May 20, 2022
The United Methodist Council of Bishops has the authority to call jurisdictional conferences this year to elect and assign new episcopal leaders in the U.S.
However, that authority does not extend to changing the Sept. 1 date when church law says newly elected U.S. bishops officially take office, the denomination’s top court ruled in Decision 1445.
Usually jurisdictional conferences meet to elect bishops in mid-July every four years following General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.
But amid General Conference’s continued pandemic-caused delay, the Judicial Council said the bishops can call jurisdictional conferences “for the limited purpose of effectuating the continuance of an episcopacy in The United Methodist Church” as required by the denomination’s constitution.
Put another way, the Judicial Council says new bishop elections can occur off their usual schedule to fulfill the United Methodist constitutional mandate that bishops provide continuing supervision.
The Council of Bishops tentatively had set Nov. 2-5 for jurisdictional conferences if the Judicial Council ruled in favor of holding the regional meetings.
To comply with the requirement that new bishops take office on Sept. 1, the Judicial Council decision said the Council of Bishops must either reschedule the jurisdictional conferences so they occur before Sept. 1 this year or assign the newly elected bishops on an interim basis until they officially begin their assignments on Sept. 1, 2023.
The Judicial Council released Decision 1445 on May 20, just as U.S. annual conferences — church regional bodies — begin their spring and summer meetings. Annual conferences frequently nominate one of their clergy members to be a bishop candidate at jurisdictional conferences.
The United Methodist Church has five jurisdictions — each encompassing multiple episcopal areas in a geographical region of the United States. Each episcopal area includes one or more annual conferences. Each U.S. annual conference elects delegates to both General Conference and jurisdictional conferences. Half of the delegates are laity and half are clergy. The delegates to the coming jurisdictional conferences were elected in 2018 and 2019.
The 2016 General Conference approved supporting 46 bishops in the United States — 13 in the Southeastern Jurisdiction; 10 in the South Central Jurisdiction; nine in the Northeastern Jurisdiction; nine in the North Central Jurisdiction and five in the Western Jurisdiction.