By Shannon W. Martin
Every four years, the United Methodist Church meets in five geographical areas, or Jurisdictions to elect new bishops. That is, until 2020 when the pandemic delayed the Jurisdictional Conferences. The Council of Bishops recently set the meeting date for these elections for early November.
The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church will hold its Jurisdictional Conference in Houston from November 2-5, 2022, at the First Methodist Houston West. Along with 11 other conferences, the Texas Annual Conference is a part of the South Central Jurisdiction, where some 250 delegates will elect three bishops.
In the United Methodist Church, bishops are elected by laity and clergy delegates every four years. Candidates for bishop are nominated from their annual conference or endorsed by a jurisdictional conference delegate. A nominee must be a United Methodist ordained elder in good standing.
Led by Dr. Tom Pace (clergy), and Dr. Don House (laity), the Texas Annual Conference Jurisdictional Conference delegation has18 delegates, four clergy and no laity alternates.
“With the passage of time, we have unfortunately lost delegates through death, transfers out of the conferences and disabilities,” said House. The delegation has been meeting regularly to prepare for the upcoming conference, including the role they play to elect new bishops. At their July 25th meeting, the delegation interviewed an episcopal candidate.
Delegation endorses episcopal candidate
“After reading together the Biblical qualifications for a bishop listed in 1 Timothy and Titus, we reflected together on other qualifications we hoped would be a part of the character for any bishop we would elect,” said Pace.
While reflecting on these qualifications, the delegation interviewed the Rev. Dr. Laceye Cammarano Warner. After a lengthy conversation, the Texas Annual Conference delegation unanimously endorsed Dr. Laceye Cammarano Warner as an episcopal candidate.
“Laceye demonstrates an insightful understanding of the challenges facing the United Methodist Church, but also the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead for us,” Pace said. He went on to say that Laceye recognizes the importance of rebuilding trust, accountability, and stating her own belief that the church needs to work together toward broader inclusivity.
“Perhaps most importantly, she understands how to work within complex systems to focus people on common goals, with measurable outcomes and accountability,” Pace said.
Last bishop elected in 2016
Because of delays with the pandemic, the United Methodist Church has not held a Jurisdictional Conference since 2016, so this will be the first time bishops have been elected in six years. Since 2016, three bishops have retired, so current bishops have taken over their responsibilities.
In the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, three bishops have taken on additional responsibilities including: Bishop Ruben Saenz, from the Great Plains Conference, who has been covering the Central Texas Conference when Bishop Michael Lowry retired; Bishop Robert Schnase, from the Rio Texas Conference, who has been covering the New Mexico Conference when Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe retired; and Bishop Jimmy Nunn, from the Oklahoma Conference, who has been covering the Northwest Texas Conference when Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe retired.
Bishop Scott J. Jones retires at the end of the year
Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Conference announced his retirement at the recent Texas Annual Conference session.
“Since the Judicial Council decision on June 1, I have prayed and thought a lot about my future,” Bishop Jones said in his retirement announcement to the Annual Conference session. He went on to say that “Increasing disobedience and escalating conflict in the denomination have made my service as a bishop of the whole church seem much more problematic. My further reflection has led me to believe that my best service to Christ for the next two years is in retirement.”
Rev. Kip Gilts, Assistant to the Bishop said that the entire Conference has benefitted from Bishop Jones’s keen sense of vision, and his ability to strategically look three steps ahead in leadership.
“He will be greatly missed next year and it’s truly a pleasure to work with Bishop Jones. He is a deep man of integrity, and he genuinely loves God and the Church,” Gilts said.
Three bishops elected
At the Jurisdictional Conference held in Houston, three new bishops will be elected at the Jurisdictional Conference even though four bishops have retired or have requested retirement. This will result in a total of nine bishops available to cover the 10 current episcopal areas in the South Central Jurisdiction. According to a news release from the South Central Jurisdiction, “The episcopal area without an assigned bishop is anticipated to be the Northwest Texas/New Mexico area.”
Following the Jurisdictional Conference, the Council of Bishops will determine episcopal coverage for the area without an assigned bishop. This decision will be based on a recommendation from the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops. The recommendation to provide coverage rather than assignment is due to missional reasons related to continuity of leadership.
Consecration of bishops
On Saturday, November 5, 2022, the newly elected bishops will be consecrated through the laying-on-of-hands of all of the bishops that are present. The consecration will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Houston First Methodist Houston West. United Methodist leadership may attend; however, space is limited.
After new bishops are elected, the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy will recommend which conference the episcopal leaders will serve in. The Jurisdictional Conference will make the final conference assignment, followed by a press conference. The newly assigned bishops will begin their four-year terms on January 1, 2023.
In addition to electing bishops, the Jurisdictional Conference will promote and provide for the interests of the church in areas such as evangelism, missions, education, and benevolence. This meeting will also be a time to discuss the rules and regulations of the work of the Church within the South Central Jurisdiction. Finally, delegates will select members of general boards and agencies.
The 12 annual conferences of the South Central Jurisdiction will be present at the Jurisdictional Conference. These include Arkansas, Central Texas, Great Plains, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, North Texas, Northwest Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, Rio Texas, and the Texas Annual Conference.