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Commentary: New bishops’ president personifies Wesleyan ideals

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The Rev. Chester Jones
May 26, 2006

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Chester Jones*

Witnessing the passing of the gavel from Bishop Peter D. Weaver of the Boston Area to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Houston Area reminded me of how far we have come as a denomination since 1956.

On May 10, at a noon service in the Simpson Memorial Chapel of the United Methodist Building in Washington, Huie became the 38th president of the Council of Bishops and its second female president.

The event reminded attendees that just 50 years ago this month, on May 4, women in the Methodist Church were granted full clergy rights. Before then, women were denied full clergy rights and even conference membership based on gender. Another milestone was reached in 1980, when Marjorie Swank Matthews was elected the first female bishop. Four years later, Leontine T. Kelly was elected the first woman bishop of color. Since 1980, the church has elected 21 women bishops.

Bishop Huie has lived a life that is in solidarity with justice for all people, but clergywomen in particular. I say this as someone who has known her since before she became a bishop and who served in her cabinet as a district superintendent in Arkansas.

In her acceptance remarks, Huie spoke of her yearning to return to the time when Methodism was seen as a movement instead of an institution. She spoke of reclaiming a sense of the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness.

Without apology, she used the word “holiness” — loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Human beings were created in God’s likeness to serve and glorify God in holiness of life. Holiness reflects the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We have differences and fences to mend, but Huie made it clear in her message that we as United Methodists may differ on any number of opinions, but we need to be united on the essentials of the Christian faith.

For John Wesley, belief in the Holy Spirit, the final authority of Scripture and ministry with the poor were essentials of Christian teaching. We must let the Holy Spirit guide us in seeking answers and solutions to our differences. We cannot solve these differences with denial, rage or degradation. That is why we haven’t handled the issues of racism and sexism properly.

Leadership vision

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A UMNS photo by Kathleen Thomas-Sano

Bishop Peter Weaver passes the gavel to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, incoming Council of Bishops president.

Huie has articulated a vision and mission that includes an internal and external focus. Her internal focus is on healing and building bridges of reconciliation. Her external focus is the same as the “thrust of the Wesleyan movement and of the United Brethren and Evangelical Association? ?to reform the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land’” (Discipline, par. 101, 2004 p. 45).

She personifies the belief outlined in our Book of Discipline that “Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.” Like Wesley, Huie clearly believes, “there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness” (Discipline, par. 101, 2004).

We must get our priorities straight and start focusing on the fundamentals our denomination has outlined, Huie said in her remarks. Knowing who we are in making the power of God’s grace available to everyone is paramount. Being United Methodist in the Wesleyan tradition means providing a clear understanding of God’s grace in all its forms.

Making disciples in the Wesleyan tradition for Huie is a scripturally based holiness movement that is mission-fed and laity-led. The Wesleyan tradition is clear about its commitment to the authority of Scripture as primary.

In her witness, she spoke about team-centered servant leadership that is not person-centered, but community-centered, cradled in the abiding grace of God. Servant leadership is about a spiritual lifestyle that meets the needs of all people in the community. We must rekindle this flame and lift up the cross.

Huie noted that our understanding of personal and social holiness should be reflected not only in words but also in our deeds of faith and work. For her, holiness empowers us to walk down both sides of the street. Holiness helps us to walk down the side of the street that leads to Jericho — mission — and the side that leads to Emmaus — personal experience with Christ.

Committed to the connection

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A UMNS photo by Kathleen Thomas-Sano

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie speaks of reclaiming a sense of the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness.

During her response, Huie took a moment to share the awe she feels in being asked to serve in this new role. “Never did I imagine, being raised in a small Texas farming community, that God would bring me to this point.”

Who is she? She is a wife, mother, grandmother and spiritual leader who models change. A compassionate and dedicated servant leader, she is modest about her background and accomplishments. Through her leadership, she merged the two conferences in Arkansas, a feat that I still find incredible. She leads with humility and sincerity.

Having received a doctor of ministry degree in homiletics and liturgy from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Huie was elected bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction in 1996 and assigned to the Arkansas Area. She was reassigned to Houston in 2004.

She is a strong advocate of leadership training and development. She has a deep spiritual side and has a way of taking simple things in life and using them to make profound points. Through this, she is able to relate to all people. A genuine and caring person, she is deeply committed to our connectional system.

During her installation service, Huie challenged us to move forward with a willingness to hear the Holy Spirit and to let it guide us. She reiterated the words of Wesley on his dying bed, strengthening our mission in making disciples for Jesus Christ, saying, “Best of all, God is with us.”

*Jones is top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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