Group advises where to add 5 new bishops

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference’s addresses the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters during its meeting in Manila. He chaired the committee’s Africa Comprehensive Plan subcommittee.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference’s addresses the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters during its meeting in Manila. He chaired the committee’s Africa Comprehensive Plan subcommittee.
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A United Methodist leadership body unanimously backed a plan that both changes the church’s map in Africa and adds five new bishops to the denomination’s fastest-growing region.

The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters on March 26 approved legislation that, starting in 2021, adds a new central conference to the continent and increases the number of African bishops from 13 to 18.

The legislation now heads to the 2020 General Conference, the next gathering of the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.

Establishing a new central conference requires a two-thirds majority vote at General Conference. The delegates, by a simple majority, also determine the number of bishops the denomination will fund.

The African continent currently has three central conferences — Africa, Congo and West Africa. Each includes multiple countries and languages.

The standing committee’s legislation renames the Congo Central Conference as the Central Africa Central Conference and splits in two the Africa Central Conference — so named because it’s the oldest on the continent.

Under the legislation, the four central conferences would be as follows:

  • Central Africa Central Conference — consisting of Central African. Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia.
  • East Africa Central Conference — consisting of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.
  • Southern Africa Central Conference — consisting of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
  • West Africa Central Conference — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The legislation also would authorize:

  • The Central Africa Central Conference to elect two new bishops, bringing its total to six.
  • The East Africa Central Conference to elect one new bishop, bringing its total to two.
  • The Southern Africa Central Conference to elect one new bishop, bringing its total to five.
  • The West Africa Central Conference to elect one new bishop, bringing its total to five.

Ultimately, it’s up to General Conference to fix the boundaries of central conferences and the number of bishops who serve them.

Specifically, the committee recommends two new episcopal areas created from parts of the North Katanga and South Congo areas; and one new episcopal area each in the countries of Burundi, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

After Palmer and other task force members presented their recommendations, a number of African standing committee members got up to commend the work the task force did and in some cases, ask questions.

Palmer acknowledged that a question remains whether General Conference will agree to fund all five new bishops at once or add new episcopal leaders over a period of years.

Palmer compared the challenge faced by the standing committee to that of someone with multiple qualified candidates and only funding for one position.

To accommodate the change, the committee also is submitting separate petitions to General Conference that would ensure the new central conference has representation on church agency boards and other denomination-wide bodies.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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