One of the things about United Methodist polity that fascinates me is how we elect our bishops. For non-United Methodists, the entire church is broken down into jurisdictions made up of groups of annual conferences. The Jurisdictional Conferences meet every four years and from the nominees vote on however many ballots it takes to get a majority for however many bishops are needed. With the live streaming, it can all be very Big Brother without the tasks and funny costumes.
Four years ago, there seemed to be a lot more buzz about it because I think so many were being nominated. It was the first time I remembered there being websites, and they looked more like politicians’ websites than church leaders. I think my favourite was Bishop Will Willimon’s site that had a series of photos of him in various stages of putting on his alb before worship in Duke Chapel. I still don’t know what that was about.
Anyway, this year it seems a bit calmer. The news from the United Methodist News Service seems quiet on the topic of bishops this year. My former jurisdiction, the Southeastern Jurisdiction, will meet 16-19 July 2008 at Lake Junaluska, in the beautiful Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. I cannot seem to find how many bishops they will need to elect this year, but according to the website there are 6 nominees. All but one are white males. The other candidate is an African-American woman from Western North Carolina (Arnetta Beverly). She is the only nominee without a website, but, as do the other five, she has a biographical listing on the Jurisdictional Episcopal Nominees website.
The websites this year appear tame in comparison to previous years. Much more is said about the candidate as a person rather than hot-button issues. You still get plenty of endorsement lists. Randy Moore of Tennessee has none other than Stanley Hauerwas give a nod in a video! The other websites want you to know their candidate, too. Lynn Hill (also of Tennessee) encourages us that the ‘Best is yet to be’. Paul Leeland of North Carolina is ‘thankful for our partnership in the Gospel’. Jerald Russell (another Tennessean, this time from the Holston Conference) is moving ‘beyond the walls’. And my former conference (South Carolina) presents Tim McClendon. Plenty of photos, writings, and videos to sort through on their websites.
I haven’t looked through all the websites, but I imagine that all (including Beverly) have plenty to offer the church. Despite the fact that these elections always take place in a presidential year and the whole thing does appear to be a little partisan, the websites at least allow us to get to know them better than in previous years. When the time comes, I’ll be catching what I can on the live streaming!