In this month’s Joyful Journey, Bishop David Bard reflects on North Central Jurisdictional Conference, scheduled for November 2-5, 2022, and what it means for him and the missional work we’ve been called to be part of as Michigan United Methodists…
When I arrive in Fort Wayne, IN, on October 31, it will be the sixth time I have attended a jurisdictional conference for the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) of The United Methodist Church, but my first time as a bishop. I am also currently the president of the NCJ College of Bishops. In that position, I have had some significant responsibility in preparing for the conference. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues and friends on the NCJ College of Bishops, as well as to our jurisdictional secretary, the Rev. Paul White, and the local host committee for all their work with me as together we prepare for this conference.
This jurisdictional conference was originally scheduled for 2020 but has been postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme originally selected for this conference has been retained, We Press On. In many ways, the theme is even more relevant—and poignant—than when first selected. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection . . . . Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (vv. 10, 12, NRSV). In The United Methodist Church, coming out of the pandemic, we press on in mission and ministry for Jesus Christ, offering hope and healing. In The United Methodist Church, amid separation and disaffiliation, we press on in mission and ministry for Jesus Christ, trusting that God will continue to use the UMC to touch the lives of others with the grace of Jesus Christ. In The United Methodist Church, amid the accelerating decline in people identifying as “Christian,” we press on in mission and ministry for Jesus Christ, trusting that we have genuine good news to share.
When a jurisdictional conference gathers United Methodists in a region of the United States, we come together to discuss ministry and make plans for shared work in that region. Most would agree that the most important business of the jurisdictional conference is the election and assignment of bishops. The delegates will determine the exact number of bishops to be elected, but the proposal being offered by the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy is that we elect three bishops so that our jurisdiction retains nine active bishops until 2024. At that time, we expect a reduction in the number of bishops for our jurisdiction. The jurisdiction will be able to accommodate that reduction through retirements in 2024.
I know our Michigan delegation will thoughtfully and prayerfully consider each person who has put themselves forward for consideration for election as a bishop. I know they will offer support to the Michigan Conference-endorsed candidate, the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai. As one who was in that election process the last time the North Central Jurisdiction met in 2016, I know how vulnerable candidates for the office of bishop can feel. Yet they trust God’s Spirit to be at work in the election process. Our delegation will want to pray to be open to God’s Spirit. It is my hope that every Michigan United Methodist will pray for this election process. Further, it is my hope that the delegation and every Michigan United Methodist will be in prayer for the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy, whose task it is to assign all bishops to their areas of ministry following the elections. Every bishop, newly elected or currently serving, is open to a new assignment at jurisdictional conference.
I go to Fort Wayne with some anxiety, not knowing my own personal future. I also go to Fort Wayne trusting that God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ will be present and that all will be attentive. I go to Fort Wayne trusting God’s Spirit to carry me forward as I preach, teach, and preside. I go to Fort Wayne trusting that we will indeed press on in mission and ministry for Jesus Christ.