Tracy Smith Malone elected bishop in North Central

The Rev. Tracy Smith Malone of the Northern Illinois Conference was the first bishop elected by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference on July 13.

“To God be the glory. Friends, I stand before you as one who feels very blessed. Blessed for the journey, by your prayers and confidence in my leadership. I am a child of a church. You raised me and formed me. I consider it a privilege and an honor to serve the church,” said Smith Malone after being introduced as a bishop of The United Methodist Church.

Malone, who has been serving as the Chicago Southern district superintendent since 2011, was elected on the sixth ballot with 120 votes. The same ballot elected the Rev. Frank Beard from the Indiana Conference with 109 votes. The Rev. David Bard was elected during the 10th round of voting with 117 votes. North Central must elect one more bishop and will continue voting on July 14.

The consecration service for the four new bishops will be held July 16 at 10 a.m. at Peoria First United Methodist Church.

Later in the week, the North Central Jurisdiction’s Episcopacy Committee will announce the assignment of bishops for the next four years. Their four-year term of service begins Sept. 1.

Smith Malone is the first female bishop to be elected from the Northern Illinois Conference and the first candidate from the conference to be elected in the last 20 years. Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton was elected in 1996. 

Smith Malone grew up in the church as a preacher’s kid – the daughter of the late Rev. Willie Smith.

She received her call to ministry at the early age of 13.

She graduated from United Methodist-related North Central College with a B.A. in religious studies and sociology and earned her master of divinity at United Methodist Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She earned her D.Min. at United Theological Seminary, also a United Methodist seminary.

She is dean of the cabinet for the Northern Illinois Conference and has served various churches in the conference since 1989, when she began her ministry as a youth pastor at Jessie Walker United Methodist Church in Joliet, Illinois.

Before she was appointed district superintendent in 2011, she served as senior pastor of Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, Illinois.

She was a delegate to General Conference 2016, where she was chair of the Agenda and Calendar Committee and is a member of the board of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and is a member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.

The bishop-elect said people began sowing the seeds encouraging her to run for bishop a few years ago. It didn’t resonate at first, but she says she started seeing signs and affirmations.

“As I began to see how the church has become very broken and losing hope, and really trying to figure out who we are in a time like this, I started listening more closely and said to myself could it be that God has been equipping me to be an agent of hope and reconciliation.”

Seeking wisdom she said she dedicated time to pray and fast before coming to her decision last year.

“I asked the Lord to show me and it became very clear in my spirit that this is the path that God wanted me on.”​

 She was unanimously endorsed by the Northern Illinois Conference Delegation in September 2015 and last November by the conference.

“Tracy is an inspirational leader who brings out the best in others— a gift for ministry that The United Methodist Church so desperately needs during these challenging and changing times,” said Northern Illinoise Conference delegate the Rev. Chris Pierson. “Tracy is a leader who not only casts a vision for the church but has the leadership and administrative skills to bring vision to fruition/fulfillment as she points the Church to a more excellent way.”

She says as an episcopal leader she will continue to look to her mentors and those who have guided and shaped her along the way (both laity and clergy).

“Leadership is the ability to give space for listening and hold together different perspectives,” said the bishop-elect. “I’m going to give my very best to God and my very best to the church. People can count on me to be faithful.”

Malone and her husband Derrick Malone have two daughters, Alexis and Ashley.

Three candidates withdrew their names from consideration as the day progressed: the Revs. David Meredith, Christopher Ritter and Charles Boayue. Meredith, an openly gay candidate from the West Ohio Conference, delivered a heartfelt “thank you” when he publicly withdrew after the fourth ballot.

Gerhardt is director of Communications of the Northern Illinois Conference.

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