, they also are linked. Wyoming is and will remain a conference until the boundaries change in 2010. Our folk in New York care about what happens to our churches and members in Pennsylvania. Our folk in Pennsylvania care about what happens to our churches and members in New York. The same holds true for the Troy conference with its churches in New York and Vermont.

The conversations are also linked because no one configuration change can happen by itself. The three start dates must be coordinated; some administrative matters require coordination across the six conferences as well- things like determining the exact date of the boundary changes, commissioning and ordination services in 2010, retirement guidelines, equitable compensation levels and pension matters to name just a few. "Lining up" these conversations and the issues to be addressed across three states (actually, eight if you include all of the five states in the New England Conference!), four bishops, and six conferences all moving towards three different configurations requires constant communication among all parties and continual adjustments to ones calendar.

To manage these discussions, we in Wyoming are guided by two groups. In New York the New ACT (New Area/Conference Team) is composed of:    

  • the Albany and New York West Area bishops (Bishops Susan Hassinger and Marcus Matthews) and
  • the DCM and three other representatives from each of the four conferences there; a total of 18 persons.   

The New ACT has chosen passages from the book of Acts as Scriptural foundations for it work. Our New ACT representatives are Oneonta District Superintendent Jan Marsi, Associate Lay Leader Jarrett Roan and me. We are working to fill one opening and bring our complement up to the full four.

In Pennsylvania, the Vision Team is composed of:    

  • the Albany and Harrisburg Area bishops (Bishop Susan Hassinger and Bishop Jane Middleton) and
  • the two DCMs and six others from each of the two conferences there; a total of 16 persons.  

The Vision Team has chosen passages from Isaiah chapter 43 as Scriptural foundations for its work. Our Vision Team representatives are Associate Lay Leader Jarrett Roan, Ray Hamill, Beth Jones, Tom Kelly, Wilkes-Barre District Superintendent Greg Myers and me. We are working to fill one opening on the Vision Team and bring our complement up to the full seven.

Each team has met several times through the summer and into fall. They are working to do basically three things: (1) develop operating visions and undergirding principles for the new conferences, (2) organize expanding series of conversations where the members of the new conferences can look at and refine the operating visions and undergirding principles, and (3) coordinate the "nitty-gritty" conversations among all of the conferences’ various committees, workgroups, teams and interest areas. Since the Northeast Jurisdiction’s authorizing actions in July, each team has been focusing primarily on task #1. Much of this work is beneath the surface, in the "90% of the iceberg" we cannot see.

The Vision Team in Pennsylvania has completed its work on the vision statement and supporting documents and has submitted them to their Cabinets for review. A series of listening sessions across the churches in Pennsylvania is being planned. Joint meetings with conference leaders will follow.

The New ACT in New York has met with its consultant and planned a November meeting of a small number of conference leaders for some initial visioning. The participants will identify key areas and questions to guide future discussions. The New ACT will put together more and expanded meetings using the insights and ideas that come out of this November gathering.

As conversations progress and the visions and principles are clarified, each team will organize follow-up meetings and conversations among the conferences’ various ministry areas. These will bring together the persons responsible for our on-going, day-to-day ministries, outreach programs, policy concerns and the like, so they can get to know one another and explore creative ways to build the new conferences’ ministries in light of each one’s visions and principles.

This work will not be complete when the new conferences are inaugurated. In future years, much of it will be ever-changing as we refine it and change our foci to better equip us to better serve our changing communities and environments. Reports at the 2009 annual conference sessions and opportunities for feed-back and discussion will keep us moving in helpful directions and identify additional issues to be addressed.

There is much work to be done to prepare us for the changes coming in 2010. There are good cadres of leaders in New York and in Pennsylvania organizing that work for us and preparing possibilities for us to consider and discuss. Each team is creating a communication plan to keep us informed and involved along the way. Feel free to contact members of the New ACT or the Vision Team when you have a thought, a question or a suggestion so they can share them as their work progresses.

In the meantime, I invite your prayers for all in our conference who look with (understandable!) anxiety towards the unknowns in the future before us. I invite your prayers for those guiding us along the way. Perhaps most importantly, I invite your prayers for the least, the lost and the lonely in the communities and the world we serve. May it be that the work we do now will better equip us to be in better fellowship and ministry with them, and with all whom our Lord has called us to serve.                                                                                      


By: Reverend Mark Marino On 10/29/2008