HOUSTON — Candidates for bishop introduced themselves to the delegations from the South Central Jurisdiction on Tuesday night, answering random questions from their favorite hymns and pastimes to disaffiliation discernment and whether they would agree to ordain LGBTQ+ clergy.
Although individual delegations had met privately with the candidates, the night-before-opening of the jurisdictional conference was a gathering of all the groups in one room at the west campus for First United Methodist Church in Houston.
The forum kicked off the jurisdictional conference, which has as its primary task the election and assignment of bishops. The body is expected to elect three bishops over the next few days, leading up to a consecration service scheduled for Saturday morning. Retirements of bishops serving the Texas, Central Texas, North Texas, Arkansas and Northwest Texas/New Mexico conferences provide the vacancies for newly elected bishops in the jurisdiction. The SCJ’s Episcopacy Committee is recommending the election of only three bishops in 2022 because of disaffiliations and membership reductions, which may mean fewer bishops are necessary to cover fewer episcopal areas.
The seven candidates answered questions pulled from a bag with a mixture of serious and fun-spirited questions meant to help delegates learn more about the candidates in the final day before voting begins.
Rev. Laura Merrill of the Rio Texas Conference praised her colleagues, calling them “incredibly gifted, diverse candidates for the office of bishop.”
Rev. Dr. Randall Partin, New Mexico Conference, said the process was more scrutiny than discernment.
“All of us up here are being scrutinized in lots of ways,” he said. “God is doing something in this brokenness and broken moment.”
Answering a question about the effects of the pandemic, Rev. David Gilmore of the Missouri Conference said, it “forced us to think outside the box and reframe how we do church.”
Rev. Dr. Laceye Warner from the Texas Conference said that diversity, equity and inclusion was the top issue facing the church and should be a priority.
“If all aren’t valued, then we aren’t fulfilling our witness,” she said.
Rev. Dr. David Wilson from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, saying it was his third attempt to be elected to the episcopacy, said he was looking forward to meeting the people of whatever conference he might be appointed to. In answering a question about his top qualities, he said he would have the presence of calmness in “helping folks deal with issues.”
The Rev. Dr. Eduardo Rivera from the New Mexico Conference, who described himself as “evangelical orthodox,” said he would not accept a Board of Ordained Ministry recommendation of an openly gay ordinand, “based on my convictions.”
The Rev. Dee Williamston from the Great Plains Conference, who answered the favorite hymn question with “We’ve Come This Far By Faith,” leading to a brief audience singalong, said she was enjoying the jurisdictional interview process.
“I am over the moon,” she said. “I am so excited.”
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