Bishops Elect Bickerton, Offer Narrative for Continuing UMC



Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who served 12 years as resident bishop in Western PA before being assigned to the New York Area in 2016, was elected president of the Council of Bishops during the Council's Fall meeting, held Nov. 3-5 via Zoom. (Zoom screenshot above shows Bishop Bickerton with his wife Sally, left, and his NY staff just after the election.)

Also elected were Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of East Ohio Conference as president-designate and  Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of South Carolina Conference as secretary. They will take office at the close of the COB's Spring 2022 meeting.

"It is very humbling to be asked to offer my leadership at this point in the church’s life and work,” Bishop Bickerton said after the election. “While the road ahead will no doubt present us with great challenges, I celebrate a faith which offers the firm assurance that God will provide us with the light we need to find the next step on the path."

In his acceptance speech, he also noted, “It is time for us to move forward with a narrative of who we are and who, by the grace of God, we will be as United Methodists,” Bishop Bickerton.

Over the course of the meeting, the Bishops took action to do just that, casting a vision for a future United Methodist Church that transcends the labels many church members use to describe themselves.

“We cannot be a traditional church or a progressive church or a centrist church. We cannot be a gay or straight church,” asserts what the bishops have titled “A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church.”

The bishops’ narrative, instead, envisions a denomination rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ and welcoming to all churchgoers — however they identify.

“Our best witness is to love each other as Christ loves us, to show the world the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to bind us together despite our differences,” the narrative proclaims. “This is living out the gospel.”

The bishops affirmed the two-page narrative in a closed session. While they do not publicize tallies for votes taken in closed session, Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey said the document received overwhelming approval. Only active bishops can vote at council meetings. The COB is a multiethnic international executive body that, in many ways, is as diverse as the denomination they help lead.

In her president’s address, Bishop Harvey articulated her vision for the continuing United Methodist Church – a vision that embodies the radical love of God in Christ Jesus, noting that that the church is one, “where traditionalists, progressives, centrists and LGBTQ persons will find a home.”

The Narrative document reminds United Methodists of Christ’s prayer for unity and the commandment to gather all to the table, to make space for one another, appreciate one another, and look for Christ in each other.

The bishops noted that they are “committed to strengthening every local church, where the word is preached and Christ is offered, and where the table is set before all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Read the full text of the Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church
Watch a video of the bishops affirming the Narrative

Other Business

The bishops received the report of the Task Force to End Racism led by Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling along with COB consultant Erin Hawkins Smith. The session focused on one of the pillars of COB anti-racism work, proximity to pain. Three people, including Bishop Leonard Fairley, shared their pain of being profiled and discriminated due to the color of their skin. The bishops also heard from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi who is working with a team that is providing a theological lens by which to shape the Council’s anti-racism work.

The collegial work of the General Secretaries was highlighted by their convener Dawn Hare as they continue to steward the churches resources. Members of the Council also received the ecumenical report from COB Ecumenical Officer Bishop Sally Dyck and Dr. Jean Hawxhurst and the newest addition to the ecumenical team, Dr. David Field.

On Wednesday, the bishops went into executive session to hear from Bill Waddell, who serves as counsel for the COB. The bishops discussed the upcoming Judicial Council docket and its impact on their current and future work. The bishops also have begun a repository of decisions of law from annual conferences that will serve as a guide for future annual conference sessions.

The bishops heard from the Commission on General Conference about their plans as the Commission monitor issues regarding visas, vaccines and other things challenging 2020 General Conference gathering set for August 2022 in Minnesota. There was a robust conversation regarding possible scenarios should the General Conference be postponed or cancelled. A small working group appointed by Bishop Harvey earlier this year continues to explore possibilities.

The bishops acted on five items as a response to climate change and climate justice and made a commitment to this important work and have asked the Executive Committee to create a plan working alongside the boards and agencies.

At the end of the meeting, Bishop Harvey told United Methodists: “We will continue to listen and to learn from you, the church. Conversation is the currency of change. We commit to listen to the voices of the people as we lead with grace and with love as our witness and invite you to do the same.”
--​Compiled from UM News Reports and COB Press Releases
Read full reports from UM News:
Bishops Offer Framework for Inclusive Church
Bishops Urged to Embrace Move Loving Way