* By Rick Wolcott
Clergy and lay delegates from conferences across the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church convened November 2-5 in Fort Wayne, Indiana for Jurisdictional Conference 2022.
In his opening service message “God Has Us Right Where God Wants Us,” retired Bishop Bruce Ough spoke from Ezekiel 37:1-14, The Valley of Dry Bones.
“Ezekiel ponders, can something be too far gone? Is it too late? In the context of constant warfare, hunger, and death in Ezekiel’s landscape, he ponders if the people can be restored; if they can know healing?” Ough said. He then added, “God has us right where God wants us. The word is that the dry bones in our lives and our United Methodist Church will live again.”
During business sessions on the first day delegates elected two new bishops: the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, who became the first bishop in the NCJ to be elected on the first ballot, and the Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck.
On Day 2 of the Conference, East Ohio Conference Bishop Tracy S. Malone preached from the words of 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, stating God’s grace and endless mercy empower us to remain faithful and hopeful even amidst trials.
“It is this power that keeps us sustained in the midst of separation and disaffiliation. It is this power that helps us to remain steadfast in the midst of the many political and cultural wars. It is the Christ in us, living and working through us, that is the hope of glory. And guess what? We can claim it even while we’re suffering,” Malone shared.
In his Episcopal Address, NCJ College of Bishops President Bishop David Bard stated that The United Methodist Church is in an odd space that is rooted, magnanimous, evangelical, and disciple-making.
“The space we create moving into the future … must be rooted in the history of our Christian faith, rooted, and grounded in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, with Scripture as the constitutive witness to Jesus as the Christ. When it is so rooted, it will allow for creativity and curiosity,” Bard said.
During business on the second day delegates elected the Rev. Dan Schwerin as the final bishop of the Class of 2022. The day concluded with the Service of Recognition of Retirement honoring Bishop Sally Dyck, Bishop Bruce Ough, and Bishop Laurie Haller.
On Day 3 of NCJ 2022 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, host Bishop Julius Trimble exhorted the body of delegates to stand up with the good news because Jesus is real.
“We can press on – or be a footnote in the annals of history, so I stopped by to tell you that Jesus is real! You may consider yourself left-leaning or right-leaning but we all better be leaning on the everlasting arms!” he said.
Having completed the election of bishops, delegates focused on how we are called to live as the Church and stand up with the good news in terms of gun violence and homophobia. Rev. Angelo Mante shared of losing a cousin to gun violence in 2016 which prompted him to start a ministry directed toward peacemaking. Rev. Angie Cox talked about being deferred by the Board of Ordained Ministry multiple times because of her sexual orientation. Kiri Anne Ryan Bereznai spoke of being an autistic, non-binary, trans woman with a long pedigree of experience in The United Methodist Church and yet not being fully accepted. Rev. Mary Ann Moman recounted her experience with heterosexism in presiding at a wedding of two men and the objectification they experienced in the press after the story of the wedding went public.
Delegates then passed the resolution “Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in The UMC.” They also approved the 2023-24 Jurisdictional budget and passed several resolutions.
During her Consecration Service sermon on the final day of Jurisdictional Conference, Bishop Sally Dyck spoke directly and personally to the three newly elected bishops saying, “You must always claim that first and foremost you are a child of God.” She then added, “Being a bishop isn’t about having power at all. It’s about empowering others to be who they are and to look at what Jesus did over and over again.” Finally, she told the three, “You were not elected to save the church … you are called to help inspire and equip and bring new life into our beloved United Methodist Church.”
At the conclusion of The Order for the Consecration of Bishops, North Central Jurisdiction Committee on the Episcopacy Chairperson Sara Isbell announced these episcopal assignments for the shortened quadrennium that begins January 1, 2023 and ends August 31, 2024:
After learning of the Committee’s decision, Bishop Tracy S. Malone said, “I give thanks to God to have been re-assigned to the East Ohio Conference to continue to lead and partner with the beloved people of the East Ohio Conference as we continue to live into our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, as we continue to be disciples, to make disciples, and to mature disciples of Jesus Christ, as we together continue to be agents of God’s transformation for the healing of our communities and the world, and as we continue to reach new people, young people, and a more diverse people all for the sake of the Kingdom.”
The next NCJ Jurisdictional Conference is scheduled for July 10-13, 2024 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
*Rick Wolcott is executive director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.