Council of Bishops asks for a Declaratory Decision Regarding Jurisdictional Conferences


The Council of Bishops has asked the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding Jurisdictional Conferences to be held to elect and assign bishops. They have tentatively set November 2-5, 2022, for Jurisdictional Conferences should the Judicial Council rule in favor of holding the regional meeting. This date was previously scheduled for Jurisdictional Conferences following the General Conference.
In the questions to the Judicial Council, the bishops want to know if they have constitutional authority to set regular sessions of the Jurisdictional Conference to elect and assign bishops without the General Conference occurring first. The bishops are also asking the denomination’s top court to decide when the assignment of newly elected bishops would occur if such elections occurred after September 1. Here are the bishops’ questions:

Question 1: Does the Council of Bishops have constitutional authority to set regular sessions of the jurisdictional conference to elect and assign bishops pursuant to ¶¶ 26, 27.2 and 45 of the Discipline, notwithstanding that the General Conference has not occurred since the last election of bishops in the jurisdictional conferences and the General Conference has not acted upon a report of the Interjurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy as contemplated by ¶ 512?

Question 2: If the answer to Question 1 is yes and the election and consecration of the new bishop(s) occurs after September 1, when does the assignment of the newly elected bishop(s) begin?

Question 3: Is the assignment date of “September 1 following the jurisdictional conference” set forth in ¶ 406 altered if the election and consecration occurs before the customary July election(s) that result in assignments taking effect in approximately one to two months after election and consecration?

The request for the ruling came after the second postponement of the General Conference from 2022 to 2024, heightening the burden of bishops attempting to provide effective episcopal oversight and leadership. Due to vacancies created by retirements after the postponement of General Conference in 2020, special assignments to cover vacant episcopal areas in the United States have been faithfully served by bishops who continue to serve their residential areas.

“The threat to the continuance of the episcopacy and the sustainability of effective episcopal leadership will increase as more retirements are expected, whether due to mandatory retirement, vocational retirement, or voluntary retirement. Therefore, the rationale for this request for declaratory decision is readily apparent, and the need for an expedited decision on the request is compelled given the current and expanding burden,” the bishops said in the filing to the court.

The COB is asking for an expedited decision.

Council of Bishops President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey affirmed the work of the bishops and their willingness to care for the mission and witness of the UMC.
“The work of a bishop has grown more complex and yet the bishops continue to grapple with difficult decisions in a world of competing values. They do so with grace and unafraid; knowing that God is with us,” said Bishop Harvey.