By: Christa Meland
PEORIA, Illinois—The third time was the charm for Rev. Dr. David Bard. He was an episcopal nominee in both 2004 and 2008, but it was this year when friends and colleagues from across the North Central Jurisdiction elected him to lead the United Methodist Church as bishop. He was also the third bishop elected by the jurisdiction on Wednesday.
News of his election was met with great excitement and joy from members of the Minnesota delegation.
Bard was elected Wednesday evening during the 10th round of voting, with 117 votes; 108 were needed for election. He’s the first bishop to be elected from Minnesota in more than four decades.
Addressing delegates from the podium immediately after his election, Bard gave thanks to God, whose love in Jesus Christ he said touched a 13-year-old in a United Methodist Church in Duluth, Minnesota—the same place he now serves. “I pledge with God’s grace and the help of God’s spirit and all of your help to work to make The United Methodist Church the best it can be, for us to be a church that indeed offers hope and healing in a broken and battered world,” he said. (See Bard’s reaction here. See his speech to delegates here.)
Bard, who has been serving First United Methodist Church in Duluth since 2005, has been in ministry for more than 30 years and served in many roles within both the Minnesota Annual Conference and the General Church. He was a General and Jurisdictional Conference delegate in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.
“I celebrate all those called and elected to the episcopacy across the connection,” said Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough. “I especially celebrate the election of Rev. Dr. David Bard from the Minnesota Conference. David will serve the episcopacy with great humility and integrity.”
Delegates had earlier elected the Revs. Tracy Smith Malone of the Northern Illinois Conference and Frank Beard of the Indiana Conference on the sixth ballot. Delegates must still must elect one additional bishop.
The North Central bishops will receive their assignments at the end of the consecration service on Saturday.
The Minnesota Conference delegation rallied behind Bard, working to spread the word about his gifts and qualifications, and his election was as much their victory as it was his.
“The delegation worked so hard, and David is the absolute best candidate—he’s an extremely fair person, a great listener, and can bring people together,” said Faye Christensen. “I’m just absolutely delighted and so overwhelmed with joy.”
Her comments were echoed by other members of the delegation, all of whom cited Bard’s ability to listen and to unite.
“David is a well-balanced leader—theologically, emotionally, biblically, and culturally,” said Rev. Woojae Im. “He will be an exceptional leader for our jurisdiction. At this time, we need a leader who can be inclusive and who can have rich dialogue with people from all spectrums. He is best suited for that.”
Rev. Judy Zabel said Bard brings “a steady, calm leadership style” and is a “non-anxious presence that will help the church move forward with confidence and strength.”
Meanwhile, Rev. Jeff Ozanne described Bard as someone who “possesses a wonderful gift to work with people, to work through differences, to reach out to hear all voices, and to really stop and listen to those voices.”
Walker Brault, a college student and lay delegate from Minnesota, said “it's important to have a bishop who listens to young people and is committed to making sure that we’re involved at all levels of the church, especially in the coming quadrennium with the new commission studying the church's position on sexuality.” He added, “David does that. He’s built relationships with everyone, even those who don’t necessarily agree with him.”
Within the Minnesota Conference, Bard is chair of the Episcopacy Committee and the Higher Education Ministry Team, and he serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Congregational Response Team. He’s also the conference parliamentarian. He was a district superintendent from 1998 to 2005 and spent three years on the Commission on Religion and Race.
Within the General Church, Bard serves on the Study on Ministry Commission, the Committee on Faith and Order, and the North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy. He has also previously served on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the Commission on General Conference, and the Commission on Theological Education.
“Leadership matters,” said Bard when previously asked what type of episcopal leader he would be. “I’d be very committed as a bishop to try to find good leaders for every congregation. I would also really like to help a conference identify what it’s doing well and build on that—and from there look at places where they’d like to grow in new areas. I think it’s important to ask churches to look at who they are and their community, and identify one or two things they could do differently that would make an impact.”
Bard, who headed the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation from Minnesota, said he has a good combination of relational, strategic, and visionary skills. His leadership at the local church level has resulted in growth for his congregation: First UMC has increased its membership by more than 10 percent over the past five years. During that period, the church started several outreach ministries—including a school mentoring program that a nearby community later modeled through a similar program that it began.
“I want to meet people where they are,” said Bard. “To hear where people are and to begin there matters.”
Bard acknowledged that this is both an exciting and challenging time to be in ministry within the United Methodist Church, and he welcomes the opportunity to help the church navigate the changes ahead. That includes finding a way forward around the issue of human sexuality.
“I am strongly committed to trying to help the church work through this together,” Bard said last fall. He was part of a conference team that developed a marriage study guide for all Minnesota churches. “At a time when our country is so fractured, if we are a model of working amid differences, the church can be a strong witness to the power of the gospel. The Methodist stream of the Christian tradition, the Wesleyan stream, has a lot to offer.”
Bard has a wife, Julie, and three adult children. In his free time, he enjoys music, reading, baseball, and walking outside.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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