Council of Bishops Frequently Asked Questions

Who is my bishop?

United Methodist bishops are listed on the UMC.org Directory.  If you need help determining which bishop serves your area, contact InfoServ.

What are a bishop’s responsibilities?

A bishop serves as a general superintendent for the church, assigned to a geographical area.  In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not “ordained” as bishops, but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop.  Bishops give general oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the church. Bishops also have the responsibility to see that the rules and regulations developed by General Conference are carried out. Bishops are responsible for setting all clergy appointments in the annual (regional) conferences they serve. Most bishops also serve on a general agency board, often as the president. The bishop is the presiding officer at the annual conference session and rules on points of law.

Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the Council of Bishops 2004-2006, explains a bishop's functions in his article "
So What Does a Bishop Do?"

How are bishops selected?

Bishops are elected by the jurisdictional conferences in the United States and by the central conferences outside of the United States. “Any clergy member of an annual conference is eligible to be elected a bishop. Nominations or endorsements of individuals are common, but not necessary for election....The number of votes needed to elect a bishop is determined by each jurisdictional conference but the church’s Book of Discipline recommends that at least 60 percent of those present and voting be required to elect. Bishops are consecrated at the jurisdictional conference and are expected to report for work in their new areas September 1.”

Are there women bishops in the United Methodist Church?

Yes, there are currently 17 women bishops leading episcopal areas in The United Methodist Church. The first woman to be elected was the Rev. Marjorie Matthews in 1980. She served the Wisconsin Episcopal Area before her retirement.

How are bishops assigned?

Bishops are assigned by their jurisdiction to serve a geographical area for a four-year term. There are 50 episcopal areas in the United States and 19 episcopal areas outside of the United States. New bishops may not be assigned to the area where they were a clergy member for at least four years after their election. According to ¶407 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, this restriction can be ignored by a two-thirds vote of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and a two-thirds vote of the jurisdictional conference.

How long can a bishop serve?

In the U.S., bishops normally serve in one area for up to two terms, but they can continue for a third term with special approval of the jurisdictional conference. Bishops are elected for life and serve in their assignment until retirement (required by the Book of Discipline to be the jurisdictional conference following their 68th birthday).

In the Central Conferences, bishops are elected for a specific term.  If not reelected at the end of the term, the bishop returns to the pastorate and is no longer considered a bishop.  Bishops who retire while serving their term are considered bishops for life. In the Africa Central Conference, bishops who are reelected for a second term then become bishops for life.

How much do bishops get paid?

All bishops in the United States receive the same salary, according to a formula set by the General Conference. The salary for United States bishops for 2008 is $120,942. In addition, each bishop is provided an episcopal residence. Salaries for bishops outside the U.S. are set at varying levels that reflect local economic conditions and cost of living.

What year was my bishop elected?

The election years for all of the bishops going back to the beginning of American Methodism are listed in the Book of Discipline.

Who was the first bishop in the Methodist Church?

Although John Wesley never became a bishop, he appointed Thomas Coke bishop for America in 1784. In December of that same year, Francis Asbury was also consecrated as bishop in Baltimore.

What is the Council of Bishops?

The Council of Bishops is made up of all active and retired bishops of The United Methodist Church. The Council meets twice a year. According to the Book of Discipline, “The Church expects the Council of Bishops to speak to the Church and from the Church to the world and to give leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships.” ¶427.2

What is the role of the officers of the Council of Bishops?

The president of the Council of Bishops presides over its meetings but has no additional authority over the other members of the council. Administrative work is handled by the secretary of the council.

What do bishops do at General Conference?

Members of the Council of Bishops attend General Conference but do not vote and cannot speak without permission from the delegates. A bishop presides at each plenary session. Each bishop usually serves during one morning, afternoon or evening session. All bishops, active and retired, attend the entire conference.

United Methodist Bishop Firsts

U.S. Ethnic Minorities

  • The first Asian-American to be elected bishop was Wilbur Choy (Chinese-American) in 1972. He served in the Seattle and San Francisco Episcopal Areas before retirement.
  • The first African-American bishop prior to the union was Francis Burns, elected in 1858 and assigned to Liberia.
  • The first African-American bishops to serve in the United States were Robert E. Jones and Matthew W. Clair Sr., elected in 1920.
  • The first African-American bishop to serve as president of the Council of Bishops was Prince Taylor. Bishop Taylor served as the president in 1965-1966.
  • The first African-American bishop elected to the church after the 1968 union of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church was Roy Nichols. Bishop Nichols served in the Pittsburgh and New York Episcopal Areas before retirement.
  • The first African-American woman bishop was Leontine T.C. Kelly, elected in 1984.
  • The first Hispanic-American to be elected was Elias Galvan in 1984. 
  • Bishop Elias Galvan was the first Hispanic ever to serve as president of the Council of Bishops (in 2001).
  • The first Japanese-American to be elected was Roy Sano in 1984.
  • The first Korean-American to be elected was Hae Jong Kim in 1992.

Women

  • The first woman to be elected was Marjorie Matthews in 1980. She served the Wisconsin Episcopal Area before retirement.
  • The first African-American woman bishop was Leontine T.C. Kelly, elected in 1984.
  • The first Latina bishop was Minerva Carcaño, elected in 2004.
  • Rosemarie Wenner was the first woman bishop to be elected in the Central Conferences.  She was elected bishop of the Germany Central Conference in 2005.
  • Joaquina Filipe Nhanala was the first woman bishop to be elected in Africa.  She was elected bishop of the Mozambique Central Conference in 2008. 

Worldwide

  • Bishop Emilio de Carvalho (Angola) was the longest serving bishop in the United Methodist Church. He was an active bishop from 1972 to 2000.
  • Bishop de Carvalho was also the first African bishop to serve as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, from 1991 to 1992.


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