To the best of my knowledge, here’s how the election and assignment of bishops is going to happen in the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ)of the United Methodist Church this week. I’ll try to be as clear as I can for those interested. Be warned – this post has a WHOLE BUNCH of very nerdy numbers and abbreviations. (If I get any of this wrong, please someone graciously correct me.)
There are 12 Annual Conferences (ACs) in our Jurisdiction, and every AC has delegates at the SCJ meeting. Not all of the ACs have the same number of delegates; that number is based on the size of the AC. The Texas conference has the most (36). The New Mexico conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary conference have the fewest (each have 4). Missouri has 24, the third largest delegation there.
There are 10 Episcopal Areas in the SCJ, because in a couple of places, two ACs are served by one bishop. (Not coincidentally, the ACs that have the fewest delegates are involved in those arrangements.) So we need to have 10 bishops. 3 bishops are retiring or resigning this year, so the SCJ will be electing 3 people to be bishop.
The total number of SCJ delegates is 216. In order for a person to be elected bishop, they must receive the votes of 60% of the voting delegates. 60% of 216 is 129.6, so they’ll need 130 votes.
There are 9 people who have made it known that they would like to be considered in the SCJ. To be clear, every ordained elder in the UMC is eligible for election; there are 9 people who have said publicly, “I would like to be considered.”
And so we will vote using multiple ballots, until one person gets 60% of the vote cast. That person will then be a bishop, and we will vote again and again, until a second person gets 60%. And then repeat that process until a third and final person gets the required 60%. The official agenda lists opportunities for 23 ballots, but there may be more or less, depending on how things go.
In between each ballot, there is prayer and conversation. People visit with one another and discuss candidates, advocate for one or another, pray together, count AC delegation votes, outline voting strategies, and do an awful lot of what can only be called “politics.” Yes, it’s kind of a mess, but with that said, it is a holy mess. And it is our holy mess.
- 3 = Bishops to elect
- 9 = People to choose from
- 216 = Total SCJ delegates
- 130 = Votes needed to be elected
At this point, we know who the bishops are, but we still don’t know where they will serve. Once three people are elected, the SCJ Episcopacy Committee meets to assign them to the Episcopal Area they will serve. And here there is another layer of complexity in 2016.
- Bishop Huie is retiring from the Texas AC.
- Bishop Hayes is retiring from Oklahoma / Oklahoma Indian Missionary.
- Bishop Dorff has resigned from Rio Texas.
These three represent the 3 bishops that are to be elected.
HOWEVER, a bishop is only allowed to stay in the same AC for 12 years, and there are 2 bishops in the SCJ who have reached that limit.
- Bishop Schnase will be leaving the Missouri AC.
- Bishop Jones will be leaving Great Plains.
And so that means the Texas, Oklahoma, Rio Texas, Missouri, and Great Plains ACs will be anticipating a new bishop this year.
It is the task of the SCJ Episcopacy Committee to make these assignments.
Every AC delegation has 2 people on the Episcopacy Committee. This year, the Great Plains AC actually as 6 people on the committee, since that one AC was 3 ACs four years ago. Also, I think Rio Texas may have 4 people, since they were 2 ACs four years ago. It is also noteworthy that some members of the Episcopacy Committee are not actually delegates to the SCJ meeting.
For Missouri, our two are Rev. Cody Collier and Brian Hammons, the first clergy elected and the first layperson elected to our delegation, respectively.
Once the committee makes the assignments, they gather the bishops together with their families, and let them know. They then come into the conference hall, literally minutes later, and announce to the delegates where each of the bishops have been assigned.
And then … that’s it. It’s over and we in Missouri begin a new chapter with a new bishop, as well as four other ACs in our SCJ.
But … there’s another wrinkle for Missouri this year. We have 2 people on that list of those who have said officially that they would like to be considered for bishop. Bob Farr and Lynn Dyke may very well be elected bishop, and then the question is where would they be assigned. Consider, it is not forbidden for bishops to be assigned to serve the AC from which they came, but it is very rare.
And then, if either or both were elected bishop, of course their current appointments would need to be filled, which would create more shifts in pastoral leadership in Missouri this fall. Lynn is the Ozarks District Superintendent and Bob is on conference staff as the Director of Congregational Excellence.
And then remember, this is how it shakes out in just ONE of the FIVE jurisdictions of the UMC in the U.S. Similar processes are happening this same week in four other places around the country.
As I go back and reread this post at this point, it is even more complicated than I realized it was! Wow! And if you are one who actually read the whole thing, then God bless you.
But if you skimmed it and just made your way to here … let me make sure to say this:
I think the election of bishops is one of the most important things we do for the sake of the future of the church. I am honored and humbled to be asked by the Missouri Conference to serve in this capacity; thank you for your trust. I promise I will do all I can to help elect bishops who will serve the church with hopefulness, faithfulness, and love.
My goal is to be driving home from Wichita on Saturday excited about the future of the church. Will you please pray this week for me, for the Missouri delegation, for the bishop candidates and their families, for the South Central Jurisdiction, for the United Methodist Church, and for the Church of Jesus Christ around the world?
God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.