Delegates from 15 conferences spanning nine states convene this week for the quadrennial Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference (SEJ), and the chief order of business – especially for the Florida Conference – is the election and appointment of bishops.
Bishop Timothy Whitaker is retiring this summer after 11 years at the helm of the Florida Conference, leaving a vacancy that could be filled by someone new to the episcopacy or a bishop who has been serving in another conference. Florida’s new bishop will take office Sept. 1.
Florida Conference Connection will report results of voting and bishop appointments as soon as they are available.
The selection process begins Tuesday, when SEJ delegates will conduct “round robin” interviews with all nominees for bishop, the day before the conference officially opens at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Typically, each nominee, accompanied by a supporter, moves from room to room to meet with delegates from each annual conference, said Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Connectional Ministries for the Florida Conference and an alternate voting delegate this year at Lake Junaluska.
Florida episcopal nominee Debbie McLeod, senior pastor of Mandarin UMC, Jacksonville, will be among those candidates. If elected, she must be assigned to another conference, as new bishops may not serve in the conference where they were nominated for at least four years, according to the Book of Discipline.
Voting begins on Wednesday and will be done in a series of rounds, interspersed by business or worship. Bishops are elected by an equal number of clergy and lay delegates, with each annual conference able to send twice the number of delegates to SEJ as were allotted at General Conference. Delegates are not obligated to vote for their annual conference nominee.
Fogle-Miller said this year marks a first for the SEJ balloting process.
“We will vote electronically, which will speed up the process quite a bit,” she said.
By early Thursday, July 19, delegates are expected to elect five new bishops from a field of 15 nominees. Nominees must receive at least 60 percent of the votes in any given round to be elected bishop. Information about the candidates is available at http://www.sejumc.org/2012nominees/.
Once the new bishops are elected, the Committee on Episcopacy, made up of lead delegates from each conference in the jurisdiction, considers the chosen candidates and makes appointments.
Assignments are scheduled to be announced during the July 19 evening session that starts at 7:30 with a celebration of retiring bishops. Consecration of new bishops is slated for 10 a.m. Friday, July 20. Proceedings may be watched via live streaming at www.lakejunaluska.com/streaming. The conference agenda is available at www.sejumc.org and daily postings are available at www.facebook.com/SEJUMC.
United Methodist bishops elected in the U.S. serve until their retirement but usually are restricted to two four-year terms in any one conference. They are responsible for seeing that General Conference rules and regulations are carried out and for setting clergy appointments and presiding over the Annual Conference in their area.
Information from www.sejumc.org and www.umc.org was used in this report.