United Methodist bishops are no longer pushing for a hold on all U.S. episcopal elections, but church voters still have differing views on when those elections should take place.
The bishops’ decision to delay elections until 2022 — announced at the end of their spring meeting — has frustrated some General Conference delegates while winning praise from others.
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Nevertheless, most delegates who spoke with United Methodist News expressed gratitude that the bishops have rescinded their original recommendation that no elections occur until 2024. The delegates are the people who ultimately vote on bishops and other denominational leadership.
The Rev. Jay Williams, head of the New England Conference delegation, commended the bishops for changing their minds. However, he added: “Elections should be held this year.”
“The church yearns for fresh leadership on the Council of Bishops and agencies,” he told UM News. “As bishops and board members continue to retire and run out of energy, let’s refresh the pool of leaders by electing new ones immediately.”
Much of the difficulty faced by bishops and delegates alike centers on how to handle a situation never anticipated in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book.
The pandemic and slow rollout of vaccines worldwide also has disrupted the usual order of church business.
Faced with shrinking financial reserves and denominational uncertainty, the Council of Bishops in November recommended delegates hold off on electing any of the retiring U.S. bishops’ successors. But the recommendation soon faced pushback from delegates across the United States as more drastic than finances warranted.
As COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available in the U.S., debate has emerged about whether the Book of Discipline requires that General Conference always precede jurisdictional conferences.
The Rev. William B. Lawrence, a former president of the Judicial Council, argues that church law has no such requirement.
Ultimately, bishops called for these voters to wait. They scheduled the five jurisdictional conferences for Nov. 2-4, 2022, with central conferences to follow.
COB President Cynthia Fierro Harvey said the council affirmed that that colleges of bishops can call special sessions of jurisdictional conferences at any time “but not for the purposes of electing members of boards and agencies nor to elect bishops,” based on their reading of the Discipline’s Paragraph 521.
Some church leaders dispute the bishops’ interpretation of that passage. But as a practical matter, the top executives of the denomination’s 13 general agencies also support delaying electing new board members until after General Conference.
For now, there is broad consensus that when U.S. delegates do meet for jurisdictional conferences, they will be electing fewer bishops than the number retiring.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, Assistant news editor, UMNS
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