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Redistricting Announcement

Posted: November 17 2020 at 10:49 AM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


Blue - Prairie North, Green - Prairie South, Red - Prairie Central, Yellow - Lake North, Purple - Lake South

Our virtual annual conference is over and now we begin the work to address the many changes that are before us. One of those changes is the redistricting of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
A brief history: a year ago at our special session of the annual conference, the dean of the Cabinet, Rev. Darneather Murph-Heath, announced that the Cabinet would be submitting legislation in June 2020 to reduce the number of districts from six to five. Of course, we didn’t have Annual Conference in June as planned, but on November 14 we held our virtual annual conference and the reduction of districts from six to five was approved.
Rationale for redistricting 
Why reduce the number of districts? First, there have been many changes in population, demographics, church membership and the number of churches in the NIC. For instance, we’ve gone from 426 churches 30 years ago (when we last redistricted) to 350 in 2020. 
Over the last several years, we have seen how technology enhances the work of a district superintendent (DS) through the use of digital files (when I was a DS we lugged big suitcases of files around!), electronic submission of forms, and other ways to expedite a DS’s work. Out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have utilized communication technologies (mostly Zoom video conferencing) that bring clergy and laity together for many conversations. In-person meetings and gatherings will resume when possible, but we have learned that there are times when we can do our work together via Zoom (and reduce travel time).
We also believe that reducing the number of districts helps position us for an uncertain future. We don’t know how COVID-19 will continue to affect us as a conference with the potential for fewer churches. We know that there is a potential loss of churches due to the separation of the UMC that could result in fewer churches in a short period of time. 
However, we feel that five instead of four districts helps keep the DSs in touch with churches. The DS has become more of a program consultant than in past years because we have fewer program staff in the conference. Therefore, a manageable number of churches is important. We have also learned from other conferences who have redistricted that it’s possible to reduce too much and lose more in terms of oversight and presence than is gained financially as a conference.
The redistricting process
The Book of Discipline states that the annual conference decides how many districts and the bishop in consultation with the cabinet draws the lines for the districts (¶ 415.4).  The Cabinet and I began working on how to redistrict even before last year’s special session. As we have worked on a redistricting plan, we have had prevailing guidelines and we will largely use these to determine any reconsideration:

  • A redistricting based primarily on geography
  • A reasonable number of churches per district and DS, based on the averages in our jurisdiction and across the U.S.
  • A relatively equal number of churches per district
  • Not breaking up churches in the same municipality into different districts
  • Trying to keep churches on the borders of districts together who relate to each other in ministry

The redistricting plan provides for about 71 churches per district. You will also notice that we divided the conference into north and south rather than east and west. All the districts will be “new” and the new districts will have new names! New names for the districts are often the hardest part of redistricting in terms of remembering them, liking them or associating them with where churches are.
Procedures and timeline
For those serving on district committees now, we will use a similar model used for church mergers for at least a year where people who have been serving in a leadership capacity will continue with someone else who has been serving in that same leadership capacity. This will be an opportunity to develop a culture of cooperation and unity and potentially a cross-fertilization of creative approaches to ministry. We hope this will also work well for United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men.
Click here to see an interactive map of the new districts.
Click here to see lists of churches in each district.

Click here to learn more about the transition.

As you can see, the names of the districts are Lake North, Lake South, Prairie Central, Prairie North, and Prairie South. You can also click here for a complete list of all NIC churches in alphabetical order with their corresponding new districts.
The timeline for redistricting is as such:

  • The redistricting plan is now released following the annual conference’s vote, with an interactive model as well as lists of churches in each district so that each church can see for itself where it is and where other churches are aligned.  
  • DSs will begin holding meetings (zoom of course) as soon as possible to talk about redistricting with each district.
  • Rationales or requests for reconsideration from churches can be made to the DS well before the December 31 setting of the district lines. This will allow the Cabinet to review requests before district lines are set.
  • As the bishop of NIC through December 31, I will set the district alignment and make the DS appointments, all effective July 1, 2021.
  • Any church that has not made a request for reconsideration can still submit a rationale to its DS until January 15 and the interim bishop and Cabinet will make a final determination by January 31. But please review the plan as soon as possible and be in conversation with your DS if you think you should be in a different district.
  • By the end of January, those who work on our database, district leadership, and UMW and UMM, and others will begin to address the changes so that there is a smooth transition on July 1, 2021, for information, leadership, communication and accounting.

My experience with redistricting in other conferences is that there is some adjustment, especially remembering the names, and working out the merging of committees and leadership, but otherwise, ministry continues uninterrupted.  Even if you have a change in DS, both churches and clergy are accustomed to that in the rotation of DSs over time and through change in appointments. Rather than letting redistricting be a distraction, allow it to be an opportunity to align anew so as to fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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