Ask The UMC: How are bishops chosen in The United Methodist Church?

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Bishop Sharma Lewis shares a moment with Bishop Lindsey Davis, her former bishop in North Georgia Conference, during her consecration on July 15, 2016, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center at Lake Junaluska, N. C. File photo by Burt Williams, Western North Carolina Conference.
Bishop Sharma Lewis shares a moment with Bishop Lindsey Davis, her former bishop in North Georgia Conference, during her consecration on July 15, 2016, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center at Lake Junaluska, N. C. File photo by Burt Williams, Western North Carolina Conference.

In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are ordained elders who are elected and consecrated to the office of bishop. Bishops are “set apart for a ministry of servant leadership, general oversight and supervision.”

Bishops are elected by the lay and clergy delegates to the jurisdictional and central conferences, which meet every four years following regular sessions of the General Conference.  The next episcopal elections begin in 2020.

Any active ordained United Methodist elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop. An episcopal candidate must have at least four years of eligibility to serve as a bishop before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 68. 

Nominations or endorsements of individuals by annual conferences, delegations or other groups are common but not necessary for election.  The conferences set the percentage of votes necessary to elect a bishop. The church recommends that a candidate receive at least 60 percent of the votes in order to be elected. Votes are taken in consecutive ballots until the threshold for election is reached and a candidate is elected. The process continues until the total number of bishops needed are elected.

In the U.S., bishops are elected for life. In some central conference areas, bishops are elected for a specified term and, if elected for a second term or serving at retirement, may become a bishop for life.

Each bishop is assigned to a particular area for a four-year term. New bishops usually are not initially assigned to areas where they served as pastors.

U.S. bishops begin their assignments Sept. 1. Starting dates vary for central conference bishops depending on when they are elected.

The Bishops’ Ordination Chain lists all bishops and their date of election since the beginning of American Methodism.

Listen to Bishops’ personal faith stories.

Learn more about the Council of Bishops.

Have questions? Ask The UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. First published Nov. 13, 2018.

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