Bishops agree on ways to tackle gun violence; church disaffiliations

August 30, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  The Council of Bishops (COB) of The United Methodist Church ended its summer 2022 meeting last Friday (Aug.26) with a call to act against gun violence and to create a uniform approach to the way in which bishops would deal with the process of disaffiliation in their areas.

The five-day meeting began each day with vibrant worship. On Monday, the bishops held a celebration of life for three spouses of bishops including Mrs. Margaret Rose King, spouse of retired Bishop James King; Mrs. Nshimba Ntambo, spouse of retired Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo; and Mrs. Annegret Klaiber, spouse of retired Bishop Walter Klaiber.

The daily worship services were led by Bishop Rudy Juan of the Philippines, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of Northeastern Jurisdiction, retired Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, and Bishop Daniel Lunge of Congo.

“We had wonderful worship experiences all centered around healing and wholeness, and spent time in covenant groups holding one another accountable and in prayer,” noted COB President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton.

He added: “I sensed a genuine spirit of thanksgiving for one another, a deeper sense of alignment around the specific and critical aspects of our work on behalf of the United Methodist Church, and real spirit of comradery with one another. We, like everyone else, are eager to be back in person but we have found a way to effectively do our work, build our relationships, and transmit support and care for one another and the church even though the miles continue to separate us.”

During the presentation from the Justice & Reconciliation team, led by Bishop Julius Trimble, regarding the ongoing crisis of Gun Violence and Death, the bishops voted to take several actions to fight the scourge.

The bishops also spent three days in covenant groups and also spent considerable time beginning a group discernment around the future of The United Methodist Church and the “pivots” needed to get the global denomination into a posture of looking forward rather than being solely focused on the issues of the moment.

As the bishops were meeting, the Judicial Council released two rulings on the process of disaffiliation.
The leaders of the church heard a detailed report from legal counsel, Bill Waddell, on those rulings. Waddell also gave updates on decisions of law that were still pending before the Judicial Council. The bishops also discussed Paragraph 2553 and its usage; and the current state of lawsuits filed against the denomination about the disaffiliation process.

The bishops then heard a report from the Disaffiliation Task Force and acted on several recommendations related to matters of disaffiliation and clergy orders to create a uniform approach to how bishops deal with the process of disaffiliation as well as the manner in which they deal with clergy withdrawals.

The bishops also tackled the upcoming Jurisdictional and Central Conferences where 15 or more new bishops will be elected. The new bishops will begin their service in 2023.

With unanimous votes, the bishops acted to extend the service of Bishop Warner Brown in Sierra Leone until 2024 and approved the assignment of Bishop Deborah Kiesey to the Dakotas Conference through December 31, 2022. The bishops also approved the method of assigning bishops from other jurisdictions to attend jurisdictional conferences and made the assignments of bishops who will be assisting in the Europe and Philippine Central Conferences.

“We also urged the members of the Council to enter into intentional collaborative conversations with Jurisdictional Committees on Episcopacy regarding the number and method of episcopal elections due to the changing dynamics, potential boundary realignments, and legislation to General Conference, not to mention the fact that we will be having another Jurisdictional Conference in July of 2024,” said Bishop Bickerton.

The bishops also heard from the General Secretaries, the Task Force to End Racism (which has now been added to the Leadership Team), an update on the Boy Scout litigation and from the Task Force on the Role of the Episcopacy and heard recommendations from this task force that will be woven into the new futuring task group that will be formed this fall.

Thanking the church and members of the Council for their support and encouragement as he takes on the role of the President of the Council, Bishop Bickerton said he was deeply humbled and grateful for each of the colleagues on the Council.

“There is a deep desire and commitment within this council to serve this church in the best way possible and that is born out in our meetings by the spirit of collegiality and respect that has emerged this week and I encourage the church to be in prayer for us as we continue to wade in the water and deal with the multiple currents that flowing in that river,” he said.
 
  
Elections for bishops in Africa to be held after General Conference in 2024
The episcopal leadership in Africa has announced that elections for new United Methodist Church bishops in Africa will be held following the rescheduled General Conference in 2024.

West Africa College of Bishops President Bishop Benjamin Boni, Congo College of Bishops President Bishop Gabriel Unda, and Africa College of Bishops President Daniel Wandabula said the decision to hold elections after General Conference in 2024 had unanimous support.

According to the Book of Discipline Paragraph 542.2, Central Conferences outside the United States can hold their sessions to elect bishops “within the year succeeding the session of the General Conference at such time and place as the central conference itself or its bishops may determine.”

Bishop Brown agrees to continue to serve Sierra Leone
In order to facilitate the schedule, the Council of Bishops (COB), in consultation with the West Africa College of Bishops, has extended Bishop Warner Brown’s assignment to the Sierra Leone Area until 2024 when Central Conferences will be held in Africa to elect new bishops.

Bishop Brown, a former president of the Council of Bishops, has been serving as interim bishop for Sierra Leone following the death of Bishop John Yambasu in August 2020.

The COB assigned retired Bishop Brown as the interim bishop for the Sierra Leone Area effective October 1, 2020, after the full Council voted to approve the recommendation from the West Africa College of Bishops as per Paragraph 407 of the 2016 Book of Discipline. The West Africa Central Conference Committee on Episcopacy and the Sierra Leone Annual Conference Committee on Episcopacy were also consulted.

“As we noted when we assigned Bishop Brown in 2020, he is a coach, teacher and mentor at the core, which makes his work with the Cabinet and local leaders extremely important,” said COB President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton.

Bishop Brown served as president of the Council of Bishops from 2014 to 2016, just before he retired. Click here to read his bio.