UMNS Photo by Dean Snyder
The attention of the denomination will be focused beginning July 18 on the jurisdictional conferences, where 11 new U.S. bishops are expected to be elected in three jurisdictions.
Like General Conference, the worldwide legislative gathering that met April 24 to May 4 in Tampa, Fla., jurisdictional conferences meet once every four years. Half the delegates will be lay people, and half will be clergy. The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s lawbook, stipulates that each annual conference is entitled to send twice the number of delegates to jurisdictional conferences that it sent to General Conference. There were 606 delegates from U.S. annual conferences at the 2012 General Conference.
The Council of Bishops establishes the beginning dates for the five U.S. jurisdictional conferences. Central conferences –– groups of annual conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines –– follow similar procedures to elect and assign bishops; however, they do not meet at the same time, and bishops are not elected for life as they typically are in the United States.
Bishops are elected elders, and they are recommended to a particular episcopal area by a jurisdictional committee on the episcopacy comprising one lay and one clergy member from each annual conference in the jurisdiction. The assembly approves the assignments or asks the committee to go back to work. Simultaneous meetings permit the rare assignment or election of bishops across jurisdictional boundaries.
Number to be elected
Bishops must retire if they reach age 68 on or before July 1 of the year of jurisdictional conferences. They may choose to retire earlier.
General Conference approved a plan that will result in one fewer bishop in four of the five U.S. jurisdictions beginning this year.
The formula now entitles each jurisdiction with 300,000 church members or fewer to have five bishops. Jurisdictions with more than 300,000 members are entitled to one additional bishop for each 300,000 members or major fraction thereof.
The following three jurisdictions will have elections:
- The Southeastern Jurisdiction already has one fewer than the formula allows; the jurisdiction will meet at Lake Junaluska, N.C., to elect five bishops replacing five retiring bishops.
- The Northeastern Jurisdiction already reduced the number of bishops last quadrennium by assigning a retired bishop to one of the episcopal areas instead of electing a new bishop; the jurisdiction will meet in Charleston, W.Va., to elect three bishops to replace three retiring bishops.
- The South Central Jurisdiction will meet in Oklahoma City to elect three bishops, replacing four retiring bishops. The jurisdiction could elect four if Dallas Area Bishop Earl Bledsoe were again to announce his retirement. The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy suggested Bledsoe retire and the bishop agreed to do so. However, on the last day of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, Bledsoe announced he had changed his mind.