In less than a month, the Greater Northwest (GNW) Area should know the name of its new episcopal leader. A lot will happen between then and now. What follows is a short synopsis of what United Methodists in the northwest can expect as delegates head to Salt Lake City November 2-5 to elect new bishops to serve the church.
In April, leaders in the Western Jurisdiction (WJ) committed to a revised process for discerning and electing new bishops when they met in Des Moines, Wash. Annual conferences were asked to help the jurisdiction to cast “a wider net … by endorsing persons to enter the discernment process rather than endorsing persons for election.” These individuals and others who expressed interest were invited into a process of discernment where they could then affirm their candidacy.
Early in September, just over 30 candidate profiles were added to the WJ website. Since then, conference delegations have been reviewing these materials and meeting with candidates to learn more about each person’s gifts, vision for ministry, and sense of calling to the work of the episcopacy.
“Your delegations across the GNW are gathering both as an Area and within their conferences to listen to candidates, ask questions, and pray for discernment,” shared Rev. Jim Doepken, first-elected clergy delegate for the Alaska Conference. “While we share a bishop and many ministries, we each have our own personality and our own emphases. The hope is that we can address the needs we face across the GNW.”
Any active ordained elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop, assuming they have at least four years to serve before reaching the mandatory retirement age (required by the Book of Discipline to be the jurisdictional conference following their 68th birthday). Among the thirty-plus candidates, significant age differences can be found, with some candidates eligible for one term and others potentially able to serve for eight quadrennia. In alignment with the jurisdiction’s named values, the candidates also reflect the broad diversity found in ministry settings across the West. Currently, five of the 32 episcopal candidates are clergy members within the conferences of the GNW Area.
When delegates gather, they will have their work cut out for them. With the majority of the WJ College retired or retiring – Bishop Robert Hoshibata retired in October of 2021, and Bishops Grant Hagiya and Elaine Stanovsky expect to retire at the end of 2022 – delegates need to navigate multiple elections from a large pool of candidates while also considering how the gifts of those elected might complement each other. If they cannot successfully elect all open positions – the Book of Discipline recommends the affirmation of at least 60% of those present and voting – those positions will remain open until the next jurisdictional conference in 2024.
After the episcopal elections, a smaller group, the WJ Committee on the Episcopacy, gathers to discern and recommend how the jurisdiction’s bishops are assigned to cover the episcopal areas. “Prior to the elections, annual conferences put together a detailed profile describing their missional aims and challenges and their leadership needs,” explained committee chair Rev. Mary Huycke. “Our committee, comprised of representatives from each conference, works to match the attributes and skills of the bishops with the needs of the annual conferences.”
The committee’s recommendation is put before the jurisdictional conference for action, with delegates left to affirm or amend the recommendation. It is customary that new bishops are not assigned to oversee the conference from which they are elected (the Discipline allows for it with a 2/3 vote of the committee and a majority vote of the jurisdictional conference).
The Western Jurisdictional Conference will conclude with a service of consecration. The last such service occurred after the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference, where Bishop Karen Oliveto was elected.
As bishops are successfully elected and assigned, jurisdictional communicators will share the results on the WJ website and the social media platforms of the WJ and Greater Northwest Area. Shortly after, a news summary, including the name of the bishop assigned to our area and any election of a clergyperson from our conferences, will be sent to GNW Area newsletter subscribers.
A transition period begins in earnest after people return from Salt Lake City. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky will continue to serve as our episcopal leader until her retirement at the end of the year. Other lay and clergy leaders will assist her in helping to ensure that the essential work of the episcopal office is handed off to the new bishop when they begin on January 1, 2023.
During this liminal time, there will be opportunities to thank Bishop Stanovsky for her service with us and join her in celebrating her retirement. During charge conferences this fall, participants will have a chance to thank her by giving to the GNW Circle of Indigenous Ministries. Resources will also be available for local churches to offer the same opportunity on a Sunday morning of their choosing later this year.
While plans to welcome a new bishop will need to wait until they are elected and assigned, the new year will likely bring various opportunities for United Methodists across the area to get to know them. For now, we all can pray as the delegations continue to prepare for their work in Salt Lake City. And we can prepare ourselves in anticipation of a new episcopal leader, praying that God will give them the strength to lead our ministries through the many challenges which face the denomination and toward the opportunities God would have for us.