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A United Methodist Archbishop?

Earlier this week, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church voted to create a presidential position that would not come with the usual responsibility of oversight for a geographic area. The proposal is that the Council would elect one of its own to a four year term as President of the Council. This person would serve as the chief ecumenical officer of the denomination and be responsible for the strategic direction of the Church. The Council is currently presided over for a two year term by a bishop who also oversees an Annual Conference in a geographic area.

The proposal presently remains just that, a proposal. As a constitutional amendment it would require a two-thirds majority vote of the General Conference and a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the sessions of the Annual Conferences. No small task, and rightfully so.

The Council’s vote on this proposal was not unanimous. Heather Hahn, in an article written for the United Methodist News Service, helpfully summarizes some of the takes on the matter. And both sides make some good points. Serving both as bishop of an Annual Conference and as Council President makes for a great deal of responsibility. But the concern that those Conferences located outside the United States might not have equal representation is valid as well.

There is another matter that didn’t come up in the article. There seems to be a rising tide of concern about the institutional bureaucracy in the United Methodist Church. Many members of local churches feel disconnected from the denominational hierarchy. They are concerned about denominational boards that often appear to have their own agenda rather than that of the Church and its members. They worry that more effort is put into preserving the institution than fulfilling the mission of the Church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

And there is indication that the denomination has heard this concern. We have been recently encouraged to reflect on ways to reroute resources to increase the vitality of local churches rather than propping up institutions that haven’t been vital for a long time.

At a time when there is significant disconnect between the people in the pew and the denominational level administration, does it seem wise to add this another level to the denominational structure? Is this the right move given the lack of trust that many United Methodists have when it comes to the Church’s leadership?

I’m not saying its a bad idea. In fact, I really do think the position may have some potential to be helpful. I just wonder about the timing of this move. Will the laity’s confidence in our denominational leadership be increased by this proposal at this time?

I go back and forth on this. So, I’m curious to hear from you. Do you think this is a good move? Or not? Why? Would you rather see resources put into a new President of the Council of Bishops? Or somewhere else? Where else? Are there alternatives for aligning the strategic direction for the Church? What are those alternatives?

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