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Congo Central Conference votes to elect bishops for life

Bishops in the Congo will remain bishops for life once elected, rather than facing re-election after four years.

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At a special meeting of the Congo Central Conference held in December, 234 conference delegates voted for the change and three abstained.

The decision applies retroactively to the three bishops elected for the first time in 2017: Bishops Daniel Lunge, Central Congo; Mande MuyomboNorth Katanga; and Kasap Owan, South Congo.

Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area was re-elected bishop last year, so he was already elected for life.

"The decision removes stress on the bishops," said Unda, president of the Congo College of Bishops. He noted that having to run for re-election after four years creates a great deal of stress for a new bishop.

"It is good for a bishop, after his consecration, to remain a bishop for the rest of his life."

Lunge said the church needs psychological, spiritual, moral and social stability.

The denomination's constitution says U.S. bishops get life tenure while allowing central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — to set the tenure of their respective bishops. That means how long a United Methodist bishop serves largely depends on where that bishop is elected.

"It is time now … to work on other many subjects related to the work of God in our episcopal areas," Kasap said. He said the church needs to focus on evangelism, rules and growth rather than bishop elections.

During its August meeting, the executive committee of the Congo Central Conference approved an executive committee resolution that one Book of Discipline should be used by all three African central conferences.

The conference delegates also agreed with the executive committee that Congo bishops shouldn't itinerate. That means the delegates decided bishops should remain in the same episcopal areas where they are elected and not move to different assignments as their U.S. counterparts do.

"It is good for a bishop to serve God in the episcopal area from which he comes from," Lunge said, adding that it is easier for a bishop to lead a conference where he already understands the culture.

The Congo Central Conference executive committee, during its August meeting, recommended at least two new episcopal areas in the conference, one in South Congo/Zambia and another in the North Katanga/Tanzania episcopal areas. The conference approved that recommendation.

The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, a General Conference committee that continues to meet between legislative sessions, will make a recommendation on placement of the five new African bishops to the General Conference 2020. General Conference will make the final decision.

The gathering was the first central conference session fully funded with local resources. Each episcopal area supported transportation, food and lodging of delegates and contributed to the overall cost of the conference.

Pierre T. Omadjela, field project manager, UMCom.

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