“A Jurisdictional Conference meets every four years, not long after Annual Conference,” explains Bishop Julius Trimble. “In fact, this is the year of conferencing in United Methodism. We had a General Conference in May, and our Annual Conference in June, and in just a few weeks we’ll be gathered in Peoria, Illinois for the North Central Jurisdictional Conference.”
The North Central Jurisdictional Conference will be taking place from July 13-16, at the same time that all of the jurisdictional conferences around the country will be meeting. “The Jurisdictional Conference is a time to celebrate ministry that takes place in our region of the country, but also has a primary focus in electing bishops for the United Methodist Church,” says Bishop Trimble.
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“Our College of Bishops will be changed dramatically as we welcome four new bishops,” he says of the nine-person body. “Four years ago, we had no elections of new bishops, and eight years ago, when I was elected, there was only one election of a bishop for the jurisdiction. So this jurisdictional conference should be a lot more interesting, as we have an opportunity to hear from some very gifted persons who have offered themselves to the episcopacy.”
Election Prayers and Jitters
This can be a time of nervousness and eager anticipation for those people who have been endorsed by their annual conferences and are waiting to find out whether or not they’ll be elected. “I think some of them are probably thinking, ‘Wow, did I really say yes to this?’” laughs Bishop Trimble, who knows the feeling well. “I think many of them are deeply prayerful at this time. I remember really engaging in a significant amount of prayer, and hearing from well-wishers, persons who were saying ‘I’m praying for you’.”
He, too, has been doing his part. “All of the active bishops and retired bishops in our jurisdiction, we’ve been praying for those persons who will be offering themselves, because we anticipate this will be a big change for the church,” states the bishop. “Anyone who offers themselves to this, you recognize that you may or you may not be elected as a bishop – and it’s not discounting your gifts and graces if you are not elected as a bishop.”
The uncertainty that comes with being a candidate for bishop is not only about whether or not you are elected. It is also about where you will actually be going if you are elected. “Bishops are itinerant, as are pastors in the United Methodist Church, so when you offer yourself to the episcopacy, you are saying ‘I am offering myself, not only to be elected as a general superintendent for the whole church, but to be assigned to a residential area to serve as a bishop of an annual conference or an episcopal area,’” says Bishop Trimble.
“I did not know actually until the night before the Jurisdictional Conference was over that I would be going to Iowa to serve. So those persons who offer themselves, they’re aware that if they’re elected they’re going to be going to one of the places in the North Central Jurisdiction, most likely someplace other than where they are currently serving in ministry.”
It’s About More Than Bishops
Beyond electing bishops, the Jurisdictional Conference also includes election processes that determine who will serve on general boards, agencies, and jurisdictional committees. While these bodies don’t tend to get as much attention, they are very important. For instance, Bishop Trimble points out that the Jurisdictional Missions Council provides funding and ministry support for projects that take place in the jurisdiction and are supported by its apportionments.
Those jurisdictional dollars might go to support anything from disaster relief to racial-ethnic ministries. “There are some things we do within the jurisdiction that help advance the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world in mission, so we’ll celebrate those as well at Jurisdictional Conference,” adds the bishop.
Worshipping is of course a big part of conferencing, and perhaps more so than usual at this one. “This will be a significant jurisdictional gathering, because we’ll hear from retiring bishops who will be preaching at our worship services,” says Bishop Trimble.
One of the most powerful worship services is the one that comes at the very end of Jurisdictional Conference, the Consecration Service. The four new bishops having been elected by the votes and voices of the delegates from all the annual conferences, including those representing Iowa, their new colleagues in the College of Bishops do a laying on of hands and pray for them. Not only do active and retired bishops from their own jurisdictions take part, but “we always have a bishop from outside of your district to acknowledge the fact that you’re part of a global witness,” he notes.
“I think about the Apostolic tradition of the passing on of the mantle, the blessing and consecration of bishops, which is part of our worship liturgy in the United Methodist Church,” he says of this important moment. Remembering his own consecration and the hands and words of the bishops who blessed him, Bishop Trimble says, “I realize that we continue to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”