Originally created 02/13/98

Methodists considering adjustments



COLUMBIA -- The bishop of the South Carolina United Methodist Church has called a rare special session to consider task force recommendations on restructuring.

Conferences across the country are wrestling with how to make operations more accountable and accessible to local churches, the Rev. J. Lawrence McCleskey said Wednesday. "There is a lot of restructuring going on in Methodism," he said. "It seems to be the order of the day."

The proposed restructuring should bring "evolutionary change, rather than revolutionary change" to the denomination, he said.

South Carolina has 241,604 United Methodists, including 750 active clergy.

Several thousand clergy and members will gather Saturday at Claflin College in Orangeburg for the meeting, the first special session since 1972.

The Rev. McCleskey said the recommendations strike a middle ground between those who want to dramatically downsize operations at conference headquarters and those who want to keep a more robust organizational hierarchy.

The annual conference has five divisions:

Bishop, Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry, which gives credentials and places ordained ministers and personnel in the state's 12 districts.

Conference Council on Ministries, which provides resources and guidance to local churches.

Ministerial Affairs, responsible for clergy pensions, insurance, credit union and other financial systems.

Communications, which oversees print media and the conference resource center.

Office of the Treasurer/Statistician, which manages conference finances.

Under the new proposal, the conference would be divided into three areas:

Program Services, responsible for implementing programs and resources for local congregations. The ministries of nurture, outreach, and witness and advocacy would fall under this umbrella, along with the staff of the Conference Council on Ministries and district programming personnel.

Clergy Services, responsible for recruitment, credentials, supervision and deployment of ministers. The episcopal office, the Cabinet and a newly created position of coordinator of clergy services and the Board of Ordained Ministry would come under this division.

Administrative Services, responsible for administrative and support services, including the treasurer/statistician, print media, Methodist Center operations and the Office of Ministerial Affairs.

No jobs would be lost in the reorganization, the Rev. McCleskey said.

If the report is adopted Saturday, the recommendations could take effect after the denomination's annual meeting in May.