By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries
When the Western Jurisdiction gathers next week it will be the final in a series of denominational gatherings that work to organize and orient our connectional church. This year’s conference will afford delegates the opportunity to elect a new episcopal leader to serve in the jurisdiction, to agree on plans for shared ministry, and to respond as it will to General Conference. The theme for the conference is “Crossing Thresholds.”
If you are interested in following along:
Keep an eye on the Western Jurisdiction website. Major decisions of import will be posted there including episcopal election results.
Search for conversations and news about the WJ on social media using the hashtags #WJUMC and #PNWUMC
Our Western Jurisdiction (WJ) is one of five which provide support and structure to The United Methodist Church in the United States. The WJ “encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States, including churches in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam, and other territory in the Pacific region.”
The most essential task of the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference is the election of a new bishop. The WJ College of Bishops provides leadership through five active bishops assigned each to serve one of five episcopal areas; with several areas inclusive of more than one conference. Bishop Warner Brown of the California-Nevada is retiring leaving one opening.
Six candidates have been endorsed by their respective annual conferences, including the Rev. Lyda Pierce from our PNW Conference. Others could be nominated from the floor at the conference. Once an election is made (by at least 60% of the vote), the WJ Committee on the Episcopacy will recommend assignments of the five bishops, one each to the five areas. This process will certainly result in a new bishop for the California-Nevada Annual Conference; it could result in new bishops in each of the other areas.
If, for example, the Rev. Karen Oliveto who serves in the California-Nevada Conference were to be elected, it would be highly unusual for a new bishop to serve their first quadrennium in their home conference. Overriding a disciplinary rule against this requires a 2/3 vote of both the jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and the jurisdictional conference. In this case, it is far more likely that a Bishop Oliveto would be assigned to a different area starting a potential move chain familiar to those who pay attention to our itinerant system.
Regardless of who might be elected, bishops can of course be moved for other reasons as the committee attempts to match known gifts and perceived strengths with emergent missional opportunities. It is also possible that a move be necessitated by a match that wasn’t made in heaven after all. Again, familiar stuff for those who have been through pastoral transitions.
Celebrating Ministry Together
Much of the Western Jurisdictional Conference would feel familiar to those who have attended a few annual conference sessions. You have committees reporting on their work, elections of necessary officers, legislation proposed for consideration, the honoring of saints who have passed, the recognitions of retirements and celebrations of shared ministry.
Legislation specific to things like conference boundaries are of particular import to jurisdictional conferences. Our Greater Northwest Episcopal Area was approved by this conference in 2012; the nature of a shared ministry future in the Mountain Sky Area and its two annual conferences (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone) will be a likely item for consideration.
Opening Worship will mark the worshipful start on the conference at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13. It will include an Episcopal address. The Jurisdictional Memorial and Communion Service will be held that evening at 7:30pm. Due to the episcopal election, a Consecration Service will be Saturday, July 16 at 2pm.
It is the intention of the hosting Desert Southwest Conference to live stream each of these, and the plenary session, on their LiveStream platform. Keep your eyes open for more information as it become available.
Responding to General Conference
Many in the West were left disappointed by another General Conference that seemed incapable of embracing, or making space for, a church that is responsive to and engaged with the mission field around them. Others left their respective annual conferences feeling much the same way if for different reasons.
In 2012, the conference affirmed “A Statement of Gospel Obedience,” in which the jurisdiction delegates stated “our belief that The United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of ‘homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.’ While non-binding, in hindsight it is clear that the statement’s “challenge to operate as if the statement in ¶161F does not exist” was in alignment with the leadership and practice of a number of annual conferences in the WJ.
Conferencing at its best can renew our commitments to one another as we forged renew relationships, arrive at common understandings, and recognize how some mission and ministry is better together. At its worst, we leave fighting, still in possession of all of our assumptions, and left wondering why it is we still believe that there is a benefit to pooling our efforts and resources.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes wisely noted so many years ago, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
Delegates to the Western Jurisdictional Conference will have the opportunity to make a number of decisions; to decide what season it is and what it intends to harvest.
Some choices may preclude others; clarity and elation for one group may inevitably come at the expense of another. We can all hope and pray that the work is done with as much intentionality and grace as possible.