The North Central Jurisdictional Conference to Elect New Bishop for Iowa

The North Central Jurisdictional Conference to Elect New Bishop for Iowa

October 27, 2022

Written by James Deaton, Content Editor, the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church, and adapted for Iowa.

We Press On is the theme of the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church (NCJ), which will convene in person from November 2 – 5 in Fort Wayne, IN, to elect bishops and report on mission and ministry. 

Iowa Conference’s endorsed candidate, Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, is on the ballot along with nine other candidates. Delegates will elect three bishops to fill vacancies and relieve the pressure of active bishops serving more than one conference if a recent recommendation from the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy is approved.

The North Central Jurisdiction has been operating with fewer bishops (eight). Still, in consultation with the College of Bishops, the Committee on the Episcopacy has proposed reversing a 2021 decision and returning the number of bishops to nine until the beginning of the next episcopal season, presumably September 1, 2024. This decision will not compromise the fiscal responsibility of the jurisdiction, according to a joint statement given to delegates.

Each bishop will receive their episcopal assignment after the elections after the jurisdictional conference. All United Methodists are encouraged to be in prayerful support of Bishop Laurie Haller, the delegates, Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, the rest of the episcopal candidates, and the entire election process.

The 12 clergy and lay delegates and three alternates from the Iowa Conference chosen to serve at the upcoming North Central Jurisdictional Conference have been waiting for some time to serve and fulfill their duties. Originally elected in 2019, they had anticipated participating in the May 2020 General Conference and July 2020 NCJ Conference. Still, both conferences were delayed by several postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. General Conference is tentatively scheduled for 2024, with an anticipated NCJ Conference that year as well since jurisdictional conferences usually meet to elect bishops every four years following General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s top decision-making assembly.

“I think Iowa should be proud of the people, both laity and clergy, who make up this delegation. I have learned valuable insights that my own experience did not foster. In a way, our group has become a microcosm of the larger conference and denomination,” said Rev. Amy Johnson, clergy delegate to NCJ. “There is such diversity even in our uniformity. That is not who we want to be; it is who we already are. Our future is infinitely unbound because of that diverse spirit combined with love and listening in our delegation, and thankfully, which I feel it is the model for the wider denomination. How encouraging to see the future unfolding in the hearts of new friends! The work ahead will be exhausting and sometimes near impossible, but as long as we remember that the denomination is really just all of us doing our best to listen, love, and work for the kingdom, the future looks very bright!
In the interim, there have been two NCJ gatherings to ensure that shared ministry continues. Last November, a virtual NCJ special session was held where delegates participated via Zoom, with bishops attending in person at the Media Center in Lansing, MI. No episcopal elections occurred, but essential work was done as jurisdictional delegates created and overwhelmingly approved a covenant naming their collective commitment to the dismantling of racism and the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons. The conference also discussed the future of episcopal leadership within the jurisdiction and the future of the United Methodist Church.

“Being a delegate helps open my eyes to the realities of the UMC. It brings what is distant and hypothetical into my reality, and that means I begin to have a role in creating it,” said Johnson. “When we made the statement for NC Jurisdiction last year, it was strange to see my own words in it. After these years of delay and frustration, seeing that was my epiphany that we all really do matter in this process still and that it is time to roll up our sleeves. I have since been listening and meeting with my congregations and circuit, in addition to the delegation, in order to get their voices in my head so that everyone can see their words in our work, so to speak. There is great hope in that.”
This year’s NCJ Conference is permissible because of a ruling by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, on May 20, 2022, allowing episcopal elections to be held. Similar elections are occurring in other jurisdictions, with central conference elections to follow. Our delegates and alternate will have a chance, at long last, to elect bishops.

It’s uncertain whether Iowa Conference’s NCJ delegates will also serve at the 2024 General Conference or whether new delegates will need to be elected prior to the conference. The answer depends on whether this General Conference is viewed as a postponed conference or a brand-new assembly. The Judicial Council has not yet ruled on this matter, and the NCJ and all respective annual conferences are looking to them for clarification.

The Iowa Conference elected delegates to the NCJ Conference vote on behalf of the people of the annual conference and make decisions at the jurisdictional or regional level.

The NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy has recommended to this year’s delegates to elect three bishops to fill positions where a retired bishop is assisting in the interim, or a single bishop is helping to provide provisional coverage of an additional annual conference. Bishop Laurie Haller, assigned to the Iowa Conference in 2016, is in this situation. She began serving Iowa and Dakotas on January 1, 2021, and announced her retirement at the end of 2022. 

The Committee on the Episcopacy also proposes that the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area unite under one bishop. Currently, episcopal coverage is being handled separately.

Another factor in the election of bishops is the realization that changes are anticipated in 2024, as reductions in conference membership, primarily due to disaffiliation, are causing each jurisdiction to begin conversations and actions to reduce the number of episcopacies and the number of bishops allocated to each jurisdiction. The North Central Jurisdiction will likely have fewer bishops to serve the ten annual conferences in this jurisdiction. Conversations among the delegates at this year’s NCJ Conference will happen on this very topic.

The pandemic and the current schism within The United Methodist Church have precipitated the need for visionary leaders with creative, innovative ideas. Many episcopal candidates speak of being able to provide this in their profiles.