New Bishops Elected in United States

United Methodists elected 11 new U.S. bishops and assigned many bishops to new areas during jurisdictional meetings July 18–21.

The jurisdictional conferences gathered simultaneously in five regions of the United States with the primary purpose of electing and assigning bishops. The United Methodist Church has 46 active bishops overseeing more than 7 million U.S. members. The new assignments take effect September 1.

The newly elected bishops, along with those already under appointment, were assigned to geographic areas for the next four years. They are elected for life.

Bishops are charged by the church’s Book of Discipline to “lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs” of the church and to “guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically.”

The number of U.S. bishops in 2012 (16) is decreasing by two because of a plan approved by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body. The plan included a new formula for setting the number of bishops in a jurisdiction based on church membership.

The North Central and Western jurisdictions did not have elections, since the retirements of bishops in those areas
automatically put them in compliance with the General Conference mandate.

In coming months, United Methodists also will elect or re-elect bishops in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. The denomination has 13 million members worldwide.

Southeastern Jurisdiction

Delegates to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference met at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. They elected:

The Rev. Jonathan Holston, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Atlanta, North Georgia Annual Conference. “I have learned a great deal in the past eight years and gained some valuable experience,” Holston said. “It has prepared me for this new role. I am excited about the opportunity to offer leadership in challenging times and help energize people in service to Christ.”

With degrees from the University of Georgia and Gammon Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, Holston will lead the South Carolina Annual Conference.

The Rev. Kenneth H. Carter, superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District in the Western North Carolina Conference. “I know it’s a gift, and it’s not really a gift to me, but a gift to me for the sake of the Church, the mission of the Church, the renewal of the Church, and the unity of the Church,” he said. “I ask for your prayers and I thank you.”

With degrees from Columbus College, Duke Divinity School, the University of Virginia, and Princeton Seminary, Carter will lead the Florida Annual Conference.

The Rev. William T. McAlilly, superintendent of the Seashore District in the Mississippi Conference. “Most of you know I have lived by John 14:12 these last months, when Jesus said to Philip, ‘if you simply put your trust in me, greater things will you do than I have done,’” McAlilly said. “I believe The United Methodist Church is the greatest church in the Kingdom of God, and we just need to tell our story and lift the spirits of the people, and we will do the things God is calling us to do in the future.”

With degrees from Millsaps College and Candler School of Theology, McAlilly will lead the Tennessee and Memphis Annual Conferences.

The Rev. Debra Wallace-Padgett, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. “My greatest strength in ministry is my long-term and steady relationship with Jesus Christ,” she has said. “I am clear that I am a vehicle for ministry and Christ is the leader. I am in tune to the reality that my ministry would falter without Christ buoying it up, inspiring me to be more than I am on my own.”

With degrees from Scarritt College, Lexington Theological Seminary, and Asbury Theological Seminary, Wallace-Padgett will lead the North Alabama Annual Conference.

The Rev. Young Jin Cho, superintendent of the Arlington District of the Virginia Annual Conference. He said that throughout the process, he has been guided by a prayer by Bobby Richardson: “Dear God, Your will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.” Cho said, “I’m deeply humbled and honored by this opportunity. I want to dedicate my best to the church and to the Kingdom of God.”

With degrees from Methodist Theological Seminary in Seoul, and Wesley Seminary, Cho will lead the Virginia Annual Conference.

Northeastern Jurisdiction

The Northeastern Jurisdiction delegates met in Charleston, West Virginia. They elected:

The Rev. Sandra Lynn Steiner Ball, director of connectional ministries in the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference. “Revitalizing congregations and developing new faith communities is really important to the future of the United Methodist Church,” she said. “The conference can’t revitalize the church, churches must revitalize themselves.” She believes that a bishop must “motivate and inspire churches to see what is possible.”

With degrees from Dickinson College, Duke Divinity School, and Wesley Seminary, Ball will lead the West Virginia Annual Conference.

The Rev. Martin McLee, superintendent of the New England Conference’s Metro Boston Hope District. “It’s my honor to introduce one who loves Jesus, one who loves justice, who is contagious in joy, and invites anyone and everyone to rise from the dead,” said Boston Area Bishop Peter Weaver. McLee quoted Sly and the Family Stone in his remarks to the conference: “Thank you for letting me be myself,” he said.

With degrees from Perkins School of Theology and Texas Southern University, McLee will lead the New York Annual Conference.

The Rev. Mark J. Webb, superintendent of the York District of the Susquehanna Annual Conference. “Thank you for your grace,” he said. “I appreciate your love, prayerful spirit, and desire to do what God wants. We are a great Church, and God isn’t finished with us yet.”

With degrees from Shippensburg University and Asbury Theological Seminary, Webb will lead the Upper New York Annual Conference.

In other action, delegates approved a resolution affirming their commitment to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Alluding to same-sex marriage, the resolution stated, “Clergy, lay persons and congregations may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis and that even though bound to the Book of Discipline, we are also bound by Jesus’s commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst.” The measure received approval from 61 percent of the delegates.

Another group, the Northeast Jurisdiction Evangelical Connection, quickly issued a short statement outside of the conference proceedings, stating that the earlier statement on same-sex marriage “stands in opposition to the doctrine and discipline of The United Methodist Church. A jurisdictional conference does not have the authority to speak in a manner contrary to the General Conference of the denomination. Therefore, we do not believe this statement can be implemented or enforced in any way.”

South Jurisdiction

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference met in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They elected:

The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and a member of the Texas Annual Conference. “We haven’t done this in 16 years, right?” said Harvey, referring to the fact that 1996 was the last time the South Central Jurisdiction elected a female bishop. “I’m honored that I would be this person at this point in our life of the church.”

With degrees from the University of Texas and Perkins School of Theology, she will lead the Louisiana Annual Conference.

The Rev. Gary E. Mueller, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, Plano, Texas. “You start with the basics, and that’s Jesus and get the congregation to fall in love with Jesus and get excited about sharing Jesus,” he said. “The thing that makes me most proud of the folks at First Plano is their commitment to grow deeper in discipleship. In fact, they just adopted a new mission statement. It came from the laity: ‘Creating a Hunger to Follow Jesus.’”

With degrees from the University of Kansas and Perkins School of Theology, Mueller will lead the Arkansas Annual Conference.

The Rev. Michael McKee, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hurst, Texas. “At General Conference, we began to talk about accountability of clergy, and I think we should also talk about the accountability of a congregation because they really are the stewards of our ministry,” he said. “So clergy need to be accountable, laity and congregations need to be accountable and I think bishops need to be accountable, because our accountability becomes a way to
drive our own growth.”

With degrees from the University of Texas and Perkins School of Theology, McKee will lead the North Texas Annual Conference.

Bledsoe retirement

Getting as much attention as the elections, the disagreement between Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe of North Texas and the jurisdictional episcopacy committee was played out on center stage at the South Central conference. Earlier this year, the committee had asked Bledsoe to retire, citing his administrative performance as a factor. After meeting with the committee, the bishop announced June 1 that he would retire, but then he changed course June 5 and said he would fight for his job. He charged the committee with trying to force him out of office.

In a hearing July 16–17, before the opening of the jurisdictional conference, the committee voted to place Bledsoe on involuntary retirement. On July 19, after hearing from both Bledsoe and committee chair Don House, the jurisdictional delegates affirmed the decision to remove Bledsoe in a 208–45 vote.

Late in the evening of July 20, House announced that Bledsoe would be “placed in a retired position” as of August 31. The decision came after consultation with the jurisdiction’s other bishops. Bledsoe would remain retired even if he appealed the ruling to the denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council, House said. The bishop, 61, was elected to the episcopacy in 2008.

In a specially called meeting, the Judicial Council will gather in November to consider Bishop Earl Bledsoe’s appeal of his involuntary retirement

North Central Jurisdiction

Meeting in Akron, Ohio, the North Central Jurisdictional Conference included an episcopal address presented by Bishop Gregory Palmer (Illinois Area) and Bishop Bruce Ough (West Ohio Area). Palmer described the address as an experiment, and it included a two-hour conversation featuring discussions among the delegates about mission opportunities and video clips of vital ministries around the region.

Palmer thanked the conference for its support for building ministries and for aiming high in moving the mission of the church forward. The church has plenty of stories about things that have not gone well, he said. “Now we are saying we are purposed to aspire to be something more than what we are, because we are convicted and convinced that it matters how many people we touch in the name of Jesus Christ, and it matters how many lives are changed, renewed, and transformed…” he said.

Ough said signs of vitality can be seen across the jurisdiction, and vital congregations are in every annual conference. “We see the Holy Spirit breaking through everywhere, bringing revival and renewal. Can I get an amen?”

Western Jurisdiction

News of a shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, cast a somber tone at the Western Jurisdictional gathering, as delegates began their session July 20 by praying for those involved. Other jurisdictions also held moments of prayer. Twelve people were killed and 59 injured in the attack, and suspect James Holmes was arrested and charged, according to news reports.

“Precious children of a loving God died violently last night in Aurora, Colorado,” said Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, whose area includes Colorado. “Each life taken is a reminder of God’s amazing and limitless love and grace, and the tragedy of just one person who wanders off into the darkness of fear and hate. And so we pray.”

“God, you create a beautiful world. And you give breath to all who breathe. Thank you for every unrepeatable moment of life that we receive. Thank you for the miracle that each moment of every life is. Pick up and carry each one who fell to a gunman’s violence last night. Send your healing mercy to those who were harmed. And shine a light into the darkness where James Holmes wanders lost, and lead him even now on a path of peace.”

Though they didn’t elect bishops, delegates to the Western Jurisdiction in San Diego took other significant actions. They adopted a separate statement on the shooting as well as statements on several social issues late July 20. Those included “A Statement of Gospel Obedience,” in which the jurisdiction delegates stated “our belief that The United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of ‘homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.”

“We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Book of Discipline Paragraph 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome,” the delegates said. The statement was to be submitted to the jurisdictional bishops, annual conferences, and others for discussion and implementation.

Sending forth

Retirement celebrations provided some of the joyful highlights of the jurisdictional gatherings. The send-off for Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles area, exemplified the celebrations. Actor Pauley Perrette, of the NCIS television show, announced in a video message a gift from Hollywood United Methodist Church to clean water projects in Swenson’s honor, and the episcopacy committee announced creation of a scholarship in Swenson’s name at Claremont School of Theology (California). Swenson will become the next ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops.

Like Swenson, retiring Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin area was celebrated in the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. Lee also was the closing preacher for her conference, and she urged that the church move from captivity to possibility — from captivity to struggles over issues such as sexuality to possibility for revival and witnessing for Christ.

“It is the things that we do for Christ that will last,” she said, as she began. “Today we go back to the places from which we have come to serve to witness and to be God’s agents of transformation through Christ working within us and through us.”

In her final sermon as an active bishop, she gave an impassioned testimonial to Christ as the living Savior, active in the world today, and she concluded with a blessing.

“May your life be filled with joy,” Lee said, “and may the road you travel always lead you home.”

This report was adapted from information provided by United Methodist News Service.