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New Cal-Pac Bishop challenges conference to “expand the menu” during installation service

by Larry R. Hygh Jr., Ed.D.*, with information from UMNS

PASADENA, Calif. – “So, what if we could work on our menus, and find ways to create a new world that reflects Jesus’ view of the Kingdom of God?” asked Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank during her installation service at First United Methodist Church (UMC) Pasadena on Sunday, January 29.  She preached from John 21:15-17 asking the hundreds gathered to reflect on Jesus’ question, “Do You Love Me?”  She began serving as the resident bishop of the California-Pacific (Cal-Pac) Annual Conference of the UMC (Los Angeles Episcopal Area) on Jan. 1.

Bishop Escobedo-Frank challenged those gathered, exclaiming, “We have some work to do to create that vision of a table that is so large that everyone gets to be fed, that everyone is important, that everyone feels loved…We need to be ready to go today to do the work that God has called us to do in this moment.  God put you and I here, and God just has one question as we think about the ways that we have, and create love in our world…Jesus just wants to know do you love me?”

Her refrain throughout the sermon was a juxtaposition of Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson with a modern twist, “Cal-Pac United Methodist people, do you love me?” with the congregation in call and response responding, “Yes, Lord, we love you.” She says Jesus’ real-world current responses would be, “Then take care of the people of our cities who are unhoused, and cold and hungry…Then do your part to keep your children safe in school…Then pay your ethnic pastors as much as you pay the others…Then replace the politic of hate for the politic of love…Then create a place in which Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay does not have moments of mourning for their whole community in grief…Then make your world one in which one in which Tyre Nichols can live and hug his momma and come home to dinner.” 

Bishop Escobedo-Frank was elected by delegates during the Western Jurisdiction meeting at Christ UMC in Salt Lake City last Nov. 4, on the 19th ballot. She is the jurisdiction’s third Hispanic bishop.  The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States, including UMC congregations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam, and other territories in the Pacific region.

After her election, when she found out she would be coming to serve Cal-Pac, she was on the conference website and found out the focus of last year’s annual conference session was “ending spiritual and physical hunger.” She asked those gathered, “What if we could do that in this annual conference. There is a connection between being full in your stomach and spiritually full…We have an innate connection between our tummy and our soul.  Jesus wanted us to remember the fullness of our bellies and soul.  Sometimes the church’s potluck meals are such that only a few people are invited. Sometimes the Church’s menu is only one type of food.” She added, “Sometimes the Church gets stuck on one recipe and refuses to expand their tastebuds and their tables.  And sometimes the Church people, people like us, have forgotten to add the spice of love to the table of grace.”

Bishop Grant Hagiya, now retired and serving as the president of Claremont School of Theology (CST) introduced the new episcopal leader saying, “Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, bishop of the California-Pacific Conference, has been on the leading edge of the church in vitalization and transformation.”  He went on to say, “Bishop Dottie believes that living in the time of ethical change requires the church to find sacred ways to die in order to be reborn. Death moments in the church are the impetus for resurrection.” He added, “She calls for a church structure in decline to embrace the pain of loss so that the joy of life can be found again…She leads from the margins, something that this conference is well known for.  She will be among you in the communities and the churches that you serve, not leading from some office in Pasadena, but right there in ministry with all of you.”

During the service, she was presented with “Signs of Episcopal Ministry,” including a pastoral staff, Bible, water for baptism, bread and cup for communion, towel and basin for service, a stole to be pastor, preacher and teacher, a Book of Discipline, and a gavel.  Uplifting music was sung by a combined Gospel Choir from several Black churches in the Cal-Pac Conference (Holman UMC, Grace UMC, and Saint Mark UMC) and the First Tongan UMC Pomona Valley Choir.  The offering benefited the Monterey Park community in the wake of the tragic gun violence that rocked their community during the recent Lunar New Year celebration. 

Prior to her election, Bishop Escobedo-Frank was an elder in the Desert Southwest Conference, having served in appointments as pastor to churches ranging from the small and rural to big and urban. For three years, she also was an associate pastor at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America megachurch in Glendale, Arizona. 

She also has experience as a district superintendent based in Tucson and dean of the bishop’s cabinet. She served twice as Hispanic Ministries chair in the Desert Southwest Conference. 

Bishop Escobedo-Frank grew up as a daughter of Lutheran missionaries, living on the border of Arizona and Mexico. A social worker, she specialized in foster care and medical pediatric crisis management.

She earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Arizona State University, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from CST, and a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in semiotics and future studies. She also is a prolific writer and authored several books on the subject of church vitalization and transformation: Advent & Christmas; Sermon Seeds, 40 Creative Sermons; Jesus Insurgency, The Church Revolution from the Edge (co-authored by Rudy Rasmus); ReStart Your Church; Our Common Sins; Give It Up!; and The Sacred Secular, How God is Using the World to Sharpe the Church (co-authored by Robert Rynders). 

In the UMC, a bishop serves as a general superintendent of the entire Church.  In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not “ordained” as bishops but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop. Bishops give general oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the Church. Bishops are ordained elders who, in consultation with district superintendents, are responsible for appointing clergy. They also preside at annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences and General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly. The California-Pacific Conference is a regional body of the UMC, made up of some 50,000 members in almost 350 local churches throughout Southern California, parts of Central California, Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. 

To view the livestream recording of the installation service, click here.

To view photos of the service, click here.

*Dr. Hygh is a lifelong United Methodist, 5th Generation Methodist, and former United Methodist communicator who is now a communications professor at California State University Dominguez Hills.