The South Central Jurisdictional Conference has approved a recommendation from the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee that for the next 18 months, the Central Texas and North Texas Conferences of The United Methodist Church be covered by the same bishop.
Who that bishop will be is still to be determined. Rev. Dee Williamston
(141 votes), Rev. Laura Merrill
(99) and Rev. Dr. David Wilson
(92) were all elected on the first ballot of the 2022 South Central Jurisdictional Conference. The vote took place at approximately 4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 2. The SCJ Episcopacy Committee is expected to announce the episcopal assignments sometime Thursday, Nov. 3.
Whomever the Committee assigns, beginning January 1, 2023, the Central Texas and North Texas Conferences will be led by the same bishop as leaders move forward in faith and plan to cooperate in ministry and mission across geographic boundaries at least
It is not uncommon in The United Methodist Church for one bishop to lead more than one annual conference. Since 2022, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has served as the resident bishop for both the Central Texas and Great Plains Conferences due to the retirement of then Bishop Mike Lowry at the end of 2021.
“While this is not what we would have chosen as the path forward for us in terms of episcopal coverage, the sharing of a bishop is not uncommon ground for the Central Texas Conference,” stated Dr. Tim Bruster, clergy lead of the Central Texas General and Jurisdictional delegation. “In many ways, this can be an excellent opportunity for ministry collaboration and resource and idea sharing between the two conferences bordering the rich and rapidly growing mission field that is the I-35 corridor”
“For too long our churches and conferences have operated in silos instead of banding together to do really effective, shared ministry in our communities,” said Kim Simpson, lead delegate of the Central Texas General and Jurisdictional delegation. “The yoking with the North Texas Conference gives us a prime opportunity to break down some of those silos, share some best practices and ideas, learn from each other and model the impact and power of being in active connection with each other.”
While sharing a bishop is not unfamiliar to the Central Texas Conference, a single bishop serving as the resident bishop for two neighboring conferences does bring with it some questions for each annual conferences. For instance…
Does this mean the two conferences are merging?
The shared episcopacy will result in one bishop providing leadership for both annual conferences; however, Central Texas and North Texas are not merging into one contiguous area.
Will the conferences share other leadership?
Each conference maintains its separate identity, boundaries, staff, Cabinets and boards, but one bishop oversees both conferences. This is akin to a two-point charge with local churches.
Will the conference offices move?
The Central Texas Conference will still be headquartered in Fort Worth and the North Texas Conference will remain in Plano, Texas
Is this a permanent arrangement?
The shared episcopacy would in effect through September 2024, assuming the Jurisdiction can meet in July 2024 as planned. With a standard July meeting, any new episcopal assignments, episcopal areas, conference boundaries, etc. will take effect on Sept. 1, 2024
“Beyond the fact that there are no structural changes to our conference makeup – our leadership, our boards, committees, and mission, it is important to understand that the landscape of the Jurisdiction is likely to be quite different when the Jurisdiction meets again in 2024. Due to disaffiliations throughout the Jurisdiction and any actions taken by General Conference in 2024, the likelihood of conference boundaries being redrawn in 2024 is high, which will likely lead to new episcopal areas.”
“The laity and clergy of our Conference have absorbed much change during the last two-and-a half years with COVID and now disaffiliation, so we are well-equipped to move forward in our mission in any circumstance,” remarked Darlene Alfred, Lay Leader of the Central Texas Conference. “However, this one feels different to me as this is an opportunity to highlight and take advantage of the many, many things we have in common.
“There are real similarities between the two conferences,” Darlene continued. “Not only will this combine the huge media market of Fort Worth-Dallas, but it will also allow us to emphasize and enhance the rich mission fields in the strong rural and county seat churches and other large metropolitan areas outside the metroplex.”
Due to recent retirements in the South Central Jurisdiction, there are five vacancies, with a recommendation from SCJ Episcopacy Committee to elect three bishops. The reasoning behind this recommendation is both strategic and financial. You can read more about it here
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A bishop serves as a general superintendent for the church, assigned to a geographical area. In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not “ordained” as bishops, but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop. Bishops give general oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the church. Bishops also have the responsibility to see that the rules and regulations developed by General Conference are carried out. Bishops set all clergy appointments in the annual (regional) conferences they serve. Most bishops also serve on a general agency board, often as the president. The bishop is the presiding officer at the annual conference session and rules on points of law.