The United Methodist Church has been doing a lot of conferencing in the last few months, and now we are at last coming to the jurisdictional conferences. The 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference, which includes Iowa, will meet from July 13-16 in Peoria, Illinois. During that time, four new bishops will be elected from a slate of 17 candidates.
Click here to listen to the Iowa Conference Conversation with Phil Carver and Dr. Art McClanahan
“That’s a little more than we typically have, so that will certainly have some influence in how the balloting goes,” says Phil Carver, chair of the Iowa delegation. “Often it takes awhile for us to begin to discern who those leaders are, so we may go through several ballots simply sifting through the very gifted nominees that are part of that list, and to see where we may have some sense of unity for the final election of the four.”
Recent jurisdictional conferences have had few or no bishops to elect, so this will be an unusually busy one. “We’ll spend almost all of our time either in the plenary sessions balloting, or meeting as delegations, often taking turns with some of the episcopal nominees to hear from them, to ask them questions, to get a sense of their leadership style and personality, to help us discern who those leaders are that we want to call forward into service in this coming quadrennium.”
At Jurisdictional Conferences since 1984
Having taken part in his first jurisdictional conference in Duluth, Minnesota back in 1984, Carver is no stranger to the process. “I’ve watched bishops serve and retire several times over,” he says of the bishops whose elections he has participated in. Through the decades, he has noticed some changes in those bishops.
“Our diversity is reflecting more and more the changing demographics of our communities and our conferences,” he points out. “We have many more people who are international nominees that are serving in the central United States, so that has an impact on the wide range of gifts and graces that we can select from as we’re looking for leadership in our various conferences.”
Another change over the years is that technology has made it easier for the delegation to start considering candidates in advance. “They’ve put their basic resumes online, and several of them have created websites with the support of their delegations who are endorsing them,” explains Carver. “Then we’ll be able to meet face to face to help us discern even more fully who those leaders are that we’d like to select.”
Unfortunately the tight schedule and number of nominees means they won’t likely get to visit every single one. “A part of our discernment will be who is it we want to hear from first,” he says. “We’ll work out some kind of schedule where we can visit with them for maybe 15 minutes or 30 minutes at a time, depending on what’s available to us and how easily we can coordinate schedules with other delegations who may want to visit with the very same people.”
Two members of the Iowa delegation have themselves been endorsed by the Iowa Conference as candidates for bishop: Dr. Barrie Tritle and Dr. Lilian Gallo Seagren. Carver knows both of them well, having grown up with Dr. Tritle and having worked closely with Dr. Gallo Seagren. “Both of them are well-equipped to serve us,” he assures, “and I’m confident as God may lead that they’ll be excellent nominees in this process.”
Balloting to be a significant part of the Conference
With the number of elections happening, that process could be time-consuming. “I’ve participated in some conferences where we’ve had a significant number of ballots – 40 plus – so it could take quite awhile,” warns Carver. “But the goal would be that by Friday afternoon our elections will be complete.”
At that point, it will be time to decide where these new bishops are going. “Then we have the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee that consists of two representatives, one lay and one clergy from each of the conferences, who then meet together and assign the bishops for the next four years, for the next quadrennium. The goal for them is to have that ready to report to the bishops first, and then to the entire jurisdictional conference at our closing worship service, our commissioning service, on Saturday morning.”
Norma Morrison is the Iowa delegation’s lay person designated for this task, and Lillian Gallo Seagren (or Katie Dawson, in the event that Lillian is elected bishop) is their clergy representative. “They are people who are well-versed and knowledgeable about the mission and the strategic priorities of the Iowa Conference,” says Carver. “So they’ll go in with that knowledge and be a part of that conversation to help select where each of those bishops are assigned, in the hope that they can find a good balance for the needs of all the various episcopal areas.”
Though bishops can serve as few as four years or as many as 12, an eight-year term is typical. That means that Iowa’s own Bishop Trimble could be moving on this year – then again, he also could stay. “Bishop Trimble spent a good deal of time at the Annual Conference helping to prepare us for both of those possibilities,” recalls Carver. “He’s been very intentional about saying goodbye on one hand, but also reminding people that it’s up to that jurisdictional committee to make that decision in a couple of weeks, just following the election. There’s really no way to predict that before the event actually happens.”
In these last few days leading up to the conference, Carver welcomes prayers. “We certainly would invite everyone to participate with us in praying for a good Jurisdictional Conference that will be mindful of God’s calling on all of us in each of our annual conferences in the ways that we are hoping to live into our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That’s where it all begins, and we hope that in the course of this time that everyone will join us in seeking God’s guidance and wisdom.”
Note: The entire 2016 North Central Jurisdiction Conference will be live-streamed, beginning July 13. The video will appear on the home page of the Iowa Conference website: www.iaumc.org.