Since early times, certain ordained persons have been selected and entrusted for a ministry of coordinating and leading mission within a defined geographical region of the church. In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are ordained elders who are elected and consecrated to the office of bishop. They are “set apart for a ministry of servant leadership, general oversight and supervision.”
Bishops are elected by the lay and clergy delegates in each regional area (jurisdictional and central conferences) every four years following regular sessions of the General Conference. The next regular episcopal elections will be held in 2022.
Any active ordained elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop. An eligible candidate must also have at least four years (a full term) to serve 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. Each jurisdictional and central conference can set the percentage of votes necessary to elect a bishop. The Book of Discipline recommends but does not require that a candidate receive at least 60 percent of the votes in order to be elected (Paragraph 405.2.b of the 2016 Book of Discipline). 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 for that jurisdiction or central conference is 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. The assignment is recommended to the jurisdictional or central conference by its committee on episcopacy, but it takes action by the jurisdictional or central conference to approve that recommendation. The jurisdictional or central conference can also choose to amend the recommendation as provided. Newly-elected bishops are usually not initially assigned to areas where they served as pastors, though they may be at a later time.
U.S. bishops usually begin their assignments Sept. 1. (The coronavirus pandemic may alter this). Starting dates vary for central conference bishops depending on when they are elected.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.