|Election outcome surprises delegates and new bishop.
By Tita Parham
LAKELAND The Florida Conference has a new bishop, the Rev. Timothy Wayne
Whitaker, 52, formerly superintendent of the Virginia Annual Conferences Norfolk
The episcopacy committee of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference (SEJ) made that
recommendation with the rest of the jurisdictions appointments for bishop in its
Feb. 27 report to delegates during the evening session of the jurisdictions special
called session. Delegates approved the appointments, effective April 2.
Committee members unanimously agreed on the decisions, according to Denny White, the
The special session began Feb. 26 in Lake Junaluska, N.C., and was held to elect a
bishop to fill the vacancy created by the death of Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson, 66, who
died Dec. 7 after a two-year battle with cancer. Henderson was serving in his second
appointment as bishop of the Florida Conference. Retired Bishop J. Lloyd Knox was
appointed bishop of the conference after Hendersons death and during
Hendersons six-month medical leave of absence in 1999.
United Methodist bishops in the United States are ordinarily elected in regularly
scheduled jurisdictional conferences held every four years.
Election stuns new bishop
Whitakers election came as a surprise to many delegates and the bishop-elect
"I am stunned by my election," Whitaker said in an interview following the
announcement. "I had decided I did not want to be a candidate."
Whitaker withdrew from the election the first night of the session in a 10-minute
presentation to delegates after being nominated that evening on the first ballot. He
re-emerged on the 13th ballot, took a significant lead over the two leading nominees on
the 15th ballot and was elected bishop on the 17th ballot with 395 out of 497 valid votes.
He needed 299 to be elected.
Whitaker said he had not accepted a nomination and endorsement from his conference
prior to the session because he did not want to go through the election process again. He
was a nominee and strong contender during elections at the jurisdictional conference last
July. When competition for the third opening narrowed to him and one other candidate, he
withdrew, paving the way for the election of the Rev. James R. King Jr.
He said nomination for the special session would be a distraction to his life and
ministry during a time when he was becoming refocused.
Whitaker also felt he was not the right fit for the position because he sensed the
delegates view of the role of bishop was different from his. He said the
bishops office is one of a "pastoral theologian" and administrative, but
many people feel bishops are more like CEOs, chief executive officers, of companies.
"At the end of the conference there was this tremendous movement to elect me, and
I felt it would be a sin against the church and the Lord if I did not accept," he
said. "I accept it as the church exercising its judgment and the church believing
this was a movement of the Holy Spirit."
Florida delegates say Whitaker is good choice
Many members of the Florida Conference delegation said they were pleased with the
Knox said he felt good about the decision because Whitaker is "an excellent leader
and a wonderful pastor who will lead the conference into the 21st century."
"I believe the Holy Spirit led us in choosing the best person," Knox said.
"That was seen in the deadlock and rising of the name that fit Florida."
"We are thrilled," said Mary Alice Massey, head of the conferences
delegation and a member of the episcopacy committee. "We perceived Gods will
would be done."
The Rev. Dick Wills said the appointment, not the election, surprised him. "Before
coming up here [the delegation] there was a lot of positive discussion about him. It was a
disappointment when he said he did not want to be nominated," Wills said. "You
can imagine the thrill when his name appeared again."
His appointment was a clear answer to prayer, according Wills. "He has a heart for
God and an intense desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ," Will said. "That
translates into dynamics of church growth and a movement of the Holy Spirit which empowers
that. The groundwork Bishop Henderson laid well now see the fruit of that
with this bishop."
Other delegates felt the outcome was spirit driven. "I think the Holy Spirit was
there this afternoon, in spite of us," said John Dowell, president of the Florida
Conference United Methodist Men.
Jacksonville District Superintendent Thom Shafer said it was a "God
movement." "When you can experience the Spirit moving in a way you can transform
an entire event, its a God movement," he said.
Shafer said the greatest strength Whitaker brings to the Florida Conference is being
who he is. "He always qualified his statement [about his nomination] that he is
responsible to the direction of the Holy Spirit in his life. I trust that," Shafer
said. "If that truly does describe him then he is working with the Holy Spirit in his
life. Hes committed because hes committed to God."
The Rev. Marta Burke, a delegate from the Miami District, said she feels Whitaker will
be a good bishop for Florida, but felt the election fell into "some old patterns of
electing a bishop" when it became deadlocked between the Rev. Al Gwinn and the Rev.
Burke had hoped for a forum of conversation between the leading nominees and the
delegates. "The only conversation we had is when people declined [their nomination]
or in between breaks," she said. "I was hoping we could trust the process and
interface with each other."
The elections progression was a reaction to a fear of facing the different
ideologies and philosophies of the two leading candidates, according to Burke.
"Were saying were a diverse church, but we dont want to deal
with our diversity. We dont want conflict wed have to face our
diversity," she said. "We missed an opportunity to be the church."
Photo by Tita Parham
|Bishop-elect Whitaker greets delegates from
the Florida Conference and other regional areas at a reception given in his honor
following the announcement of his appointment as bishop of the Florida Conference Tuesday
evening of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference's special session.
Ministry enters a new
Whitaker was consecrated a bishop Wednesday morning during the last
session. Although his wife, Melba, had not been with him throughout the conference she
attended the consecration service, thanks to a church member in Richmond, Va., who
arranged for a private jet to transport her to the conference. No commercial flights would
have gotten her to the service in time.
When Whitaker gave his withdrawal presentation early in the election he
said he came "without wife, robe or speech."
Prior to his appointment as district superintendent, Whitaker served as
pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in the Richmond District from June 1993 to
June 1997 and other appointments in the Virginia Conference from 1975 to 1993.
Whitaker was also pastor and student pastor of churches in the
Mississippi Conference and student pastor and minister of youth in the Georgia Conference.
He was ordained an elder in the Mississippi Conference in 1974.
Whitaker has served a variety of churches, "from small and rural
churches to downtown churches with ministries to the homeless and poor," according to
Whitaker received a bachelor of arts degree in 1970 from Millsaps
College in Jackson, Miss., and a master of divinity degree in 1973 from Emory University,
Whitaker and his wife have two sons, Scott, 28, and Eric, 25.
The special session ended after the consecration service. A total of
524 of 540 lay and clergy delegates attended.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction is one of five jurisdictions, or regional
areas, in the United States and comprises 12,309 United Methodist congregations and nearly
2.9 million members.
The Florida Conference is the second largest of 65 annual conferences
in the United States, with 743 churches and more than 340,000 members. It extends east of
the Appalachicola River to Key West.
For Whitaker's complete biographical sketch and photo visit http://umns.umc.org/elections/bios/twhitaker.htm
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© 2001 Florida United Methodist Review Online