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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    How the 2014 District Days helped us to define the UNY Conference focus

    March 22, 2022 / By The Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and UNY Director of Connectional Ministries

    When it comes to seeing ourselves, its often helpful to hear from an outsider. An outsider can have fresh eyes and share observations which are “eye opening,” even startling. For example, in a recent document prepared by the law firm working with the Conference on legal matters, the Upper New York Conference was described as a “flat organization,” with power and authority disbursed among clergy and laity and among local churches and Conference structures. The lawyers making this assessment were comparing us to other non-profit organizations, like universities, hospitals, and charitable foundations.

    As “insiders,” you and I might not describe ourselves that way, particularly considering the conflict and contention we have experienced as a denomination these last couple of decades. We are apt to see ourselves as hierarchical, even at times adversarial, with church vs. Conference, volunteer vs. staff, clergy vs. laity. Frankly, we are apt to be pretty hard on ourselves, and in so doing, are apt to miss the many ways we do work together toward common ends.

    Take for example our Conference working definitions of a disciple, a vital congregation, and a Christ- following transformational leader. These definitions serve as both goals and standards for the work the Conference is doing to equip local churches to fulfill our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Together, the churches of Upper New are working to increase the number of disciples, vital congregations, and Christ-following transformational leaders in the Conference. Since these working definitions carry so much weight in our life together, the way we got them is crucial.

    Back in the fall of 2014, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, held District gatherings in every one of our 12 Districts. These events were well-attended, involving hundreds of clergy and laity from across the Conference. At each event, Bishop Webb shared the working definitions of a disciple, a vital congregation, and a Christ-following transformational leader and invited feedback from participants.  

    The questions, concerns, suggestions, and affirmations offered by participants were shared with the Conference Leadership Team and helped shape and reshape the definitions. Indeed, by the time Bishop Webb finished the last District Day, the working definitions were different in many ways from what had first been shared. The resulting definitions were not imposed from above by a few but shaped by many working together.

    The process culminated during the Leadership Report shared by the Conference Leadership Team, the Conference Lay Leader, and the Dean of the Cabinet during the 2015 Annual Conference session. You may recall the “UNY 2.0” brochure, designed to look like an iPhone, handed out at the conference as a part of the report.

    In the nearly seven years since Conference members took home that brochure, Upper New York’s working definitions of a disciple, a vital congregation, and a Christ following transformational leader have helped Conference teams, leaders, and congregations focus and evaluate their work of making disciples for the transformation of the world. These definitions remain valuable tools, particularly in the uncertain times we are living through. They can help leaders and congregations regain focus and reestablish priorities. Please click here to read more about them and how they can strengthen and inform your congregation’s work.

    You can review these definitions as a refresher, by clicking here.

    TAGGED / Connectional Ministries / Vital Congregations


    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."