First black female president set to take helm of United Methodist Church Council of Bishops

United Methodist Church Bishop Tracy Malone of the East Ohio Conference.
United Methodist Church Bishop Tracy Malone of the East Ohio Conference. | Courtesy United Methodist Communications

The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops has elected its first African American female president, who will take office in the coming weeks following the departure of over 7,000 churches from the denomination in recent years. 

Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the UMC East Ohio Conference will take office during the second week of the UMC General Conference, scheduled for April 23 to May 3. She was elected president of the COB last November

Malone told The Christian Post on Thursday that it was "an honor to be elected by my colleagues," calling it an "historical election" that "is a testament to the Church's commitment to celebrating diversity."

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"I will continue to provide leadership to the Church that inspires hope, helps to unite The United Methodist Church and our collective efforts to becoming a more inclusive grace-filled Church," Malone wrote in an email. 

Malone hopes to champion efforts that help "deepen and expand our commitment to discipleship, mission, equity, and justice in the Church and in the world."

"The United Methodist Church continues to have a thriving witness and missional impact throughout the world," she added. "The mission of the Church has not changed, and the commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world continues to be our focus."

Malone was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but raised in Chicago, Illinois. She felt a call to take part in ministry at the age of 13, according to her online biography.

Malone earned a bachelor of arts in Religious Studies and Sociology, with a minor in Computer Science from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois; a master of divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois; and a doctorate of ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

She was assigned as resident bishop of the UMC East Ohio Conference in 2016, having previously pastored several congregations in the UMC Northern Illinois Conference.

Malone's installment as COB president follows the disaffiliations of thousands of congregations from the UMC in 2022 and 2023 due to disagreements over the mainline denomination's official stance on homosexuality.

The UMC Book of Discipline labels homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching" and prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Although efforts at the General Conference to change the Book of Discipline have failed, many progressive leaders within the UMC have refused to follow or enforce the rules.

In 2019, at a special session of the General Conference, delegates voted to add Paragraph 2553 to the Book of Discipline, which created a temporary process for churches to disaffiliate over the debate.

From 2019 to 2023, according to numbers compiled by UM News, more than 7,600 congregations, most conservative, were granted disaffiliation.

This number of departing congregations included 250 churches from Malone's East Ohio Conference, representing more than a third of the regional body's member congregations.

Due to the many theologically conservative churches that left the denomination, many expect this year's General Conference to finally amend the Book of Discipline.

Last October, as part of an event held by The Church of the Resurrection of Leawood, Kansas, Malone said that her conference's annual meeting felt "like a revival" after the churches left.

"There was a different spirit in the place," Malone recounted. "It felt like everyone could breathe. There was a renewed sense of hope and excitement, and really believing that we are ready to forge ahead."

"We were tired of the fighting, tired of all of the conversations being dominated by separation, disaffiliation. … People were tired, and the conference was ready and is ready and has already forged ahead." 

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