How do you discern that another person has been destined to serve as one of the leaders of the United Methodist Church? How do you know who would make a good Bishop? How do you hold the future of the church and its leaders in your hands and remotely feel prepared to decide whose number you punch in to vote for?
I’ve spent the last week at what we in the United Methodist world call Jurisdictional Conference for the Southeast area of our country. Our primary purpose for this week has been to elect 5 new Episcopal bishops that will serve across the southeast. It is a fascinating process. And thankfully, one in which I felt God’s presence in the midst of.
What I observed was a collective body making decisions using discernment, conversation with colleagues living in other parts of the Southeast, prayer, observation, and at least for our delegation, clarity around what skills and gifts we need in a bishop. There were a few people from within the Jurisdiction who tried to play political games and take straw votes and persuade people how to vote but it appears to me it back fired mightily. For that I am glad.
The results I observed were the election of 5 diverse Bishops that bring their own unique skills to the job. We chose candidates that ranged from left of center to centrist to right of center. We chose 2 women and 3 men. We chose 2 people of color and 3 anglo. We celebrated that for the first time the Southeast elected an African American woman to serve as bishop.
It gave me great hope for the future of our church as none of these candidates want to see our denomination split. And those persons who had one agenda to discern viability of candidates are probably very disappointed right now because those persons who only wanted conservatives regarding human sexuality did to prevail. We elected multiple perspectives including those who want us to think in terms of all people having a place at the Gospel Feast.
What we did not do, though, was to elect our own candidate for the Episcopacy, Rev. Dr. James Howell. It was with a heavy heart that we accepted the fact that he was not going to receive enough votes. I am proud he represented our Conference and I am hopeful he will continue to lead our denomination to have the tough conversations and push our church to stretch towards a healthy, inclusive, socially just future.
We will find out in a few hours who our new bishop will be in Western North Carolina. I am eager to hear. But whether we get a new bishop or the Episcopacy Committee moves one of the existing bishops, I am hopeful that we will have a bright future for the United Methodist Church.
I’m thankful to have been part of this process. I’m thankful to have connected with colleagues from across the Jurisdiction. I am thankful for the collective will of the body to do new things this year. I pray that these new leaders will boldly lead our church towards a future of great impact and transformation.
Grace and Peace,