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Northeast United Methodists look at boundaries

Bishop Violet L. Fisher preaches during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference. The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference will elect a new bishop in July to replace the retiring Fisher. A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

July 9, 2008

United Methodists in the denomination’s Northeastern Jurisdiction will vote on proposed changes in episcopal area boundaries during their July 13-18 conference in Harrisburg, Pa.

The recommendations from the jurisdiction’s boundaries committee, which would take effect in 2010, also relate to the number of bishops to be elected during the gathering, according to Ruth Daugherty, secretary for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

Under its current configuration, the Northeastern Jurisdiction covers 10 episcopal areas (13 annual conferences) in the region from Maine to West Virginia.

The new boundaries would reduce the number of episcopal areas from 10 to nine. If the changes are approved, the episcopacy committee is expected to recommend the election of one new bishop and the appointment of a retired bishop in the tenth area until it is phased out.

The resolution from the boundaries committee notes the "extensive work and discernment by United Methodists in the four Annual Conferences of the Albany and New York West Areas, and between the Wyoming and Central Pennsylvania Conferences, and between the Troy and New England Conferences, with the understanding that dialogue and discernment will continue."

During their meetings this year, all six annual conferences "strongly affirmed resolutions requesting the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference change their boundaries."

As a result:

  • A new annual conference in New York state would be formed by the current North Central and Western New York conferences and parts of the Wyoming and Troy conference churches located in the state;
  • Troy Conference churches located in Vermont would become part of the New England Conference; and
  • A new annual conference would be created from the Pennsylvania churches of the current Wyoming Conference and all the churches of the present Central Pennsylvania Conference.

Preliminary meetings for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference––with the theme "Extreme Church: Extreme Expectations"––begin on July 13 at the Hilton Harrisburg Hotel and the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts. Delegates arrive the next day.

Episcopal elections

Small groups, formed across annual conference lines, will interview episcopal candidates on July 15. The conference’s opening session will occur the morning of July 16, with the boundaries committee report, episcopacy committee report and first episcopal ballot scheduled for the afternoon. Bishop Jane Middleton, leader of the host Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference, will deliver the "State of the Jurisdiction" episcopal address.

Middleton, 67, was facing retirement, but General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, voted last spring to extend the mandatory retirement age by two years. Now, bishops must retire on Aug. 31 following the regular session of the jurisdictional conference if the bishop's 68th birthday is reached on or before July 1 of the year in which the jurisdictional conference is held.

After the General Conference vote, Middleton, who was elected a bishop in 2004, said she was "very grateful to have another four years to serve in this way."

Bishop Violet L. Fisher of Rochester, N.Y., one of three African-American women elected bishop in 2000, will retire on Aug. 31. She has served the New York West Area the past eight years.

Both Fisher and Bishop Susan Morrison––who took early retirement and was replaced by retired Bishop Susan Hassinger in the Albany Area––will be honored at a reception at 8 p.m. on July 16 during the conference.

A new bishop is expected to be elected at some point on July 17. The conference will conclude the morning of July 18 with the assignment of conferences and bishops to episcopal areas and a service of consecration for bishops.

Information about episcopal elections in all five U.S. jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church can be found at www.umc.org/elections2008.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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