Bishop Announces District Realignments



 Bishop Susan W. Hassinger, interim bishop of the Albany Episcopal Area has issued the following announcement for both Wyoming and Troy Annual Conferences.

Some time ago, the Reverend Jan Marsi, Superintendent of the Oneonta District for the past seven years, had indicated her desire to be appointed as a pastor to a local church. (A district superintendent’s appointment is year-to-year, as is the appointment of every elder.  Superintendents’ term, as per the United MethodistBook of Discipline is six years, and may be extended for up to two additional years.)

After prayerful consideration, the Albany Area Cabinet and I have honored that request, and Reverend Marsi’s new appointment was announced on Sunday, February 21, 2010.  That decision required further prayerful discernment regarding superintending responsibility for the Oneonta District of the Wyoming Conference. At the same time the cabinet and I were engaged in these discussions, it became apparent that the new conference in Upper New York was facing potential financial concerns.  Those working on recommending budgets for the second half of 2010 and all of 2011 had made a commitment that a balanced budget would be prepared that would not increase local church ministry shares/apportionments for the second half of 2010. 

In a time of deep change any shift in the system becomes an opportunity to ask how we might become more missional.  Hence, Rev. Marsi’s decision became an opportunity to reconsider how superintendents will lead and supervise in ways that are both more missional and less costly.  To that end two things are happening: 1) a task force to explore superintendency; 2) reduction of the number of districts.

In light of that reality, Bishop Matthews and I agreed that we would consider the reduction of one district each within the current Albany Episcopal Area and the New York West Episcopal Area.  Such a reduction would not be the last word on district configurations in the new conference, but would be a response to some of the current needs. 

A task force for the new Upper New York Conference, convened by Jan Marsi, has been exploring what districts might look like in the new conference, based on how superintendency might best be carried out in order to move towards the vision and mission and core values adopted by our conferences last June.  That task force continues to work, and may or may not be ready to make recommendations to the June 19, 2010, uniting session, for implementation by July 2011.

The Cabinet began a thorough process of looking at future leadership for the current Oneonta District by identifying some guiding principles.  (See appendix to this announcement.)  Out of that process, we began to develop a means of moving forward with that.  The shifts that are described here are considerable, which is appropriate in times of great missional change.

I have met twice with the Committee on District Superintendency in the Oneonta District.  The first time was to share the information about Reverend Jan Marsi’s new appointment; the second was to share with the committee the next steps.  Reverends David Masland and Janice McClary Rowell were part of the second meeting, as they shift their current superintending responsibilities and parts of the Oneonta District will become their areas as of July 1, 2010.

The Reverend David Masland, Superintendent of the Binghamton District since 2006, will add as part of his supervision and oversight some Oneonta churches closer to the southern end of the current Oneonta District.  Six current churches on the Binghamton District are in Pennsylvania, and will become part of the new Susquehanna Conference.    There are also five churches in the Oneonta District that are located in Pennsylvania and will become part of the new Susquehanna Conference.  Reverend Masland has previously served as pastor of churches on the Oneonta District.  His appointment prior to becoming district superintendent was for 8 years at Sidney, NY.

Much of the northern portion of the Oneonta District, plus approximately 15 churches in Schoharie County, which are currently part of the Albany District in the Troy Conference, will be given supervision and oversight by Reverend Janice McClary Rowell. Reverend Rowell is in her second year as Superintendent of the Embury District the Troy Conference.  She has served churches in various parts of the current Troy Conference, most recently for 11 years in Scotia, NY. 

The Embury District currently includes churches in Vermont, which will become part of the New England Conference, and churches in New York State, which will become part of the new conference in Upper New York.  Reverend Rowell and I have met with the Committee on District Superintendency in the Embury District to discuss the pending shifts.  The Embury District Churches in Washington County will become part of the Adirondack District. Those in Rensselaer and southern Saratoga County will become part of the Albany District. 

In the “Imagine” statement of what we feel God calling us to be as United Methodists in Upper New York, several of the lines include the invitations:  “opening to new ways of being and doing Church” and “trusting the ambiguity and messiness of change.”  These matters of changes in district leadership and relationships illustrate this invitation to openness and trust, and demonstrate a call for us to adapt.  It is my hope and prayer that other leaders in the conference and in congregations will risk the kind of thoughtful changes that the district superintendents have pursued. 

I recognize that these shifts in district superintendent responsibilities and district connections had not been anticipated.   For some there will be a sense of loss and for many there will be challenges. Pastors, lay leadership, and congregations, as well as district superintendents who are increasing their workloads will feel losses and challenges.  It is important to be able to name that, and then to ask where God is leading us into the future.  The appointment cabinet is considering how to engage in superintending in ways that maintain the contacts and relationships, while honoring the superintendents’ needs for renewal and personal care.  Jan Marsi, in her responsibility as convener of the re-districting task force, has reminded us that what we are engaged in “is an adaptive step towards a comprehensive re-districting proposal that will be grounded in what we hope will enable the vision, mission and purpose of the new conference.”    In these times of change and transition, we affirm that the God who has guided us thus far will not desert us, but will continue to provide guidance and direction and encouragement.  “Be not afraid!  I am with you!  I go before you!”  We trust God’s promise in Jesus Christ to be with us, and we hear the word of the prophet Isaiah to be attentive to the new thing that God is doing.

(Appended to this announcement is a draft of the shifts in district responsibilities for the continuing district superintendents.)

Proposal for Adjusting of Districts for 2010-11

Guiding Principles 

    • paying attention to the deep longings within ourselves,
    • finding personal wholeness in the midst of the shifts,
    • asking “what is this Kairos moment asking of us?” so that the force of the spirit will be greater than momentum of the system,
    • to keep in mind the adaptive work while we frame the technical work,
    • to recognize that the technical changes we must make now, can and must be changed again as we move forward and discern God’s vision (and this means communicating to all that these changes are temporary),
    • see our response as “seeding something bigger”,
    • making use of ALL of the abundance of the resources God has given us (gifts that are not being fully used now).