Delay in elections upends bishops’ plans

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The pandemic-caused postponement of General Conference has forced a readjustment of bishop retirement plans.

A third of The United Methodist Church’s 66 active bishops had planned to step down this year or next after the election of their successors. But with General Conference delayed until Aug. 29-Sept. 7, 2021, most of those 22 bishops are continuing in their current office.

The two exceptions are Bishop Bruce Ough, who leads the Minnesota and Dakotas conferences, and Bishop Sally Dyck, who leads the Northern Illinois Conference. Starting in January 2021, they will both move on to serve new roles with the Council of Bishops — Ough as executive secretary and Dyck as ecumenical officer.

General Conference, the denomination’s top policy-making body, will ultimately set the number of bishops through 2024. That means there are no elections until United Methodists know just how many bishops they can elect.

The five jurisdictional conferences — simultaneous U.S. meetings originally scheduled for July — now are set for Nov. 10-12, 2021.

The seven central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — also are rescheduling their meetings and elections. Central conferences typically follow the U.S. jurisdictional gatherings over a period of months.

Most are still finalizing new dates. The Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference is now set for April 6-10, 2022, in Tallinn, Estonia.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, requires central conferences meet within a year of General Conference.

For now, the denomination faces only two vacancies in the near future. Since both Ough and Dyck serve in the North Central Jurisdiction, they and their fellow bishops in that jurisdiction are drafting a plan to provide episcopal oversight in 2021. That plan will go before the Council of Bishops no later than June 30. The council has final approval on any interim bishops.

The North Central Jurisdiction also has named an Episcopal Leadership Task Force that is looking to reduce the jurisdiction’s bishops from nine to eight, starting in 2022.

The pandemic has created an unprecedented situation that will require some flexibility — or at least a pause — in the usual flow of church business.

The Book of Discipline says U.S. bishops must retire on Aug. 31 following jurisdictional conference if they turn 68 before July 1 of that year. The goal is to avoid bishops reaching the mandatory clergy retirement age of 72 in the middle of their four-year terms.  

In the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, bishops have term limits. In the Philippines, bishops must run for re-election every four years to remain in active office.

Suffice it to say, church leaders — including bishop candidates — are now in a period of waiting.

The following 20 bishops have postponed stepping down at least through 2021.

Northeastern Jurisdiction

  • Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar New England Conference
  • Bishop Jeremiah Park Susquehanna Conference

South Central Jurisdiction

  • Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe — New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences
  • Bishop Michael McKee — North Texas Conference
  • Bishop J. Michael Lowry — Central Texas Conference

Southeastern Jurisdiction

  • Bishop Lawson Bryan — South Georgia Conference
  • Bishop Paul Leeland — Western North Carolina Conference
  • Bishop James Swanson — Mississippi Conference
  • Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor — Holston Conference
  • Bishop Hope Morgan Ward — North Carolina Conference

Western Jurisdiction

  • Bishop Grant Hagiya — California-Pacific Conference
  • Bishop Bob Hoshibata — Desert Southwest Conference

Africa Central Conference

  • Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa — Zimbabwe Area
  • Bishop Jose Quipungo — East Angola Area

Congo Central Conference

  • Bishop Gabriel Unda — East Congo Area

West Africa Central Conference

  • Bishop Benjamin Boni — Côte d’Ivoire Episcopal Area

Central and Southern Europe Central Conference

  • Bishop Patrick Streiff — Central and Southern Europe area

Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference

  • Bishop Christian Alsted — Nordic-Baltic Area

Philippines Central Conference

  • Bishop Ciriaco Francisco — Manila Area (central Philippines)
  • Bishop Rodolfo “Rudy” Juan — Davao Area (southern Philippines)

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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