The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference delegation poses on the stage at the recent Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. Photo by Richard Vance.
by Jim Todd*
Meeting July 16-20 in Charleston, WV, delegates of the Northeastern Jurisdiction elected three new bishops to replace retiring bishops.
The retiring bishops were: Bishop Peter D. Weaver, serving the Boston Area, Bishop Jane A. Middleton, serving the Harrisburg Area, and Bishop Ernest S. Lyght, serving the West Virginia area. Bishop Weaver served the Philadelphia Episcopal Area from 1996-2004. Bishops are not assigned to annual conferences, but to episcopal areas. In many cases, the episcopal area encompasses only one annual conference, but in the case of the Philadelphia Area, it encompasses both the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference.
Our episcopal area is the only one in the Northeastern Jurisdiction which includes more than one annual conference, and our bishop must preside over two annual conference sessions, two Cabinets, and two sets of organizational structures with different histories, focuses, and cultures.
The United States is divided up into five different Jurisdictions, with the Southeast Jurisdiction being the largest in terms of membership, and the Western being the smallest. Each Jurisdictional Conference meets after General Conference (General Conference met April 24-May 4, 2012), and every four years.
The primary focus of jurisdictional conferences is the election of bishops; however, two jurisdictions, the Western and North Central, had no need to elect bishops this year due to the combining of annual conferences into larger episcopal areas. The Southeastern Jurisdiction, on the other hand, elected five new bishops, including the first Asian American bishop in that jurisdiction.
Because the episcopal area boundaries stayed the same in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, and because of the three episcopal retirements, three new bishops were elected in a record 35 ballots. A new electronic balloting procedure greatly streamlined the voting at the 2012 Jurisdictional Conference, though the record number of ballots indicates it was no easier to elect a bishop this time than before!
Here are the bishops recently elected, and where all the nine bishops of the Northeastern Jurisdiction will serve, beginning September 1, 2012 (Conferences in parentheses):
Boston (New England): Sudarshana Devadhar
Harrisburg (Susquehanna): Jeremiah J. Park
New Jersey (Greater New Jersey): John R. Schol
New York (New York):Martin D. McLee (just elected)
Philadelphia (Eastern Pennsylvania, Peninsula Delaware): Peggy A. Johnson
Pittsburgh (Western Pennsylvania): Thomas J. Bickerton
Upper New York (Upper New York): Mark J. Webb (just elected)
Washington (Baltimore Washington): Marcus Matthews
West Virginia (West Virginia): Sandra Steiner Ball (just elected)
The bishops themselves do not decide where they are assigned. There is a Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee which meets late into the night on the Thursday night of the quadrennial jurisdictional conference to decide where each bishop will be assigned. This committee is made up of the first elected lay and clergy delegates from each annual conference. The committee also meets each year in September and functions as a support group for the bishops of the jurisdiction. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has been represented on this committee the last four years by the Rev. Michele Wright Bartlow and Judith Ehninger. Immediately at the close of the 2012 Jurisdictional Conference, the Rev. James B. Todd and Dr. Mary White began their four year tenure on the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee.
Finally, there is a Council of Bishops, and various Colleges of Bishops. The Council of Bishops is made up of all US and international bishops, both retired and active, and meets twice per year. The Colleges of Bishops are based on the jurisdictional boundaries. The Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops includes all nine active bishops and seventeen retired bishops. Among the retired bishops, four were elected out of Eastern Pennsylvania: George W. Bashore, Violet L. Fisher, Susan W. Hassinger, and Alfred Johnson. Three more of the retired bishops have served our episcopal area: F. Herbert Skeete, Susan M. Morrison, and Peter D. Weaver.
The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference will be held again in 2016 in Lancaster, PA.
*Rev. Jim Todd is superintendent of the Southwest District, and was first elected clergy delegate from Eastern Pennsylvania to General and Jurisdictional Conference.