A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Bishop Selection Process

Date Posted: 6/23/2016

Learn more about the key steps and best practice considerations involved in the election and appointment of new Bishops.
When it comes to deciding which Bishop serves where, some may picture the decision being made in a room filled with people arguing and negotiating trades. “Nothing could be further from the reality of our process,” shares Don House, who serves as TAC Delegate to General/Jurisdictional Conference and chair of the South Central Jurisdictional (SCJ) Committee on Episcopacy.  Although he plays a central role in helping facilitate the filling of three vacancies in the line up of 10 bishops across the jurisdiction, he is quick to say, “We all just have one vote.” The Committee is composed of equal numbers of lay and clergy from all conferences in existence when it was formed in 2012 with a total of 30 members.
According to Don, there has been a great deal of activity behind the scenes with two distinct but interrelated processes: the election process and the assignment process. Both will culminate in mid July at the SCJ Conference. Knowing there will be mandatory retirements and moves related to the maximum 12 years of service, the SCJ Episcopacy Committee has been meeting twice a year for the last four years for such a time as this. “Even if there were no vacancies,” adds Don, “our committee has a covenant agreement that all bishops are moveable and that there are no guarantees on assignments.”
The Election Process
The first step in the election process is to study the candidates and learn their strengths and passions as well as the strengths and needs of each conference. “We have interviewed each sitting bishop individually so we will know more about them before we recommend assignments,” notes Don. The SJC Committee will spend an hour interviewing all the new candidates at the July conference.
Two leaders from the TAC are among the candidates being considered: Rev. Janice Gilbert and Rev. Morris Matthis. Last fall, the Texas Conference Delegation to the 2016 Jurisdictional Conferences endorsed Rev. Morris Matthis as the Episcopal candidate from this conference. “I have enjoyed meeting Methodists from across the jurisdiction and sharing more about who I am and what I am all about,” says Morris, who is currently serving as the superintendent of the Central North District. “Each group has been appreciative of the opportunity to talk about the church, where it is going and how we might get there.” Rev. Janice Gilbert has been endorsed by the Black Methodists for Church Renewal of the Texas Annual Conference (BMCR).
The new bishops will be elected via a series of ballots, with each winning by 50% of the voting delegates plus one, Don explains. “It is likely that there will be several ballots cast before the conference elects three new bishops,” he says. “Voting will take place through voting pads available for all delegates to jurisdictional conference.”
The Assignment Process
Once the three new bishops have been elected, the SJC Committee on Episcopacy can begin the process of making a recommended slate of assigning one bishop to each episcopal area. “We have been reviewing the work of the 10 active bishops and needs of the annual conferences for four years, but we will familiarize ourselves more with the newly elected bishops through interviews and background information before we recommend any slate of assignments,” adds Don.
He, joined by delegate Rev. Elijah Stansel, and the annual conference Committee on Episcopacy chaired by Rev. Tom Pace, have been gathering input through meetings with Cabinets, delegates and annual conference town halls, surveys and interviews prior to making any recommendations. “It is a pretty intense process,” notes Don, “but a good one that has stood the test of time for at least a few decades.”
The on-site process this July begins with the committee dividing into pairs within each annual conference. Each pair looks at the 10 slots to fill and completes a recommended assignment for each of the 10 slots. “This takes the politics out of the equation because everyone assigns every bishop, and dominant interests give way to a confidential family type of atmosphere where we are looking at the big picture together,” he says. “The teams of two post all of the unique slates and we collectively study, discern, pray and discuss,” explains Don. This system begins to identify consensus, as the duplicates in the various positions will naturally overlap. “The 30 of us vote and the pattern with the least votes is taken down,” he adds. “We have a strong sense of confidentiality as we candidly discuss, discern and pray throughout the process to determine which combination we feel best matches the strengths of the bishop with the strength and needs of the conference.”
Don believes this is a great method in that the entire committee, much like the Cabinet at the annual conference level, is charged with making the best appointments across the districts. “On Friday, July 15 we will recommend a slate of assignments to the SCJ for their vote,” adds Don, “it will represent the recommendation following a 3-to-8-hour group decision. No one has any authority over anyone else.” Historically, he notes, the proposed slates have always been adopted, but the jurisdiction delegates are always permitted to reject or change it, according to the Book of Discipline.
Rev. Tom Pace, senior pastor of St. Luke’s UMC Houston and Chair of the TAC Committee on Episcopacy, has been leading the behind the scenes effort to document the leadership qualities that the Texas conference desires in its next bishop. Notes Tom, “What is most important is how we get behind the bishop when he or she comes to lead us. We are an annual conference that loves our bishop, and we will follow a bishop who is willing to move us forward.  As for me, I would run through a wall for Bishop Huie, and I will be willing to run through a wall for our next bishop too.” Adds Tom, “I, for one, look forward to that day in July, when at Jurisdictional Conference in Wichita, I can lock arms with our new bishop and say, “Hey Bishop, let’s go change the world.”
NOTE: The TAC communications staff will post the news of the new bishop on the TAC website as soon as possible after the decision is made.