Vitality prompts changes for Greater Washington District
By Melissa Lauber
As The United Methodist Church emerges from the pandemic and faces a season of potential disaffiliations, the Baltimore-Washington Conference is positioning itself for strength and vitality as its leaders prioritize mission and ministry. A part of their leveraging for strength will be an exploration of how to best align the BWC’s eight districts.
The first step in this exploration will occur this July, when the Rev. Gerry Green, superintendent of the Greater Washington District, retires. Supervision of the 65 churches in the Greater Washington District will be taken on by superintendents in the surrounding districts.
Conference leaders stress that the Greater Washington District will remain intact during the next appointment year, which begins in July, with coverage being provided by Superintendents Rev. Johnsie Cogman of the Washington East District, Rev. Sarah Schlieckert of the Annapolis District, and Rev. Dawn Hand of the Central Maryland District. Information about the coverage plan, which falls along geographic lines, was shared with local churches in an online meeting Feb. 28.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling emphasized that the needs of the congregations in the Greater Washington District will continue to be met and the ministries of the district, including its vital outreach in Missional Action Planning, will not be adversely affected.
Superintendents Cogman, Schlieckert and Hand will also divide leadership of the district’s standing committees and ministries to ensure their smooth operation and continued success.
Greater Washington’s current district administrator, Olivia Gross, will serve as the administrator of the Washington East District.
These changes among the conference staff will avoid personnel layoffs and privilege every dollar for mission and ministry. They also provide the conference with a year to study and discern the best path to move forward.
In creating the proposed 2024 budget, the Council on Finance and Administration reported that leveraging this opportunity will create savings of approximately $275,000. These additional funds will assist the CFA in proposing the lowering of the benevolence factor for local church mission shares from 17.55 percent to 17.45 percent.
Easing the costs that congregations pay in mission shares, so that more ministry can be performed at the local level, is one of BWC’s guiding priorities.
Bishop Easterling has noted that there is also a biblical principle at play here. Just as dying brings new life, decreasing will bring an increase, and becoming smaller will bring growth, she said.
The bishop noted that “change can create anxiety as we move from the familiar into the unfamiliar, but it is also an opportunity for exploration, creativity and learning,” she said. “We will face the future with boldness and imagination. We will emerge a stronger conference with a rededication to collaboration and innovation.”
Easterling will form a strategic task force that will allow the conference to move forward together, researching and exploring several options for redistricting with at least one fewer district in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Its recommendations will require the approval of annual conference members when they meet in session in June 2024.
The bishop has pledged that stakeholders will have meaningful opportunities to weigh in and that the task force will provide an inclusive, collaborative process that ensures that as many voices as possible are heard.
District activities for social and professional engagement among Greater Washington clergy and laity will continue. Clergy and laity will also be able to participate in the gatherings and training activities of their assigned DS's district if they wish to do so.
In sharing these changes, Bishop Easterling formally announced the retirement of the Rev. Gerry Green, who has reached the mandatory clergy retirement age. She hailed his leadership and the way Green has served faithfully and with deep commitment as superintendent of the Greater Washington District since 2016. She also commended the other superintendents and administrators who will be taking on additional responsibilities over the coming year.
See a map and learn more about the BWC’s current eight geographic districts and their ministries.
See a listing of coverage for Greater Washington District churches.