WJ leadership invites AC to consider new episcopacy discernment process
Dear Annual Conference Members,
We are hopeful that our Western Jurisdictional Conference will meet in November 2022 to elect bishops. We anticipate selecting four individuals to consecrate as bishop who, together with Bishop Oliveto, will lead the West in this next chapter of our life together.
The WJ committee on episcopacy, in collaboration with the jurisdictional leadership team, inter-ethnic coordinating committee, and first elected delegates, are inviting the annual conferences of the West to try a new way of forming the pool of candidates from which our new bishops will emerge.
Our Book of Discipline permits, but does not require, annual conferences to name one or more persons who they nominate for episcopal election at an upcoming jurisdictional conference. When conferences are small enough that the clergy and their work are all well known, this process works well. However, when conferences grow to a certain size the body rarely knows much about the persons they’re asked to vote on.
Rather than holding elections at your conference session to elect persons to nominate as candidates, we encourage you to suspend your rules and simply have the body name clergy who they believe may have the gifts, skills, and attributes needed to lead at the episcopal level. The invitation would invite them to enter a time of individual and communal discernment, with the message, “We do not know all of who you are, but we see enough that we believe you may be called to this work. We invite you to consider a call to the episcopacy and engage in both individual and communal discernment about this.” Those names would then be sent to our candidate discernment team who will send those individuals resources on discernment and information about the election process.
Those feeling called to the work and ready to take the next step, will be asked to make that call known by September 1 and provide information about themselves and their ministry which will be made available on the jurisdictional website. Jurisdictional delegations will be encouraged to then begin meeting with those persons to begin their own discernment as they prepare to build an almost brand-new college. Individuals whose clarity about a call comes after September 1 will still be able to join the process, but they may not have a chance to meet with delegations and other groups prior to Jurisdictional Conference, where final discernment and selection is made.
Does someone you know have the gifts and graces, skills, and attributes to serve as a bishop in this particular moment of our history? The following thoughts rise from conversations held over the past year and will help paint a picture of the qualities we believe will be needed in our next bishops.
Bishops lead and oversee both the spiritual and temporal work of the Church. The work requires equal measures of administrative and pastoral skill, a passion for living and communicating the good news of Jesus Christ, and an ability to help laity and clergy envision God’s call for this time and work together in creative and generative ways to further God’s work in the world (a fuller outlining of the role can be found in ¶403 of the Book of Discipline).
The role of bishop has shifted across time, and we imagine more shifts will take place across the next few years. Both a strong and grounded center and flexible adaptability will be needed by those serving in the episcopal role.
Our current College of Bishops has led us in testing the concept of permeable boundaries, linking ministries together across annual conference lines. We will be asking our new bishops to build on this base and work even more collaboratively. Ideally, the new college is composed of differently gifted individuals who find deep satisfaction in partnering with their colleagues and in empowering others for mission and ministry.
As a jurisdiction, we’re working to develop our capacity to be an extension of Christ’s life and ministry in the world today. With the local church and local ministries as the main disciple-making body, we seek to practice the radical inclusivity of Jesus and grow in our ability to create relationships that embody beloved community and dismantle systems of harm. While this is work that must take place within our local churches, it requires bishops who are committed to their own growth in these practices as they lead us in ours.
Discernment for episcopal leadership, like that for commissioned and ordained ministry is both personal and communal and begins at the local level. As a clergy or lay member of your Annual Conference, you are among those best positioned to sense the beginnings of a call to the episcopacy in someone. Aside from any formal action your Annual Conference session decides to take in this regard, if you know someone who fits the above description, have a conversation with them. Encourage them to listen for whether God may be calling them to this kind of leadership
Please be in prayer across the coming months as discernment begins around the formation of the next College of Bishops for the Western Jurisdiction.
The Western Jurisdiction Episcopal Discernment Team
More information is available on the Western Jurisdiction website.