Bishops have authority to call jurisdictional conferences in 2022, top court says

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Bishops Jane Middleton and Thomas J. Bickerton participate in the consecration of newly elected episcopal leaders Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and LaTrelle Miller Easterling at the end of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July 2016, the last year bishops were elected in the United States.

Press Release – May 20, 2022
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The Council of Bishops (COB) is expressing its appreciation following the Judicial Council’s ruling today that the COB is authorized to set the date of regular jurisdictional conferences for the election and assignment of new bishops for the limited purpose of effectuating the continuance of the episcopacy in The United Methodist Church.
 
In decision 1445 released today, the UMC’s top court noted that the bishops’ authority may be exercised under paragraphs 26, 27.2, and 45 of the Constitution even though the General Conference has not convened since the last election of bishops in the jurisdictional conferences.  The last election of bishops at jurisdictional conferences took place in 2016.
 
The Judicial Council also affirmed that the date of assignment for all bishops will remain September 1 following the jurisdictional conferences, according to Paragraph 406.1.  To comply with this disciplinary requirement, the court said the Council of Bishops would need reschedule the jurisdictional conferences to a date prior to September 1, 2022. Otherwise, if the bishops proceed with jurisdictional conferences in November 2022 as scheduled, the newly elected bishops would be assigned on an interim basis under the provisions of Paragraph 407 until they begin their assignment on September 1, 2023.
 
In response to the decision, COB President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton said: “As with the recent decision related to Annual Conferences, we are once again very grateful that the Judicial Council has acted in a timely matter to address the issue of Jurisdictional Conferences and episcopal elections. In this unprecedented season in the life of our church, the need for vital and committed leadership is unquestioned. As we now begin to make plans for episcopal elections, we gratefully acknowledge those who have and will retire even as we pray for a true spirit of discernment for those who will emerge and be elected.”
 
Bishop Bickerton, who also serves the New York Annual Conference, noted that the church on all levels has had to make significant adaptations and adjustments during the pandemic. “Episcopal areas have had to be nimble as many have shared a bishop with another area. Several bishops have taken on increased responsibilities and are serving with integrity and grace. We are grateful for the determination and spirit with which these areas and bishops have served. This decision will now pave the way for us to provide the leadership needed for the church to fulfill our mission and to position ourselves for the next expression of who God is calling us to be.”
 
The number of bishops to be elected will be determined by the contextual needs of each Jurisdiction and will be guided by formula determined by the 2016 General Conference and found in the 2016 Book of Discipline (¶404.2).
 
The COB had asked the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding holding Jurisdictional Conferences to elect and assign bishops. The COB has tentatively set November 2-5, 2022, for Jurisdictional Conferences.
 
The request for the ruling came after the second postponement of the General Conference from 2022 to 2024, heightening the burden of bishops attempting to provide effective episcopal oversight and leadership. Due to vacancies created by retirements after the postponement of General Conference in 2020, special assignments to cover vacant episcopal areas in the United States have been faithfully served by bishops who continue to serve their residential areas.
 

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