Cutting Districts

The Western North Carolina Conference (WNCC) decided to move from 15 districts to 8 districts by January 2013. This move will save the conference $1.5 million dollars a year that Bishop Goodpaster (BG) would like to see go towards making our churches more vital in our area and starting new congregations. This is hot news among the denomination considering while I was at the School of Congregational Development I spoke to people from California to New Jersey who had heard of this decision. Some were excited. Others warned of the impending doom that will follow (ok a little harsh but I was told by a DS from another conference that we would lose 5-7% of our giving towards apportionments because of this decision).

The Disciple states that the Annual Conference (AC) is the one who agrees on the number of districts and that it is the job of the Bishop to set the boundaries and structure. Without a defined plan the AC gave permission for BG to move forward. I think that speaks highly of our trust and confidence in BG and that he will not lead us down the wrong path.

Last quadrennium we voted to add a district because the 14 current districts were too big for District Superintendents (DS) to handle, especially down in the Charlotte area. Now the DSs who make the cut and stay on will have double the amount of churches, clergy and area. how this will all be worked out will be handled by a team assembled by the Conference of equal representation of clergy and lay. They announced this list not too long ago.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I saw the line up of the usual suspects. The conference took this leap with the hope to save money but also to become more vital in our conference. There was talk of making sure we are not doing the same old thing over and over again because they same old thing really isn’t working. That sounded exciting, promising and I truly believe it is what BG wants for our conference and our denomination as a whole.

Yet I believe some people are missing from this team that could help bring a new set of eyes to our conference to move us forward. I cannot speak about the laity on this team, only to the clergy. But as I looked at the clergy that will represent the conference and help it decide what this huge restructuring will look like there were no young clergy named. No one under the age of 40 (from the looks of it), forget the legal age of ‘young clergy’ which tops out at 35. There is no one who received their Masters of Divinity in this millennium or who has a congregation who averages less than 100 people in worship each Sunday.

It seems the usual suspects will make the decisions. The rural small churches, which makes up the vast majority of our congregations in our conference, will have no clergy representation. The young clergy, who are a small minority, are the same way. I think an opportunity to be really innovative and bring new eyes to the table may have been missed. I pray I am wrong.

I pray for this team as they meet to discuss what our conference will look like and act like for the next however many years. I pray that God will work through them to empower the UMC in WNCC to become relevant, to grow, and to be full of vital congregations doing life changing ministry through Jesus Christ for the people in our communities.


WNCC Receives Grant for Young Clergy

Below is what was announced via the WNCC e-News today. I thought this looks very promising and a great opportunity for those coming out of seminary.

Bishop Goodpaster announces awarding of Lilly Grant
Dec. 8, 2010 – The Western North Carolina Conference has been awarded a $900,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to focus on transition in ministry for those graduating from seminary and moving into the appointment system of the church. The grant and program will be for an initial project over the next four years.

The Transition-into-Ministry for new clergy is connected with other programs that the Lilly Foundation has funded for several years, but the Western NC Conference will be one of several other annual conferences sharing in this project within The United Methodist Church. The design for the conference will involve several graduating seminary students who have at least 30 years of service to offer. These new clergy will serve as interns in a variety of church settings, and participate in several retreats and learning experiences over a three year period. In addition, they will have the benefit of a mentor-coach.

“We will be working closely with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the district superintendents as we finalize the details, the appointments and the intern years. The generosity of the Lilly Foundation will allow us to provide funding for the project, but we will match it with other revenue sources as well,” said Goodpaster.

When the conference learned this summer that it had been invited to apply for the grant, Bishop Goodpaster invited Janice Virtue, Terry Moore and Ashley Crowder-Stanley to work on the proposal and design of the program. They spent a day at the Lilly Foundation offices in Indianapolis, and upon hearing the guidelines and processes, began working on the application.

“I am thrilled that our Conference received this grant,” said Goodpaster. “And, I am confident that this will be a significant experience not only for those who will be involved in the actual program, but for what we will learn and apply to many others. We had a great team, and I am very grateful for Janice, Terry and Ashley and their extra hours of work in putting this together.”

Health Care Costs Frustration

It is that time of year again. The end is near, of summer and possibly other things. September 1st was yesterday and also the day that the conference announced the cost of health coverage for 2011. I have discussed, ranted, and complained about this before. It seems to be a yearly thing and about this same time of year when we are shocked that once again our insurance is going up. For 2010 the cost to cover my family is $925 a month. In 2011 we get the esteemed honor of paying $1020 a month, then plus 1% of mine which the church pays 99% of.

Four freakin’ digits a month…

Now after my last rant some people told me to check out other plans and for the first two months of the year my family was on separate plans. We saved about $300 a month doing this BUT I could not deduct this cost and it moved me into another tax bracket. Since UM Ministers are self-employed employees (we pay self-employed tax) it would mean I would owe the government more money than we were saving. We dropped their coverage and added them back on the conference plan. (See picture above for my personal feelings)

I emailed the heads of our conference about this issue and got this response. “The only explanation that I have concerning the increase is the rising cost of medical coverage. Primary PhysicianCare has projected for 2011 that the conference health and dental benefit plans could expect $12,356,122 in claims. ($11,840,440 – medical and $515,682 –dental) This is active clergy and retirees under 65 only, no retirees over 65 factor into this equation. (Retirees under 65 pay 100% of the health benefit cost.) The utilization is expected to remain even, so the 10.3% increase in our cost is purely medical trend.”

I then emailed back and asked about the coverage through the denomination. From my research there are 26ish conferences that are covered as a group and not seen as self insured group. Apparently the Western North Carolina Conference has thought about going this route and has interviewed with HealthFlex (the company that does the insuring) but the Conference Health and Pension Committee doesn’t think it would save us any money.

I don’t know what the answer is and that is frustrating too. My wife doesn’t work full time. She teaches Massage Therapy at a community college but they aren’t hiring any more full time people there. Plus the town we live in can supply enough clients for her to move 100% to a private practice. In addition we like the time we can spend with our two young children. We don’t have to put them in childcare (which can be worse than healthcare) with our current work schedule. But when 1/3rd of my monthly paycheck goes to the conference for healthcare…the space between a rock and a hard place gets that much smaller.

Clergy Health Initiative = Ministry is Bad for Your Health

Round two of surveys were sent out by the Clergy Health Initiative. the goal of this group “is not simply to gauge the state of pastors’ health. It is to facilitate changes that enhance it.” This is study done with the Western North Carolina and North Carolina Conference and is run through the Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.

With their request for us to fill out another round of surveys, which did take almost 45 minutes to complete (but was compensated $25 for doing it, DATE NIGHT WITH THE MRS!), they provided us with a few facts from the first survey. It seems being a minister can be bad for your health!

All of these stats are compared to the state of North Carolina as a whole.

Obesity Rates: NC= 29% Clergy = 40%
Arthritis: NC= 27% Clergy = 29%
High Blood Pressure: NC= 25% Clergy = 29%
Asthma: NC= 10% Clergy = 14%
Diabetes: NC= 7% Clergy = 10%
Depression: NC= 6% Clergy = 10%

It is intersting that compared to NC, we are higher in every category. No wonder we pay an arm and leg for health care (at least in the WNCC).

Apportionments Presentation

Using Prezi, I created a presentation I will be giving my congregation on the reasons why we pay apportionments (which we are VERY behind on…shhh don’t tell the DS). See what you think and thanks again Gavin for turning me on to this presentation software. Enjoy…of course realize you won’t actually hear what I’m saying but you can look through my ‘slides’. (just click the middle button to scroll through it and the one on the left to go backwards and to end it, hit the circle little thing for the last dramatic effect)

The main point I’m bring up is that when we give a $1 to apportionments it goes a very long way. There is no other place $1 can make such a large and significant difference.

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Why I Voted the Way I Did

In response to John’s comment, which started to be too long for a comment, here is why I voted for our Annual Conference to stay at Lake Junaluska.

To tell you the truth I came in ready for the conference to move. I think we as a conference should be willing to make necessary changes to encourage growth and hospitality. Since the Lake Junaluska auditorium doesn’t fit all of our delegates it seemed appropriate to move. I did not agree with a couple of the arguments that were flying around. IE…Lake Junaluska is to pretty to move, God is only at the Lake, we won’t be able to be spiritual in Greensboro, there is too much crime in that area of Greensboro. That was all too much sentimentalism and was really only grounded in personal opinion (and lack of the ability to see God in concrete).

In the end I did vote to stay and did so for two reasons. 1. Our money would go to help another United Methodist agency. If we moved to Greensboro we would only be padding Kourey’s pockets, owner of the convention center. Plus the area around Lake Junaluska benefits well from our coming there, although they do hike up prices on hotel rooms and such. The estimated economic impact of AC is around $1,000,000 in the area. I would much rather do that in the Waynesville/Maggie Valley area than Greensboro (3rd largest city in NC) because it is a large positive impact on the community.

The other was a passionate plea from two youth delegates. They said they grew up together and they “always began the summer at the Lake.” I thought about my two children and that “the Lake” is about the only time PKs can get together for a long period of time. They can interact with kids who understand their unique situation (living in a parsonage, Mom/Dad always at meetings, hearing people talk badly about their Mom/Dad). If we met in Greensboro the families would stay at home.

Overall those two reasons, economic effect on the community and my children growing up knowing other PKs and not regretting everything “church” persuaded me to stay. But as my wife reminds me, NO ONE CAN COMPLAIN NOW. I can no longer complain that the so called air conditioned Stuart Auditorium is a brisk 95 degrees. I can no longer complain and I won’t because I voted to stay.

Annual Conference thus far

Well it is that time of year again and I am up at “The Lake”, aka, Lake Junaluska for the Western North Carolina Conference. It has so far (clergy session + day one) been a good time. Worship has been wonderful.

Conference business has been a little trifle. There is one major issue that is coming before the conference and that is, where to have annual conference. A Task Force has looked at moving the WNCC AC to Greensboro, NC and is proposing to do that next year. The main reason is that the annual conference has outgrown the facilities here at “The Lake”. Stuart Auditorium we congregate in can only sit 2/3s of the delegates of the AC. This means that 1000 people are left out from voting. This does seem a little unfair.

I could go on about the little things like not many eating options, poor air conditioning in the auditorium, and a couple more but then I think I am being a little trite now. We will vote on this matter tomorrow afternoon but today we could ask questions of the task force and to clarify anything we desired. Around 48 questions were asked, and 1/3rd were simply reasking the same question and some were people really making a statement and not asking a question.

Some were valid. Where is the money we spend on AC going? If we move to Greensboro it will go to the Koury Family, the rich young rulers of the center we would host the AC in and who own a good portion of Greensboro. Here at “The Lake” (are you tired of the quotes yet?) the money goes to a United Methodist Conference Center, actually the United Methodist Conference Center for the South Eastern Jurisdiciton.

We need to honor the amount of delegates we have and if we have out grown the space, being good stewards, we need to look at options. I understand the need to move but there is sentimental passions stirring too.

Some of the questions that were posted were plain stupid. There is no other word, just stupid. “Did we know that the crime rate in this area is one of the largest in Greensboro?” (Like Jesus commands us to go only where crime is down and there are no poor). Some of it is emotional. Stuart Auditorium has had more clergy ordained in it than any other place in the nation (pretty freakin cool!) The view is unbelievable and the resources for families to join delegates and have stuff to do is very good as well. But the Holy Spirit is known to not only reside in this cove of the mountains.

How will I vote? I am still up in the air. I can see both sides. Change is scary. Change is necessary. Are we changing for the sake of changing or are there real and tangible needs that can be filled by going elsewhere? We do make an impact on the community around us and we provide a nice boost to the economy of this area. But hotel room prices do go up for these four days, by almost 30%.

It will be interesting to say the least.