United Methodist leaders propose delaying bishop elections until 2024 amid financial woes, possible schism       

View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry

United Methodist Church leaders have recommended delaying the appointment of new bishops until 2024 due to financial concerns and a possible schism over the homosexuality debate.

The UMC Council of Bishops held a virtual meeting on Nov. 2-5 in which they discussed plans to add more bishops to the continent of Africa in response to large church growth in the region.

In a statement released last Thursday, the bishops announced that they recommend General Conference support delaying the election and appointment of new bishops.

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The Council described the delay proposal as a “grassroots movement” that would “save approximately $10 million in bishops’ salaries and benefits to the Episcopacy Fund.”

“The bishops also agreed to encourage the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to consider recommending to the General Conference the phasing in of the five additional bishops approved for Africa only as the resources are available and the necessary infrastructure has been secured,” stated the bishops.

The Council also focused on how to champion anti-racism work, which involved approving a four-pronged approach to include:

  • Creating space for narratives of integrity and truth while resisting narratives of fear and division/othering
  • Moving toward pain, injury and harm
  • A willingness to be discomforted in order to be faithful witnesses
  • Living as a people of relentless hope

The virtual meeting had 115 bishops in attendance, with represented regional bodies including those based in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

In May, the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration reported that donations for the month of April were down 26% compared to the same time in 2019. 

“This indicates the impact that the coronavirus has had so far on general church collections,” Rick King, GCFA’s chief financial officer, told the board, according to the United Methodist News Service.

“In March, we saw a little bit of decline compared to prior years. It was really felt in the Western Jurisdiction, where the epidemic started in the U.S. on the West Coast."

At the 2016 UMC General Conference, held in Portland, Oregon, delegates voted to add five more bishops to the continent of Africa, increasing their number from 13 to 18.

The addition of new bishops was not to occur before 2020, with the delegates voting down an amendment to immediately add two bishops for Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Due to public health concerns over COVID-19, the UMC decided to postpone its 2020 General Conference until next year, with it now scheduled to occur Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021.

The UMC Commission on the General Conference announced last month that it had created a team to examine the possibility of making the gathering virtual for those who could not attend.

At issue were the new scheduled dates interfering with academic obligations for younger delegates and the possibility that certain meeting restrictions would still be in place by then.

One complication is that the event is expected to gather around 900 delegates at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota, while the state currently limits in-person events to 250 people.

“The study team will be aided by an advisory panel of volunteer staff and contractors who will work alongside the study team to provide practical reflection and suggestions on possible implementation of the ideas discussed,” explained the Commission.

“This team will also be consulting with a variety of individuals and groups, working to develop recommendations which will be brought to the Commission on the General Conference for consideration at the Spring 2021 meeting.”

The 2021 General Conference is expected to consider measures aimed at providing an amicable separation over the mainline Protestant denomination's longstanding debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Although the UMC officially holds that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching," many within the Church oppose the stance and want it changed. 

In addition to being a reporter, Michael Gryboski has also had a novel released titled Memories of Lasting Shadows. For more information, click here.  

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