Northeast to Keep Nine Bishops
A proposed reduction in the number of bishops for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church has been put on hold until 2020 by action of the General Conference. As a result, delegates to the NEJ Conference, meeting in Lancaster, PA from July 11-15 are expected to elect two new bishops – one to replace Bishop Marcus Matthews, who is retiring, and the other to replace the late Bishop Martin McLee.
After the election, bishops will be assigned to episcopal areas. Because Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton has served the maximum 12 years in Western Pennsylvania, he will be assigned to a new area and another bishop will be assigned to begin four years of service here Sept. 1.
The UMC Council on Finance and Administration last year determined that membership numbers did not support retaining nine episcopal areas in the Northeast, so the number of bishops should be reduced to eight. However, the 2016 General Conference approved a petition that keeps all U.S. jurisdictions at their current number of resident bishops and calls for a study during the next four years.
The Episcopal Fund budget adopted for 2016-2020 supports nine resident NEJ bishops.
The action that stopped the reduction in the number of bishops came from the Wisconsin Conference Cabinet. It was petition #60932, become Calendar Item # 313 and was approved on Consent Calendar BO4. It asked the 2016 General Conference to defer all decisions to reduce the number of bishops in all five U.S. Jurisdictional Conferences to the 2020 General Conference.
In addition, the Council of Bishops, in consultation with the Inter-Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy, has been asked to appoint a Jurisdictional Study Committee to examine the best number and boundaries of jurisdictions and episcopal areas in the United States and report to the 2020 General Conference.
Approved by a 254-29 vote, the approved petition read:
The Council of Bishops in consultation with Inter-Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy shall appoint a Jurisdictional Study Committee to examine the best number and boundaries of jurisdictions and episcopal areas in the United States. The committee will use the 2017-2020 quadrennium to create and present a detailed report on missional priority and strategy to the 2020 General Conference. This report is to include but not be limited to the analysis of: historical perspectives, current reality, demographic changing trends, emerging missional reasons/values, financial implications, changes to the jurisdictional conferences' and episcopal area boundaries, the number of jurisdictions in the U.S., and additional data as appropriate. The report will include specific recommendations and a strategic implementation plan.
The voting membership of the committee shall be composed as follows:
- Bishops: One bishop from each of the five Colleges of Bishops
- 1 clergy and 1 lay person, chosen from each of the five jurisdictions
- The ethnic and gender balance in the committee's membership should reflect as much as possible the make-up of the UMC's lay membership in the U.S.
Funding for the meeting expenses of the episcopal members will come from the Episcopal Fund, and funding for the other members will come from the General Administration Fund.
Given the importance of this strategic work, the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church at Portland, Oregon, will defer all decisions to reduce the number of jurisdictions, the number of episcopal areas and the number of bishops in all five U.S. Jurisdictional Conferences (being proposed for 2016) to the 2020 General conference. This legislation will be effective at the conclusion of the 2016 General Conference.