Council of Bishops – The United Methodist Church
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The bishops of The United Methodist Church (UMC) completed their Spring 2023 meeting on Friday in a gathering that was awash in the spirit of collegiality and search for the betterment of the worldwide denomination.
The meeting from April 30-May 5 was filled with worship each and bookended by the presidential remarks by Council of Bishops (COB) President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who led the first in-person meeting since 2019.
In his closing sermon, Bishop Bickerton reminded the United Methodists: “We are always connected together. We share common burdens, common challenges, common opportunities, and common blessings.” Preaching from Acts 2:42-47, Bishop Bickerton told the gathering that when the apostles committed to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers, they were filled with awe, gratitude, generosity and good will. Bishop Bickerton reminded the bishops that these gifts from God are the foundation for the renewal of today’s church.
The meeting opened on Sunday, April 30, with a memorial service that honored members of the COB who had died since the bishops last met in person in 2019. The bishops had been meeting virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
On Monday, the bishops formally welcomed colleagues who had been elected in November 2022 in a service where COB Immediate Past President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey urged newly minted bishops to help faithful United Methodists to reclaiming their identity. “Faithful United Methodists are saying this is MY church and we will renew our commitment and reimagine a spirit of United Methodism that has not yet been seen.” Later during the service, COB President Designate Bishop Tracy S. Malone prayed and anointed the new bishops.
In his presidential address, Bishop Bickerton said that in the midst of this massive time of transition, it was time to pivot our work to focus on reclaiming, reviving and renewing The United Methodist Church. “We are not talking about new wine in old wineskins. Rather, it’s like pulling up the carpet to reveal the linoleum and pulling up the linoleum to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor.”
The bishop honestly shared his worry that the church was spending too much time on those who were leaving rather than on those were staying. “We must grieve our loss. We must complete the disaffiliations. We must plan for our time of conferencing. And we must engage in the work directly in front of us this week. But in the midst of it all, in spite of it all: What do you say that we reclaim, revive, and renew this church for the dance that lies ahead?”
About 100 bishops from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America were in attendance in Chicago during the meeting which included continuing work to fight racism, promote discipleship; and strengthen mission strategies in the worldwide denomination. About 20 other bishops attended the meeting virtually through a secure Zoom link, making the meeting the first-ever COB hybrid meeting.
During the meeting, the bishops received reports and made the following decisions:
- General Conference 2016: The bishops responded to the Judicial Council decision regarding an additional General Conference between 2024-2026 by approving a resolution to propose a 5-day General Conference in May 2026 that would focus on re-establishing connection, lament and healing, celebration, recasting the mission and vision for The United Methodist Church, and considering a more regional governance structure to support the mission and vision of the church for the current and future realities within the world and church.
- Jurisdictional Conferences: The bishops approved a motion to call for 2024 Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States to be held July 10-12, 2024. Central Conference sessions outside the United States will be held within one year after the General Conference in 2024 as per the Book of Discipline.
- African bishops meeting: The bishops approved funding request for Bishop Gregory Palmer to attend the Africa Bishops meeting in September 2023 on behalf of the COB to discuss education on giving in Central Conferences. Bishop Bickerton will also attend as president of the COB using the President travel funds.
- Ethnic Caucuses: The bishops approved bishops’ travel expenses to attend the national gathering for their individual ethnic caucuses once every two years.
- Ecumenism: The bishops approved dozens of names for UMC representation in various ecumenical and interreligious organizations and conferences through the world.
- Campaign for Children in Poverty: The bishops approved a request that every Episcopal area would elevate the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty as an initiative in episcopal areas or contexts with possible ecumenical and interfaith collaborations.
- Clean water for all: The bishops approved a resolution to start work in cooperation with other organizations to help provide clean water for all people throughout the world.
- Sandy Creek Massacre: In follow-up to the petition adopted by General Conference 2016, the bishops approved release of funds to support the Center for Sand Creek Massacre Studies in Eades, Colorado; and that Bishops Karen Oliveto, Elaine Stanovsky, Sally Dyck and David Wilson be the COB representatives to work with the Sand Creek Massacre descendants to continue the healing work; and that the COB assist the Sand Creek Massacre Healing Partnership to identify $25,000 funding for the participation of 4 Descendants’ Representatives through 2024.
- Complaints against bishops: The bishops were informed that a task force regarding Paragraph 413 will be reporting to them within a month on its recommendations for criteria and a specific process for how to handle complaints against bishops are held and report on possible legislation regarding the issue.
- Legislative Task Force: The bishops heard from their Legislative Task Force on potential legislation for General Conference that would address refinements that need considered based on learnings from the past several years.
- UMCOM: The bishops heard a about the #BeUMC initiative from United Methodist Communication, affirmed that the UMC is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.
- Archives and History: Dr. Ashley Boggan Dreff of the Commission on Archives and History reminded the bishops key concepts from John Wesley’s “Advice to the People Called Methodists”: “you are a new people”, “do not imagine that you can avoid giving offense”, “trust God with your all, then go on in the power of God’s might”, “keep in your path and be true to your principles”, and “do not talk much about what you suffer.”
- Full Communion: The bishops reflected on the meaning of full communion relationships with other denominations, the essential concept of “mutual recognition”, and the obstacles that misinformation and disparagement place in the way of full communion.
- Anti-Racism: Bishops received training in anti-racism, under the leadership of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling. The training included research from Rev. Dr. Candace Lewis, President of Gammon Theological Seminary, who informed the gathering 70 percent of African-American American churches were not planning of leaving the denomination but were calling for changes within the church.
The COB next in-person meeting is scheduled for November 2023 in North Carolina.
To view the videos of the COB meeting, visit: www.facebook.com/umcbishops
About the Council of Bishops:
The Council of Bishops is made up of all active and retired bishops of The United Methodist Church. Bishops give oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the Church.