"The church owes me nothing. I owe the church and the Lord of the church everything," said Iowa Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, as he was installed April 26 as the new president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Palmer, 54, will serve a two-year term as leader of 69 active and 87 retired bishops in the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. He is the 39th president of the Council of Bishops and its fifth African-American president.
After the ceremonial passing of the gavel, Palmer assured the bishops that he would make sure the "singular honor" bestowed upon him is multiplied.
"At the end of the day, the ups and downs, it would be my great joy and privilege to say 'thank you' to Jesus Christ, this church and to this council, which has honored me so much by giving me opportunities to serve."
With friends and family in attendance, he told the council that "I will, with every fiber of my being, make sure your trust is returned, tenfold."
'A visionary leader'
A native of Philadelphia, Palmer is a graduate of George Washington University and United Methodist-related Duke University School of Theology. He was ordained an elder in the East Ohio Annual Conference after beginning his ministry in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. He was elected bishop in 2000. He is bishop of the Iowa Area, based in Des Moines, where he oversees nearly 194,000 United Methodists in 840 congregations.
The outgoing president, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, 62, passed the gavel to Palmer during a worship service that also celebrated the council's current leadership team, recognized its new leadership team and paid tribute to Huie and past president Bishop Peter Weaver, New England Area.
"This council and the whole United Methodist Church has a wonderful, wonderful gift in store for them," Huie said of Palmer. "As all of us know, (he) is a visionary leader, he knows the church, but more importantly, he knows the human hearts of the people inside The United Methodist Church and outside The United Methodist Church. He knows how to speak from the heart to the heart."
Looking toward the future, Palmer said the council and The United Methodist Church "are, in a sense, in enormous chaos" and "that is a good thing." To those who wonder where the council is headed, he advised them "to hang steady" because "God is at work in our midst. God is using us in unimaginable ways. &ellipsis; We are in the middle of something that we can't fully name; we can't put it in a box and we can't control it. &ellipsis; I pray we will not do anything to stop the momentum that has been created across a period of years."
The Rev. Herbert Palmer, Bishop Palmer's father and a retired clergyman in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, said his son has "major opportunity" and "I am extremely proud of him."
He envisions that Bishop Palmer "would continue to be the diligent and dedicated servant of God that he has always been."
Other council leaders
Earlier in the meeting, the council elected Bishop Larry Goodpaster, 50, of the Alabama-West Florida Area, as its president-designate. He will become president in 2010, when Palmer's term expires, and will be the presiding bishop at the opening of the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
During its April 27 morning session, General Conference recognized the council's new leadership team as well as 14 bishops in the United States and in Africa, Europe and the Philippines whose retirements become effective Aug. 31.
In addition to Palmer and Goodpaster, other members of the council's new leadership team are Bishops Sharon Rader, ecumenical officer; Bishop Robert Hayes, council secretary; and Bishop Donald Ott, executive secretary.
The retiring bishops include Benjamin Chamness, Sharon Brown Christopher, Violet L. Fisher, Joseph C. Humper, William Hutchinson, Benjamin Justo, João Somane Machado, Joel N. Martinez, J. Lawrence McCleskey, Jane A. Middleton, Susan Morrison, Øystein Olsen, Beverly Shamana and Solito K. Toquero.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405(817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470(615) 742-5470.