As Indiana United Methodists, we have been living in this liminal space over the last several weeks, and some of us have had to take this opportunity to make new discoveries and reassess former practices. For many of us, we have had to face the realities and attend to the responsibility of discerning what it means to be good stewards of our time, talents, gifts, service, and witness.

As the leadership of the Indiana Annual Conference, we have been leveraging this time to discern the most faithful means to serve our ten districts, in light of the recent announcements beginning July 1, 2020, of Rev. John Groves’ new ministry appointment and the retirement of Rev. Beverly Perry. This season has helped us realize the need for greater collaboration in deeper and more pronounced ways than ever before.

You may remember the actions of the 2019 Annual Conference Session to create a Blue Ribbon Task Force. This team of lay and clergy persons were assembled and has been faithful in service over the last several months discerning the missional opportunities and operational needs of the Indiana Annual Conference. From this team’s work, one of the initial recommendations was to identify ways to foster greater connection among the clergy and laypersons within the districts. As these new ways of connecting were explored, the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, in partnership with the Appointive Cabinet, offered a framework for regional relational connectors. Influenced by the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, a plan was developed for the West and Southeast districts to engage Connecting Shepherds to share in the support, encouragement and oversight of local churches and pastors. The full report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force will be presented at the 2020 Indiana Annual Conference Session.

Connecting Shepherds are persons who serve as a member of the team to assist the Conference Superintendent to ensure the ongoing care of pastors and congregations, ensure the INUMC mission and vision are in the forefront, and ensure leadership among clergy and congregations are properly maintained. Those persons who will be considered to serve as a Connecting Shepherd will be all Elders, Deacons, local pastors, and retirees within the respective districts. This process will be closely monitored and evaluated to ensure we are living into the values of the Indiana Annual Conference of being Missional, Accountable, Connectional, and Called. Additional communication will be provided about the process, once the Connecting Shepherds are identified by Conference Superintendents in mid-June 2020.

In order to fully implement this new possibility for ministry, Bishop Trimble announces the expanded appointments of Rev. Dr. Aleze Fulbright who serves as the Conference Superintendent in the Central District, with the addition of oversight for the West District. Additionally, the expanded appointment of Rev. Russ Abel, who serves as the Conference Superintendent in the East District, with the additional oversight of the Southeast District; both effective July 1, 2020. Our ten districts will remain, though oversight for a few has changed. All of our Conference Superintendents are committed to avail themselves in expanded leadership during this time, as we explore this different model in Indiana.

We hope you know that the Indiana Annual Conference is diligently seeking opportunities to better serve Indiana United Methodists in fruitful and efficient ways, which we can only accomplish TOGETHER!