Bishops elect officers, deliberate on 2020 concerns

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey*, who leads the Louisiana Conference, will become president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops in May 2020. Formerly the Council’s secretary and president-designate, she was elected during the bishops’ November meeting.

Also elected were:

  • President-Designate:  Bishop Thomas Bickerton
  • Secretary: Bishop Tracy Malone
  • Executive Secretary: Bishop Bruce Ough
  • Ecumenical Officer: Bishop Sally Dyck

Bishop Ken Carter, the current president, will serve in the past-president role. The new officers will take office after the 2020 General Conference ends May 15. Outgoing Secretary Bishop Mande Muyombo was elected chair of the Connectional Table Chair.  

Bishop Marcus Matthews and Bishop B. Michael Watson currently serve, respectively, as the council’s executive secretary (operations officer) and ecumenical officer, responsible for relationships with other churches and ecclesial bodies. Bishops Ough and Dyck will take over those responsibilities September 1, 2020.

Bishops were also assigned to help lead general program and administrative agencies of the worldwide denomination in the in 2021-2024 quadrennium. Bishop Peggy Johnson, who currently serves on the General Board of Church and Society, was assigned to provide episcopal guidance to the General Commission on Archives and History.

Report on Council of Bishops Meeting

The Council of Bishops meets twice each year as a global body, and includes residential and retired bishops of the church. Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, President of the Council provided this overview report of their meeting at historic Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina. 
The Council Meeting included the following actions and agenda items:  

Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, discusses the strained United Methodist connection in his presidential address at the bishops’ fall 2019 meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C. He urged adopting a posture of convicted humility. Photo by Heather Hahn, UM News.
  • We announced, by a 92% global vote, the ratification of the Women’s Equality Amendment. 
  • We celebrated the election of Cynthia Fierro Harvey as the incoming president of the Council of Bishops (in May), Thomas J. Bickerton as the president-designate, Tracy Smith Malone as the secretary, Bruce Ough as executive secretary, and Sally Dyck as ecumenical officer.  It was also reported that Mande Muyombo will serve as the incoming chair of the Connectional Table.  And bishops were assigned to leadership in boards, agencies and the University Senate. 
  • We announced gifts of $54 million (toward a $50 million goal) for the endowment of Africa University.
  • We were led by Bishops of Germany, Harald Rückert and Rosemarie Wenner (retired), and Eduard Khegay of Eurasia in the remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall, thirty years ago.  Bishop William Grove also recalled the impact on this event on the Council of Bishops, which was in session at that time.
  • We received the report of the revision of the global Social Principles.
  • We heard a report on the most recent decisions of the Judicial Council, including questions of disaffiliation and aspects of the traditional plan and its implementation.
  • Bishop Ken Carter’s presidential address was entitled “To Redefine the Connection:  Loving our Neighbor with a Convicted Humility,” and was based on Matthew 22.  The address can be accessed here.
  • In our leadership over the next six months leading to the 2020 General Conference, the bishops reclaimed the language in the Book of Discipline of seeking “justice, reconciliation and healing” (¶362) through just resolutions and remind the church that church trials are “an expedient of last resort” (¶2707).  In this season we seek to do work together that achieves accountability while avoiding harm to one another and to our public witness. 

The Council of Bishops is a global body, serving 12 million members who live in nations and cultures with vastly different laws and traditions. And so, there have been emerging statements of divergence from different bishops–the African College of Bishops, the Ebony Bishops, the Filipino College of Bishops, the European College of Bishops, the Western Jurisdiction Bishops, a group of retired bishops, and a group of traditional bishops. 
There is a strong and united voice from almost every bishop outside the United States that the U.S. should become a regional conference, being allowed to adapt the Book of Discipline as their own central conferences are now allowed to do.
As the bishops lead toward the General Conference in May, 2020, there is a commitment to accompany conversations across the church and to listen across our differences in order to discover “new ways of embodying unity” (Mission, Vision and Scope of the Way Forward), to continue our leading in making appointments in the context of an open itineracy, to work with our cabinets as missional strategists for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, to celebrate the unity and mission that is present in our annual conferences, to strengthen missional partnerships that exist across our world, and to exercise a teaching office that is both priestly and prophetic.  We commend two statements by the Council within the past 12 months: 

  • The Council of Bishops Letter to our Global LGBTQ Kin in Christ (December 28, 2018). Link here.
  • A Common Word from the Council of Bishops (May 9, 2019).  Link here.

At the conclusion of the Council meeting, the residential bishops (those who serve annual conferences) went into a learning retreat, led by the General Commission on Religion and Race.  The focus was on “Racism, Colonialism and Tribalism”, which is relevant to our history as a denomination, our experience as a global church, our struggles with migration, our integrity in the mission of offering Jesus Christ to the world, and our witness as individual disciples of Jesus Christ and as local churches.  The learning retreat concluded on Friday, November, 8.
Throughout these meetings there was a renewed commitment to relationships, which are at the heart of Jesus’ prayer for unity with his disciples (John 17). In the language of Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone, we are called in this season “to move from making stands toward sitting with one another in dialogue”.  This will be the work of our church, and the Council of Bishops, in the coming months.
*Read about Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey’s sermon preached at the 2016 General Conference: ‘Wear the robe like it matters’