Conference Endorses Two for Bishop
By Jackie Campbell
William Meekins,left, and Eric Park
Washington District Superintendent Eric S. Park offers thanks to the annual conference and pays tribute to his wife, his mother and late father, and his colleagues.
Members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference endorsed two of its members as candidates for bishop of the Church: Greensburg District Superintendent William B. Meekins Jr. and Washington District Superintendent Eric S. Park.
Both were recommended for endorsement by the Conference's delegation to the denomination's General and Jurisdictional conferences, and received the endorsement of the annual conference on the first ballot. Bishops will be elected in the Church's five U.S. jurisdictions in mid-July. Western Pennsylvania is part of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, whose delegates will meet in Charleston, WV from July 18-20 to elect three bishops to replace those who are retiring.
After the new bishops are elected, all nine active bishops will be assigned to their episcopal areas for 2012-16. They begin serving those assignments on Sept. 1, 2012. The assignments are recommended by the NEJ Episcopacy Committee, which includes at least two representatives from each of the 10 conferences in the NEJ.
Park and Meekins thanked the annual conference members for their support. As Park put it, "it's every bit as much of an honor as election to the episcopacy would be for me."
The two candidates are good friends and serve together on the Bishops' Cabinet. Both are “preacher’s kids” who spent their formative years in Western Pennsylvania, Meekins in urban areas around Pittsburgh and Park in Indiana, PA. What they experienced growing up as PKs influenced each one differently.
Although Meekins had always been involved in the church, growing up he rejected people’s suggestions that he would become a pastor. “I thought I would never do that,” he explained. “They work long hours and at times, when they stand for justice, they stand alone. It was dangerous. I saw that as a PK.”
It wasn’t until Meekins was working on a paper about the role of the church in the U.S. political system and read Jerry Falwell’s book Listen, America that he sought God’s direction for his life and received a distinct call to ministry.
Park, on the other hand, said his call began in his childhood home, was nurtured by Sunday School teachers and youth leaders who allowed him to lead and preach “long before I was a leader or preacher. The definitive moment of clarification in my experience of call,” he said, “came during a semester abroad in my junior year of college. On Palm Sunday evening in 1987, I attended a Vespers service at a British Methodist church in downtown London. As the pastor held the Eucharistic bread and cup that night, I experienced a strong sense that the Holy Spirit was speaking to the depths of my being…”
Educated at Dickinson College and Duke Divinity School, Park earned a doctor of ministry degree from Drew Theological School in 2001 while serving as associate pastor of Christ UMC in Bethel Park. Before being appointed a district superintendent in 2009, he served 6 ½ years as pastor of Central Highlands Community UMC in Elizabeth.
In his pastoral appointments, which also include three years at First UMC in McDonald, Park oversaw development and implementation of three successful new weekly worship initiatives. One reached an average attendance of 350. Another had an average attendance of 135. The third was a weekly service of Healing and Holy Communion that, during its existence, included a congregation of 20.
While at Christ UMC, he also launched an off-site ministry entitled “Reel Sanctuary”, held weekly at the Destinta Movie Theater in Bridgeville.
During Park’s time at Central Highlands, that congregation experienced a 50 percent increase in worship attendance, while doubling its ministry budget and its Mission Share.
Meekins is a graduate of Central College in Pella, Iowa, and Gammon/Interdenominational Theological School in Atlanta, GA. He has completed all course work for a doctor of ministry degree at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.
Since being appointed a district superintendent in 2006, Meekins said he has emphasized the theme of loving God and loving neighbor found in Matthew 22: 37-39. Prior to his appointment as DS, he served eight years as pastor of the multi-ethnic Garden City UMC in Monroeville. In that time the congregation increased attendance and consistently paid 100 percent of its Mission Share, and completed a $200,000 capital campaign.
Meekins served as a full-time chaplain for the Veterans’ Administration health care system for nearly 10 years, and earlier served at Calvary and Buena Vista UMCs on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Both Meekins and Park have served in numerous leadership positions in the Conference, including the Board of Ordained Ministry, which Meekins chaired, and the Conference Connectional Network. Both have served as delegates to previous General and Jurisdictional Conferences and serve on general church agency boards. Park is on the Board of Discipleship and Meekins serves on the General Board of Global Ministries.
Both superintendents also have international mission experience and have served as volunteers in the camping program.
Park and Meekins were endorsed by the General/Jurisdictional delegation after the members interviewed five Western PA elders who were willing to be considered from among candidates who were nominated by church members and leaders.
“The delegation would like to thank the United Methodists across Western PA who nominated possible candidates and those who were willing to be considered as candidates,” said Tracy Merrick, who coordinated the endorsement process for the delegation.
“We believe that we have endorsed two highly gifted pastors and that, if elected, they would be very capable bishops! They bring distinctly different gifts which would definitely add value in the annual conferences they would serve, within the Council of Bishops, and across The United Methodist Church,” he added.