Over the past several months, many people have asked questions about how bishops are elected in The United Methodist Church. Just as this is a presidential election year in our country, so it is also an election year in The United Methodist Church. Since the North Central Jurisdictional Conference will be held for the first time since 1960 right here in Grand Rapids from July 16-19, I thought a Q & A might be helpful.
- What is the jurisdictional conference anyway and how are bishops elected?
Every four years, United Methodists in the U.S. gather in five regional meetings to elect new bishops and assign bishops to Episcopal areas. We are in the North Central Jurisdiction, which consists of 12 annual conferences and 10 Episcopal areas. We are electing one bishop in our jurisdiction because of the retirement of Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher.
Each annual conference is allotted a certain number of delegates based on the number of members. The West Michigan Conference is one of the smallest conferences, with 6 clergy and 6 lay delegates. While the primary business of the Jurisdictional Conference is the election of bishops, delegates also elect people to jurisdictional committees and General boards and agencies, and determine the boundaries of the annual conferences.
- How long do bishops serve?
Bishops are elected for life. This year General Conference voted to increase the retirement age for bishops from 70 to 72 years.
- Who can be a candidate for bishop?
Candidates must be elders and are normally but not always nominated by delegations and/or annual conferences.
- How does the balloting process work?
Nominees must receive 60% of the vote in order to be elected and must receive at least ten votes to stay in the balloting. The Book of Discipline stipulates that jurisdictional delegates are not bound to vote for a specific nominee. However, delegations who endorse candidates often agree to vote for their candidate for a certain number of ballots. Delegates are to give consideration to the inclusiveness of The United Methodist Church in their voting.
- Is this a political process?
Yes, it is. However, the strategizing and campaigning is done in a positive atmosphere. Candidates are not running against each other as much as they are running for an office. Most important, in Episcopal elections, the task of the delegates is to discern God’s will, not their own.
- Where will the new bishop serve?
When all bishops have been elected at a jurisdictional conference, the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, after consultation with the College of Bishops, assigns all bishops to their respective areas for the next 4 years. Bishops are itinerant, too!
- Can I attend the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Grand Rapids?
Yes, you can! The Conference will be held at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. All worship services and election proceedings are open to the public and are free of charge. The consecration service for the new bishop will be held at First UMC, 227 E. Fulton, Grand Rapids, on Saturday, July 19, at 9:30 a.m.
- Can I volunteer at the conference?
You can also volunteer to transport bishops to and from the airport in Grand Rapids on July 12-13 and 19. Please contact Sue Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Who is in charge of our North Central Jurisdictional Conference?
Dave Wiltse and Sandra Douglas are co-chairs of the planning committee. However, there are dozens of other people working on worship, local arrangements, transportation, etc.
As many of you know, I have been endorsed as a candidate for bishop by our General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation and also by the West Michigan Conference. My colleague, Jerry DeVine, has been endorsed by the North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Native American Ministries.
I am wading into the waters of this Episcopal process with fear, trembling and great humility and pray every day these words from John Wesley’s Covenant Service, “Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands.” I covet your prayers not only for me but for all of the other Episcopal candidates and for the delegates to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. Pray for God’s will, nothing more, nothing less.