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Central and Southern Europe elects Stefan Zürcher bishop (UM News)

November 18, 2022

The Rev. Stefan Zürcher of Switzerland has been elected as a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference.

Zürcher, 55, was elected Nov. 18, at a special called central conference gathering in Basel. On the fourth ballot, he received 41 of 68 votes cast. He has served as district superintendent of Northwestern Switzerland since 2015.

Delegates met Nov. 16-20 to elect a bishop to fill the vacancy that will be created when Bishop Patrick Streiff retires Aug. 1, 2023. By then, Streiff will have led the conference for more than 17 years. The delegates also engaged in dialogue sessions on church unity and the future of the conference.

Upon his election, Zürcher told the assembly he was “joyful for the opportunity.” 

“I will make every effort to fulfill the task you have given me,” he said, speaking in German.

Zürcher was elected by the 68 voting delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, from the 13 countries that form the central conference. The conference extends from Algeria in the south to Poland in the north, and from France in the west to Romania in the east.

The United Methodist Church is divided into large regions called central conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines, and jurisdictional conferences in the United States. Each conference comprises a number of annual conferences in the region that in turn comprise districts of local churches.

Bishops Streiff and Zürcher will travel together to the annual conference gatherings in 2023, and at the end of each gathering, Streiff will turn authority for that conference over to the new bishop. 

Zürcher has held leadership positions at every level of the church. Since 2016, he has been a member of the United Methodist Connectional Table. He also is a lecturer for the Methodist eAcademy. At the annual conference level, he has been involved in lay preachers’ training and has been the head of the crisis team of the UMC Switzerland since 2017. His work as a pastor also includes service as an Army chaplain.

Ordained in 2003, he served local church appointments from 2000 to 2015. He studied at Reutlingen School of Theology from 1995 to 2000 and currently serves on the school’s council. In 2019, he received his doctorate from the University of Zurich in the Faculty of Theology.

He and his wife Valérie have four adult children.

In a written biographical statement, Zürcher said he wants to strengthen and promote the church’s solidarity.

“I am not a strategist, but see myself as someone who helps to make things possible and creates space in which people can experiment and in which, when the time is right and God gives it, something can grow,” he wrote.

Addressing the conference, Zürcher, who has a background in botany, said he is “always very happy when I see lots of flowers.” 

“What connects us is the common ground, where our roots are, where we take our common strength, where we take our nourishment,” he said, speaking in German.  

Zürcher will serve a six-year term, which will end when the central conference meets following the 2028 General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”