By the Advocate
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. — Representatives from 15 United Methodist conferences began meeting today to give direction to the Southeast Jurisdiction for the next four years.
While the delegates will consider a variety of matters during the 3½-day event at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, the topic that always draws the most attention is the appointment of bishops.
Only one bishop is scheduled to retire this year, Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey of the Western North Carolina Conference. However, four bishops have served their current appointments for two, four-year terms. That is generally the limit on a bishop serving one episcopal area.
Those who have served at least eight years in their appointments include Mississippi native Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Alabama-West Florida Area, Bishop Lindsey Davis of the North Georgia Area, Bishop James R. King, Jr. of the Louisville Area serving the Kentucky and Red Bird Missionary conferences and Bishop Michael Watson of the South Georgia Area. Davis has served North Georgia for 12 years.
Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Area presents an interesting situation. He was elected to the episcopacy in early 2001 to fill the unexpired term of the late Bishop Cornelius Henderson. Whitaker, a Mississippi native, has served one full quadrennium and most of another.
With one slot to fill, delegates won’t have quite the workload they had in 2004 when six new bishops were elected. Among those chosen was Bishop Hope Morgan Ward who serves the Mississippi Area. She was elected on the second ballot and was the first nominee elected. She has requested to return to the Mississippi Conference and the conference Committee on the Episcopacy and the cabinet have sent letters endorsing her return.
Six candidates have been placed in nomination to fill the open episcopal position:
• Rev. Arnetta E. Beverly of Greensboro (N.C.) St. Matthews United Methodist Church (Western North Carolina Conference), who was a candidate in 2004
• Rev. Randy Cooper of Ripley (Tenn.) First UMC (Memphis Conference)
• Rev. Lynn Hill of Franklin (Tenn.) First UMC (Tennessee Conference)
• Rev. Paul Leeland of Raleigh, N.C., and the North Carolina Conference staff
• Rev. Dr. Tim McClendon of the Columbia (S.C.) District of the South Carolina Conference
• Rev. Dr. Jerald Russell of Maryville (Tenn.) Fairview United Methodist Church (Holston Conference)
Events began July 15 when each conference delegation was given about 20 minutes to meet with and ask questions of the candidates. The Mississippi delegation was scheduled to meet with the candidates the afternoon of July 15.
The meeting officially began this morning. In addition to electing a new bishop, the conference will hear report on jurisdictional ministries, appoint new members to jurisdictional committees and engage in worship. The Committee on the Episcopacy will make its final report Friday night when it announces assignments. That is followed by area receptions for newly assigned bishops. The new bishop will be consecrated the morning of July 19.
Karen Koons Hayden