Bishop transition: 7 things to know

March 05, 2020
Minnesota delegates, Revs. Jeff Ozanne (left) and Woojae Im (center), listen to a report at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria, Illinois, in 2016.

By: Christa Meland

On Sept. 1, the Dakotas-Minnesota Area will welcome a new bishop. After eight years with us, Bishop Bruce R. Ough will retire at the end of August after reaching the mandatory retirement age for United Methodist bishops. Our new bishop will be assigned at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, scheduled for July 15-18 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Minnesota delegates will play a key role in electing bishops. Rev. Carol Zaagsma, Dave Nuckols, Rev. Woojae Im, and Becky Boland are all delegates to the 2020 North Central Jurisdictional Conference. Our alternate delegates are Revs. Jeff Ozanne, Susan Mullin, Henry Dolopei, and Donna Dempewolf, along with lay people Walker Brault, Cindy Saufferer, Jessica Lanes, and Shirley Durr. (The delegation is holding two upcoming listening sessions to hear thoughts and feedback from Minnesota United Methodists.)
Here are seven important things to know about the upcoming election and assignment of bishops:
1. Role of jurisdictions: Within the United States, The United Methodist Church is divided into five jurisdictions (or regions). Every four years, after the regular General Conference session, delegates within each jurisdiction meet to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies. The North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) includes the Dakotas, Detroit, East Ohio, Illinois Great Rivers, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, West Michigan, West Ohio, and Wisconsin. 

2. Number of bishops: The number of bishops assigned to each jurisdiction is based on its membership. The North Central Jurisdiction has fallen below the membership threshold to sustain its nine existing episcopal areas. So even though two bishops in the jurisdiction are retiring—Ough and Bishop Sally Dyck, who now serves as episcopal leader of the Northern Illinois Area—the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy and the NCJ College of Bishops have proposed to elect just one bishop this year. That decision must still be affirmed by General Conference in May.

Minnesota delegate Faye Christensen participates in the 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria, Illinois.

3. Episcopal candidates: There are currently four episcopal candidates for election in the North Central Jurisdiction: Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, endorsed by the Michigan Conference; Rev. Curtis Brown, endorsed by the Illinois Great Rivers; Rev. Aleze M. Fulbright, endorsed by the Indiana Conference; and Rev. Dan Schwerin, endorsed by the Wisconsin delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Nominations or endorsements of individuals by annual conferences, delegations, or other groups are common but not necessary for election. Votes for bishops are taken in consecutive ballots until the threshold for election is reached and a candidate is elected. The process continues until the total number of bishops needed are elected.

4. Eligibility and tenure: Any active ordained elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop. An episcopal candidate must have at least four years of eligibility to serve before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 68. In the U.S., bishops are elected for life.

5. Bishop assignments: After jurisdictional delegates elect bishops, a much smaller group—the NCJ Committee on Episcopacy—decides which bishop will be assigned to which episcopal area within the jurisdiction. Rev. Judy Zabel, who serves Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, and Faye Christensen, a lay person from Park UMC in Brainerd, both sit on the NCJ Committee on Episcopacy and will have a major role in assigning bishops. If changes to episcopal areas are needed in order to accommodate a reduction in bishops, as may be the case this year, the NCJ Conference, the NCJ Committee on Episcopacy, and the NCJ College of Bishops would each play a role in making that happen. Each bishop is assigned to a particular area for a four-year term, and new bishops usually are not initially assigned to areas where they served as pastors. All U.S. bishops begin their assignments on September 1.

6. Dakotas-Minnesota bishop transition: Bishop Ough assembled a Dakotas-Minnesota Transition Team that has been preparing for his departure and the arrival of a new bishop. The team has also been thinking through the various decisions that could come out of the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences, and their impact on our Area, and exploring how to manage them.

7. Looking back: The 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference was particularly historic for the Minnesota Conference because David Bard—who was endorsed by the conference and at the time served First United Methodist Church (the Coppertop) in Duluth—was elected bishop. Since 2016, Bard has served as the resident bishop of the Michigan Area.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications, contributed to this report.

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