Every four years, the United Methodist Church’s U.S. jurisdictions elect and assign bishops, causing a fruit-basket turnover of leadership.
The 2008 General Conference approved a plan that reduced by one the number of bishops in four of the five jurisdictions, beginning this year. The reason is shrinking membership in the U.S., a reality that also has led to combining of some conferences.
Still, from July 17 to July 20, delegates in the South Central, Southeastern and Northeastern Jurisdictional Conferences elected 11 new bishops. The Western and North Central Jurisdictions, due to few retirements and combining of conferences, did not elect any.
The unprecedented involuntary retirement of a bishop—an action taken against Bishop Earl Bledsoe by the South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee and affirmed by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference—created not only drama but uncertainty. He’s considering an appeal to the Judicial Council, and there won’t be an election for his slot until his status is settled.
The average age for the new bishops is 54. The ranks include a Hispanic woman, a Korean-American man and two African-American men.
While the election of bishops provides most of the suspense at jurisdictional conferences, the assignment of bishops—recommended by a jurisdictional episcopacy committee and confirmed by the jurisdictional conference—is just as consequential.
High-profile church leaders who will be overseeing new areas come Sept. 1 include Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who moves from the Phoenix Area to the Los Angeles Area, and Bishop Gregory Palmer, a former Council of Bishops president, who moves from the Illinois to the Ohio West Area.
Bishop James Swanson moves from the Holston to the Mississippi Area, and becomes its first African-American leader.
Here’s a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction summary of the new faces and assignments:
The Northeastern Jurisdiction will see three new bishops and a shuffling of the deck among other episcopal leaders.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, 50, was elected July 18 on the fifth ballot. She was assigned to lead the West Virginia Area—the first woman to do so.
She has most recently been director of connectional ministries for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. Earlier positions include district superintendent, pastor and associate pastor.
Bishop Ball earned degrees at Dickinson College (B.A.), Duke Divinity School (M.Div.) and Wesley Seminary (D.Min.). She and her husband, the Rev. Barry D. Ball—a UM military chaplain—have two daughters.
“Revitalized congregations and development of new faith communities are what we need in the United Methodist Church,” she said just after her election.
Bishop Martin McLee, 56, was elected July 19 on the 21st ballot, and broke into song on being introduced to delegates. “I told Jesus it would be alright if he changed my name and on the 21st ballot, he changed my name,” he sang, paraphrasing a song recorded by Nina Simone, “If He Changed My Name.”
Bishop McLee, most recently superintendent for the Metro Boston Hope District of the New England Conference, will be episcopal leader of the New York Area. He got his M.Div. at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and has a law degree from Texas Southern University.
He earned endorsements from the New England Conference, Black Methodists for Church Renewal and the Northeastern Jurisdiction Multi-Ethnic Center.
Bishop Mark Webb, 47, was elected July 20 on the 35th ballot—a record for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. He most recently has been superintendent of the York District of the Susquehanna Annual Conference, and as bishop will be leading the Upper New York Area.
Bishop Webb holds degrees from Shippensburg University (B.S.) and Asbury Theological Seminary (M.Div.) He’s been a pastor and associate pastor, and served as a General Conference delegate in 2012, 2008 and 2004.
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton said: “This is a man who loves God deeply and lives that every day of his life.”
Bishop Webb and his wife, Jody, have two sons.
The reassignments of current bishops in the jurisdiction includes Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar moving from the New Jersey to the Boston Area, Bishop Marcus Matthews moving from the Upper New York to the Washington Area, Bishop Jeremiah Park moving from the New York to the Harrisburg Area and Bishop John Schol moving from the Washington to the New Jersey Area.
Of the jurisdictions electing bishops in 2012, the Southeastern elected the most with five. It saw some reassignment of veteran bishops, as well.
Bishop Jonathan Holston, 53, was elected July 18 on the first ballot. His most recent post has been superintendent of the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District of the North Georgia Conference, and he also has been a pastor and associate pastor.
“I am excited about the opportunity to offer leadership in challenging times and help energize people in service to Christ,” he said.
Bishop Holston has been a member of the General Council on Finance and Administration and the General Board of Global Ministries, and has traveled extensively on mission trips. He earned degrees from the University of Georgia (B.A., religion) and Interdenominational Theological Center (M.Div.). He and his wife, Felecia, have a son.
He will oversee the Columbia Area (South Carolina Conference).
Bishop Ken Carter, 54, was elected July 18, on the third ballot. He has most recently been a district superintendent in the Western North Carolina Conference, and before that served as pastor at Providence UMC in Charlotte for eight years.
Bishop Carter—a graduate of Columbus College, Duke Divinity School, the University of Virginia and Princeton Theological School—is the author of eight books. He serves on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the board of visitors of Duke Divinity School and the board of trustees of the United Methodist University of Liberia.
He and his wife, Pam, most recently a missions specialist with the Western North Carolina Conference, have two daughters. Bishop Carter will oversee the Florida Conference.
Bishop Bill McAlilly, 55, was elected July 18 on the fifth ballot. He has been superintendent of the Seashore District of the Mississippi Conference, and had a key role in the conference’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Bishop McAlilly has a long background as pastor, including at First UMC in Tupelo, Miss.
He’s the 10th alumnus of UM-affiliated Millsaps College to be a bishop. He earned his M.Div. at Candler School of Theology.
Bishop McAlilly and his wife Lynn, a public school teacher, have two children, including a son, Chris, who is a pastor in the Mississippi Conference. Bishop McAlilly was appointed to the Nashville Episcopal Area, meaning he’ll oversee the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.
Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett, 46, was elected July 18 on the 11th ballot. She has been pastor of St. Luke UMC in Lexington, Ky., since 2004, and before that served as a district superintendent for six years.
An eastern Kentucky native, Bishop Wallace-Padgett earned degrees from Berea College (where she was captain of the women’s basketball team), Lexington Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary. She and her husband, the Rev. Lee Padgett, have two children.
She’s been assigned to the Birmingham Area (North Alabama Conference).
Bishop Young Jin Cho, 65, was elected July 18 on the 29th ballot, coming from far behind in the voting.
He got a laugh from delegates afterward, saying, “I learned there are many kinds of resurrections.”
Bishop Cho has most recently been superintendent of the Arlington District of the Virginia Conference. He led the Korean UMC of Greater Washington, in McLean, Va., for 22 years.
A native of South Korea, Bishop Cho earned degrees at the Methodist Theological Seminary in Seoul, and from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Kiok, a UM deacon, have three children.
Bishops rarely immediately oversee the conference from which they come, but Bishop Cho has been assigned to the Richmond Area, where he’ll oversee the Virginia Conference.
Veteran leaders reassigned within the Southeastern Jurisdiction are Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, who moves from the Mississippi to the Raleigh Area (North Carolina Conference); Bishop James Swanson, who has been leading the Holston Area and moves to the Mississippi Area; and Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, who moves from the Columbia Area (South Carolina Conference) to Holston. Bishop Mike Watson remains in North Georgia, Bishop James King in South Georgia, Bishop Paul Leeland in West-Florida/Alabama, Bishop Larry Goodpaster in the Charlotte Area (Western North Carolina Conference) and Bishop Lindsey Davis in the Louisville Area (Kentucky Conference).
Amid the drama surrounding Bishop Bledsoe, delegates elected three Texans as episcopal leaders and assigned them to conferences or areas where bishops were retiring.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, 53, was elected July 19 on the fifth ballot. She has most recently been deputy general secretary for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and before that was director of missional excellence for the Texas Conference. She also has been an executive and associate pastor, and earned degrees from the University of Texas and Perkins School of Theology.
“It’s when we’re in mission in the world that our discipleship is deepened,” she said after her election. “I believe that’s where you come face to face with the living God.”
Bishop Harvey is the first Hispanic woman elected bishop in the jurisdiction. She’ll oversee the Louisiana Area.
She and her husband, Dean Harvey, have a daughter.
Bishop Gary Mueller, 58, was elected July 19 on the 11th ballot. He has been pastor of First UMC in Plano, Texas, for the last decade. He was a delegate to General Conference 2012 and the “Mueller Amendment” helped bring about passage of legislation to end guaranteed appointment for ordained elders.
Bishop Mueller earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas (where he roomed with Bishop Scott Jones) and his M.Div. from Perkins School of Theology. He and his wife, Wink, have two children.
Asked how he would take the congregational growth he saw at First UMC Plano to a conference level, he said, “You start with the basics, and that’s Jesus, and getting the congregation to fall in love with Jesus and to get excited about sharing Jesus.”
He’ll oversee the Arkansas Area.
Bishop Mike McKee, 60, was elected July 20 on the 23rd ballot. He began in ministry in 1976, and since 1997 has been pastor of First UMC in Hurst, Texas. He has degrees from the University of Texas and Perkins School of Theology, and chairs the latter’s executive board.
He and his wife, Joan, have two daughters, a son-in-law and grandson.
Bishop McKee said that as a large church pastor he has considered it crucial to draw on the experiences of a diverse range of congregation members. “I assume there will be that exponentially as a bishop,” he said.
Bishop McKee has been assigned to the Dallas Area (North Texas Conference).
Remaining in their current assignments are Bishop Janice Huie (Houston Area, Texas Conference), Bishop Robert Hayes (Oklahoma Area, Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conferences), Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Area) and Bishop Mike Lowry (Fort Worth Area, Central Texas). Bishop Scott Jones will oversee the Great Plains Area (combined from Kansas West, Kansas East and Nebraska conferences), and Bishop Jim Dorff the San Antonio Area (combined from Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences).
The North Central Jurisdiction elected no bishops, but things are hardly static, given the high number of reassignments. Bishop Sally Dyck moves from the Minnesota to the Chicago Area (Northern Illinois Conference); Bishop Jonathan Keaton from the Michigan to the Illinois Area (Illinois Great Rivers Conference); Bishop Gregory Palmer from the Illinois to the Ohio West Area; Bishop Hee Soo Young from the Chicago to the Wisconsin Area; and Bishop Bruce Ough from the Ohio West to the combined Dakotas/Minnesota Area. Bishop Deborah Kiesey moves from the Dakotas to the Michigan Area (Detroit and West Michigan Conferences). Bishop John Hopkins remains in East Ohio, and Bishop Mike Coyner stays in Indiana.
In the Western Jurisdiction, Bishop Robert Hoshibata moves from the Portland Area to the Phoenix Area (Desert Southwest Conference); Bishop Minerva Carcaño moves from the Phoenix to the Los Angeles Area (California-Pacific Conference); and Bishop Grant Hagiya stays in Seattle to lead the newly formed Greater Northwest Area (Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences). Bishop Elaine Stanovsky (Mountain Sky Area, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences) and Bishop Warner Brown (San Francisco Area, California-Nevada Conference) continue their assignments.
United Methodist News Service and conference communicators contributed to this story.