Bishop Ough elected to lead bishops starting in 2016

May 06, 2015

By: By Heather Hahn, UMNS

Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough will be the next president of the Council of Bishops.

After his election, Ough told the bishops how he hoped to lead.

“I want to be a person with a passion for the saving of souls,” he said. “I want to be a person that is a strong advocate for justice in the transformation of the world. I want to be a person who lives joyfully and obediently before the Lord, day in and day out.”

On May 2, the council’s active bishops also elected:

  • Florida Area Bishop Kenneth H. Carter as the president-designate
  • Nordic and Baltic Area Bishop Christian Alsted as Connectional Table chair
  • Washington Area Bishop Marcus Matthews as executive secretary
  • North Georgia Area Bishop B. Michael Watson as ecumenical officer
  • Re-elected Louisiana Area Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey as secretary

Ough will receive the gavel on the third day of the 2016 General Conference, and Carter is scheduled to take office as president in spring 2018. The secretary also serves a two-year term.

The executive secretary, ecumenical officer and chair of the Connectional Table each serve four-year terms, starting in 2016. 

The active bishops will continue in their responsibilities to their conferences even as they on their additional roles in the council. 

“It’s a wonderful privilege to be asked by your colleagues to help guide their work,” Ough told United Methodist News Service. “I think my role is to call forth the gifts of bishops … and direct those gifts toward fulfilling our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

What the council president does

The council president is responsible for presiding over all meetings of the bishops’ executive committee and council.

Only General Conference — the denomination’s lawmaking assembly — can speak officially for The United Methodist Church. However, the council president sometimes must speak to the public on behalf of the bishops and church teachings. The president also often takes a leading role in council initiatives.

“We are entering an interesting, some would say ‘difficult,’ season in the life of the church,” Ough told his fellow bishops after his election.

Among the challenges he sees are threats of schism in the church and the racism that still bedevils church and society. He also spoke of the bishops’ commitment to foster more highly vital congregations and to live more authentically into the denomination’s global nature.

But he added that together, the bishops can “lead the church into a very bright future.”

Ough presently serves as chair of the 59-member Connectional Table, a sort of church council for the denomination that coordinates The United Methodist Church’s mission, ministry and resources.

San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., the current Council of Bishops president, said Ough’s Connectional Table experience will serve him in good stead as he takes on a new role.

“He will be able to bring an excellent perspective into the next quadrennium for moving forward the vision that General Conference adopts,” Brown said.

Ough, who leads the Dakotas and Minnesota conferences, was first elected bishop by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in 2000. He previously served as bishop for 12 years in the West Ohio Conference and was president of the Ohio Council of Churches.


Carter, elected bishop in 2012, told his colleagues that the call to be the council’s future president “came as a surprise to me.” As president-designate, he will serve on the council’s executive committee alongside Ough.

Since he was asked to take on this role, Carter said he finds himself praying often for three things: “the unity of the church, the faithfulness of the church and the fruitfulness of the church.”

Carter, who leads the Florida Conference, has spent much of ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference, where he served as a pastor of multiple congregations and later as district superintendent.

Connectional Table chair

Alsted will be the first bishop from outside the United States to lead the Connectional Table since the governing body was established in 2004.

A large part of the Connectional Table’s role is to coordinate the work of the denomination’s general agencies in carrying out General Conference’s vision. The Connectional Table also works with the General Council on Finance and Administration in developing the general church’s proposed budget for General Conference approval.

Alsted, a native of Horsens, Denmark, has served as bishop in the Nordic and Baltic Area —encompassing Finland, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — since May 2009. He also maintains relations with the Uniting Church in Sweden, formed in 2011 by a merger of United Methodists, Baptists and the Mission Covenant Church in Sweden.

Executive secretary

Matthews, who will retire as bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in 2016, will as executive secretary essentially become the council’s operations officer.

He will coordinate arrangements for council meetings and work with the council’s president and ecumenical officer in maintaining ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

As a retired bishop, Matthews will have voice but not vote in the council’s executive committee. Elected in 2004, he has been bishop in the Philadelphia Area, the New York West Area and the Washington Area.

Ecumenical officer

On his election as ecumenical officer, Watson announced his planned retirement as bishop of the North Georgia Conference, a role he has served since 2008.

He spoke with passion of taking on his next role as ecumenical officer, the council’s primary liaison for building relationships with other churches and faith groups. Since 2012, the denomination’s Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships has reported directly to the Council of Bishops and Watson serves on the office’s steering team.

“I have experienced the great joy of being outside ourselves in the larger family of the Christian faith around the world,” he told the bishops. “One thing I hope for is that we take ecumenism out of the 30,000-foot level of world councils and national councils, so that our people are engaged in ecumenical work everywhere we are.”


Harvey, who was re-elected as secretary, has served as bishop of the Louisiana Conference since September 2012. She has the role of the council’s parliamentarian and organizer who helps keep the bishops’ gatherings on course.

“(Christian) unity is a force that wakes me up every morning, but even more so, that there is a whole world out there that has yet to encounter the living God.” Harvey said. “If we do not keep our eye on that horizon, we will never have a vital congregation, we will never have effective clergy.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or

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