The Rev. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Baltimore-Washington Conference was elected as a bishop in The United Methodist Church on the 11th ballot of the 2016 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
Moore-Koikoi was elected with 108 votes just before 9 p.m. on July 13. The new bishop served as superintendent of the Baltimore-Metropolitan District immediately before her election. She played a pivotal spiritual role in the city following the unrest in 2015 around the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
She needed 60 percent of the vote for election and received 64.3 percent.
“My heart is so full,” said the bishop-elect as she stood at the podium. “I don’t have the words. All I can say is glory, hallelujah!”
Holding her husband’s hand – the Rev. Rafael Koikoi serves Sharp Street Memorial in Baltimore – Moore-Koikoi said that she knows being elected is a sacred trust.
“I’m gonna need your prayers so that I can fulfill that trust,” she said. “I give each of you permission to pull me aside when I might be going astray. God spoke through you tonight, and that’s gonna continue.”
Moore-Koikoi said that as a bishop, her job will be to point out places where she sees God at work. She mentioned two examples, including a singing group she was once in called “Tapestry.”
“Sometimes, God took all of the single chords and wove them together into something spectacular,” she said. “We need to show the world that God is more than just a good and beautiful God; God is a spectacular God.”
Moore-Koikoi said she sees the work of bishops as “overseeing the work of the church, working prophetically, evangelically and apostolically with all as they cooperate with the grace of God.”
A key component of that, she said, is leaving space for the transforming movement of the Holy Spirit, especially at this time in the life of the church when the denomination is divided and many people may be wondering about what the future might hold.
“That’s spiritual work— remembering who God is and who God has called us to be,” she said. “We got God, so we got this.”
The daughter of a retired United Methodist pastor, she grew up in the church, worked for 17 years as a school psychologist, and was ordained as an elder in 2010. She has served as a student pastor at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Highlandtown, Maryland; an associate pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis, Maryland; a Discipler Guide, resourcing local churches; and a superintendent of the Greater Washington and Baltimore Metropolitan districts. She also serves as chair of the conference’s Unified Funding Task Force, which oversees loans and grants, and as the cabinet’s spiritual director.
Moore-Koikoi sees herself, she said, “as a bridge-builder,” clear and confident about what she believes, while also respecting others who might not believe the same way.
Growing up as an African-American woman in an often discriminatory culture and church, Moore-Koikoi believes she has a unique voice.
“As a woman of color, I have learned the gift of perseverance,” she said, “being able to hold onto hope in the midst of oppression.
“Our denomination needs that,” said Moore-Koikoi. “As our pews become more empty, as we experience more financial difficulties, we have to hold out hope. I’ve had to use my spiritual eyes.”
Her vision is one of a diverse church that embraces justice and the life-saving love of Christ.
When she was a child, she listened to her preacher father. He taught her the 139th Psalm, “especially the beautifully and wonderfully made part.”
It’s a vision of the church she’s committed to work for as a new bishop. It won’t be easy, and the “awesome responsibility” has her feeling a little scared.
“But I remind myself, God has got this. God is in control,” she said. “My role and the church’s role is to experience the reign of God here on earth and point that out to people.”
Bishop Moore-Koikoi now awaits her assignment to one of nine episcopal areas in the jurisdiction. That information will be announced at 8:45 a.m. Friday, July 15.
Lauber is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and Alsgaard is managing editor for the conference.