The United Methodist Church needs fresh leadership now. Jurisdictional conferences ought to be convened in special sessions to empower new leadership by electing new bishops and agency board members.
We live in a period of extraordinary division, disruption and delay. The church is poised for restructuring. The coronavirus pandemic and national crises rage. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the site of the now twice-delayed General Conference. Our denomination, like so much of life, has been destabilized.
The church yearns for visionary leaders who can help us envision a better, safer place — and guide us there under the power of God’s Spirit. Bishops are called to be these strategic leaders, those big picture visionaries who inspire and strategize, who lead us through adaptations during transitions that threaten the future (¶ 401.c). As “shepherds of the church,” would they have the “people called United Methodists” stuck in a dried-up pasture that is being plowed beneath our feet — or would they lead us to the higher ground where grass grows and water can quench thirst for everyone?
It seems that The United Methodist Church is “stuck.” We are not able to make the decisions in the manner that we are used to making them. Unfortunately, The Book of Discipline and long-standing denominational practices do not anticipate the type of adaptation and innovation that our Church needs. In some cases, the Discipline actually hinders the flexibility necessary “for such a time as this.”
But it does not have to be this way. Although the Discipline is “locked” until the General Conference meets — and it’s not guaranteed that global gathering will be possible even in summer 2022 — we can “unlock” the potential that is already among us. There are extraordinary gifts and graces available throughout the connection. As some of the faithful retire and step down from positions, many stand ready to take up the mantle of leadership as bishops and agency board members.
The narrative that jurisdictional conferences must follow the General Conference is false. While grounded in tradition, “the way we’ve always done it” should not prevent us from doing what we need to do today.
As the Rev. Bill Lawrence, former president of the Judicial Council, recently wrote: “There is no constitutional mandate, nor is there any legislative requirement, that a session of the jurisdictional conference must wait for the General Conference to meet.”
Paragraph 26 in 2016 The Book of Discipline (Division Two, Section IV, Article IV of the Constitution) speaks to the timing of jurisdictional conferences and simply states: "Each jurisdictional conference shall meet at the time determined by the Council of Bishops or its delegated committee.”
It is entirely within the abilities of the Council of Bishops to set dates for jurisdictional conferences to meet this year. However, we recognize that it may not be the most advantageous approach to have “regular” jurisdictional conferences outside of our customary sequence.
We therefore urge our Colleges of Bishops to call for special sessions of the jurisdictional conferences to meet by late 2021 or early 2022. We urge the colleges to work collaboratively with the delegates to refine the special calls to include the election of bishops and other contextually necessary business.
New leaders imagine and implement fresh pathways. Raising up new leaders is one of the ways that The United Methodist Church renews itself. Many in leadership have faithfully fulfilled their roles for years within the church, but now find themselves in a season of leadership they did not sign up for and may not have an interest in. New pastors, lay leaders, bishops and board members regularly infuse energy and new ideas into our congregations and systems. Our present predicament yearns for this energizing effect. This liminal time requires bold leadership.
Now is not the time to further delay raising up new leaders who will shepherd us into the future. Rather, now is precisely the time to hold episcopal elections to infuse new leaders into the Council of Bishops and the worldwide church. We ought to be asking: Do we have the leaders that we need to guide us through these turbulent times?
For more information, visit umc-conferencing.org.
The Rev. Nico Reijns, delegation member, Pacific Northwest Conference
Gayla Jo, lay General Conference delegate, Mountain Sky Conference
The Rev. Jay Williams, head of delegation, New England Conference
Jessica Vittorio, lay delegation member, North Texas Conference
The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, head of delegation, California-Pacific Conference
The Rev. Alka Lyall, head of delegation, Northern Illinois Conference
The Rev. Lydia Muñoz, delegation member, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference
The Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, first elected clergy, California-Nevada Conference
The Rev. Drew A. Dyson, first elected clergy, Greater New Jersey Conference
The Rev. Wendy Joy Woodworth, head of delegation, Oregon-Idaho Conference
The Rev. Dan Hurlbert, head of delegation, Desert Southwest Conference
Ian Urriola, lay General Conference delegate, Upper New York Conference
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