Jurisdictional Conference elects, assigns bishops

Members of the Arkansas Conference delegation to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference pause between ballots for episcopal elections.  PHOTO BY PAUL STRANG

Members of the Arkansas Conference delegation to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference pause between ballots for episcopal elections.
PHOTO BY PAUL STRANG

Mueller to serve Arkansas for four more years

By Jim Polk and Amy Forbus
Special Contributor and Editor

WICHITA, Kan.—Delegations from eight states and 12 annual conferences gathered July 13-16 for the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, held in Wichita’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Clergy and lay delegates met to elect and assign bishops, and to take care of the business of the jurisdiction for the next four years.

Three new bishops were elected to serve in the South Central Jurisdiction. The third round of balloting brought the election of the Rev. Ruben Saenz Jr., connectional ministries and mission vitality center leader of the Rio Texas Conference. The conference elected the Rev. James “Jimmy” Nunn, director of mission and administration for the Northwest Texas Conference, on the 21st ballot, and on a record 35th ballot the Rev. Robert “Bob” Farr, director of congregational development for the Missouri Conference, was elected to fill the remaining open seat of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.

The following episcopal assignments were made for the 2016-2020 quadrennium:

Members and friends of the Arkansas delegation, Conference staff and the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas (UMFA) celebrated with Bishop Mueller his reassignment to Arkansas at a UMFA-sponsored breakfast the final morning of Jurisdictional Conference. PHOTO BY PAUL STRANG

Members and friends of the Arkansas delegation, Conference staff and the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas (UMFA) celebrated with Bishop Mueller his reassignment to Arkansas at a UMFA-sponsored breakfast the final morning of Jurisdictional Conference.
PHOTO BY PAUL STRANG

Arkansas – Bishop Gary E. Mueller; Central Texas – Bishop J. Michael Lowry; Great Plains – Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.; Louisiana – Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey; Missouri – Bishop Robert “Bob” Farr; North Texas – Bishop Michael McKee; Northwest Texas/New Mexico – Bishop Earl Bledsoe; Oklahoma/Oklahoma Indian Missionary – Bishop James G. “Jimmy” Nunn; Rio Texas – Bishop Robert C. Schnase; Texas – Bishop Scott J. Jones.

“I am deeply honored and excited to be re-assigned as the bishop of Arkansas,” Mueller said in a brief statement after the assignment was made official. “I am so excited about the way the Holy Spirit is leading us to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world. I love you and can’t wait to do life and ministry with you!” For further comment, see the bishop’s message in this issue.

Arkansas action

Other Arkansas Conference-related highlights of the gathering included the presentation from the Jurisdictional Youth Ministry team featuring three young leaders from Arkansas, Lauren Lovelady, Claire Thompson and Miller Wilbourn; the acceptance of five Arkansas nominees to leadership at the denominational level; and the separation of Fayetteville’s Mount Sequoyah Center from the Jurisdiction to become its own independent organization.

Bishop Gary Mueller visited with Arkansas Conference young people Lauren Lovelady (left), Claire Thompson and Miller Wilbourn following their participation in the report from the Jurisdictional Youth Ministry Organization (JYMO). PHOTO BY JAY CLARK

Bishop Gary Mueller visited with Arkansas Conference young people Lauren Lovelady (left), Claire Thompson and Miller Wilbourn following their participation in the report from the Jurisdictional Youth Ministry Organization (JYMO).
PHOTO BY JAY CLARK

Although Arkansas originally was allocated three positions in the South Central Jurisdiction Nominations Report, five persons from the Arkansas Conference were eventually elected to serve on General Boards and Agencies: Miller Wilbourn on the Connectional Table; Kelly Murray-Norman on the General Board of Global Ministries; Todd Burris on the United Methodist Publishing House board of directors; the Rev. Rodney Steele on the General Commission on Communications; and the Rev. Mark Norman on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Mount Sequoyah

In other business, delegates approved a motion from the South Central Jurisdiction Mission Council, the College of Bishops and the Mount Sequoyah Center Board of Trustees that divests the South Central Jurisdiction from all “ownership interest, control or responsibility” in Mount Sequoyah Center, Inc., a retreat and conference center in Fayetteville, Ark., which has been owned by the Jurisdiction or its predecessor bodies since its founding in 1922. Under the terms of the agreement, if Mount Sequoyah is sold or becomes profitable, money paid to the SCJ up to $1 million will be given to Lydia Patterson Institute, the Jurisdiction-owned high school in El Paso, Texas, for either its capital campaign or for leadership development programs as part of its operating budget.

“This allows the Mountain to further expand its ministry ecumenically to the local faith-based community, and also focus more directly on the broader needs of the Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas communities,” Dewitt Smith, a United Methodist layperson and chair of the Mount Sequoyah board of trustees, in a July 22 news release from Mount Sequoyah.

The Rev. Jess Schload, CEO of Mount Sequoyah, in the same news release said that Mount Sequoyah will continue to offer religious and educational programs for adults, families and children, and still can be rented for church retreats, weddings and other events.

“Our hope is that this special place overlooking the city will continue to be an important resource for the community,” Schload said. “We will be seeking partnerships with churches, religious organizations and nonprofits to continue to serve this region.”

Request for ruling

In response to the Western Jurisdictional Conference’s election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto—a self-avowed lesbian who is legally married to another woman—the South Central Jurisdictional Conference approved a motion requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council, the denomination’s high court, on several questions of church law related to the action of the Western Jurisdiction.

The Judicial Council is not expected to address the questions raised until its next regularly scheduled meeting, set for October 25-28 in Chicago.

The South Central Jurisdiction includes the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana and is composed of twelve annual conferences supervised by ten bishops.