Bishop Peggy A. Johnson is returning to the Philadelphia Episcopal Area to lead the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware conferences for another four years. Her reassignment was announced Friday morning in the closing session of the UMC’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference by members of the jurisdiction’s Episcopacy Committee.
The announcements of where all nine NEJ bishops would be invited to serve for the 2017-2020 quadrennium were made after a week of suspense and following the historic election of two new bishops who are both African American clergywomen. Most bishops serving in their first terms will return for another four years. Bishop Johnson is the only one to return to an area for a third consecutive term.
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, elected first on Wednesday night, will serve the Pittsburgh Area, as current Bishop Thomas Bickerton moves to the New York Area after 12 years in the Western PA Conference. Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling, elected Thursday morning, will serve the Washington DC Area (Baltimore-Washington Conference), following the retirement of Bishop Marcus Matthews.
Bishops Jeremiah Park (Harrisburg Area-Susquehanna Conference), John R. Schol (Greater New Jersey Area), Mark Webb (Upper New York Area), Sandra Steiner Ball (West Virginia Area), and Sudarshana Devadhar (Boston Area-New England Conference) will all return to serve their current areas. Bishop Jane Middleton, retired, will leave her post as interim-Bishop of the New York Area.
“I’m glad to have an opportunity to get it right for four more years,” said Bishop Johnson in briefly celebrating with delegates and members of her two conferences after the Jurisdictional Conference business session adjourned. She read from I Thessalonians 5:11-18 (see below) and added, “If we do all that we’ll be fine. We may not even have to go down to eight areas.”
The expectation is that the NEJ will have to reduce and realign its number of bishops and episcopal areas to eight in 2020 because of declining church membership over time that has brought it below the financial threshold to sustain nine bishops. The jurisdiction was spared that reduction this year by an extension granted in May by the denomination’s 2016 General Conference and its Inter-Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee. A study has been requested during the new quadrennium to assess if membership alone should be the criteria to determine episcopal areas, or whether other mission field factors should play a role as well.
NEJ Episcopacy Committee outgoing chairwoman Bonnie Marden reminded delegates that preparations for reduction and realignment in 2020 would need to begin soon, barring any dramatic increase in membership growth. The realignment would likely pair the Peninsula-Delaware Conference with the Baltimore-Washington Conference in one episcopal area, and pair the Eastern PA Conference with the Greater New Jersey Conference in another.
Bishop Johnson read the following statement to her Philadelphia Area leaders following her reassignment as possibly the last bishop to serve this area as it is presently constituted.
“It is my joy to accept the invitation by the NEJ Episcopacy Committee to remain as the bishop of the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences for another four years. My husband Michael and I are thrilled to have the opportunity to serve among you for this unprecedented additional third quadrennium.
“I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul from I Thessalonians 5:11-18:
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing, but we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another, and we urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all people. See that no one repays another with evil for evil but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
“It is my goal to continue to build up the body, both laity and clergy, to encourage our leaders, to “seek after that which is good” for all people, with a particular emphasis on our churches of color and engage in intentional efforts to help eliminate racism and violence. The strength for this work is found in the living resources of our spiritual disciplines. In all things let us give thanks and pray without ceasing. There is much good work yet to be done in the Philadelphia Area.”
Bishop Johnson expressed “gratefulness for all the wonderful hospitality and the volunteer service” provided by Philadelphia Area members to their guests from around the jurisdiction this week. She also thanked her husband, the Rev. Michael Johnson, for his constant support during her eight years here. “If he wasn’t doing all this, I couldn’t do all that I do.”
“It would have broken my heart to leave,” said Michael Johnson, asked to speak as well. “I’ve enjoyed being in ministry here with all of you.”
The celebratory gathering included a gift from the Central District, presented by the Rev. Anita Powell, Cabinet Dean, and a group photo.
“Eastern PA rejoices in the reassignment of Bishop Johnson to our area,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, delegation leader and a new member of the UMC’s Inter-Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee. “She is a mission leader who brings a servant’s heart to our ministry efforts here. We’re glad to be continuing our covenant together in working to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”