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United Methodists may elect 20 new U.S. bishops in July

 


United Methodists may elect 20 new U.S. bishops in July

April 21, 2004  

A UMNS Report By J. Richard Peck*  

Every four years during July, a new cadre of bishops is elected into the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

These episcopal elections occur in five geographic conferences across the United States.  When delegates in those jurisdictional conferences gather July 14-17, they could elect as many as 20 U.S. bishops. United Methodists in Europe and Africa will elect a total of four bishops in separate sessions.

The total of bishops elected this summer during jurisdictional conferences could be impacted by the April 27-May 7 General Conference, the top legislative body of the 10 million-member denomination. Legislation from the church’s fiscal agency is calling for reducing the number of bishops elected this year from 20 to15. The General Council on Finance and Administration is recommending to the Pittsburgh conference that the total number of bishops in the United States be reduced from 50 to 45 — one less bishop in each of the five U.S. jurisdictions.

The new bishops will succeed 20 others who are retiring from the active episcopacy. Retiring are 12 white men, two white women, four African-American men, one Asian-American man and one Hispanic man. Four bishops in the central conferences — regional units outside the United States — are retiring this year.

General Conference delegates will also debate a proposal that a bishop be elected to serve a four-year term as president of the Council of Bishops. If approved by the legislative body and enacted by the council, that bishop would not be assigned to a geographic area, so an additional bishop would have to be elected.

According to denominational policy, all elections must begin on the same day, established as July 14 in 2004.   

Each jurisdictional gathering will have an equal number of lay and clergy delegates. The total numbers depend on membership within the annual (regional) conferences in each jurisdiction.

All people elected as delegates to General Conference are also delegates to jurisdictional conferences. An equal number of people were elected last May and June to serve as additional delegates to jurisdictional conferences.

Episcopal candidates must be ordained United Methodist clergy. They are frequently endorsed by caucuses, associations and jurisdictional conference delegates from various annual conferences. Candidates may also be nominated by the annual conference.  However, a person does not have to be nominated or endorsed to be elected.  

At least 56 United Methodists from across the United States have been endorsed or nominated for the episcopacy.

Most jurisdictional conference sessions begin with blank ballots. Delegates are asked to list the names of clergy for the number of bishops to be elected. Information about candidates who have been nominated or endorsed is generally circulated two weeks before the conference. If a candidate receives 10 votes or 5 percent of the total number of ballots and his or her biographical information has not been circulated earlier, that information will be distributed after the vote.

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