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NCJ votes to form new episcopal areas

Zoom meeting

Delegates of the North Central Jurisdiction recently met online in a Special Session and approved the creation of two new episcopal areas.

On January 23, 2024, delegates of the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) of The United Methodist Church met via Zoom for a Special Session of the jurisdictional conference. Those attending included the sixteen members of the Michigan Conference’s delegation, led by co-chairs Rev. Paul Perez and Laura Witkowski. The delegates approved the formation of two new episcopal areas: (1) Northern Illinois and Wisconsin and (2) East Ohio and West Ohio. Voting results can be found here. This reduces the number of episcopal areas in the NCJ from nine to seven.

Church leaders meeting via Zoom
Illinois Great Rivers Conference Bishop Frank J. Beard (second from left) presided during the January 23 Special Session. He serves as the president of the College of Bishops. He was assisted by (left to right) Dakotas – Minnesota Episcopal Area Bishop Lanette Plambeck, who also serves as the secretary for the College of Bishops; Diane Brown, NCJ Secretary; and Rev. Barry Tritle, chair of the Committee on the Episcopacy. ~ screen capture courtesy North Central Jurisdiction

The Northern Illinois and Wisconsin conferences will remain separately governed, but they will share a bishop starting September 1, 2024. The same is true for East Ohio and West Ohio. Bishops will be assigned to all episcopal areas, including these two new areas, at the upcoming North Central Jurisdictional Conference, set for July 10-13, 2024, in Sioux Falls, SD. Proposed names of the new episcopal areas will also be presented for vote at the July conference.

This reduction means seven episcopal areas will cover the 10 annual conferences in the North Central Jurisdiction (Upper Midwestern states in the United States, click to see map). Currently, there are nine episcopal areas. Bishop Lanette Plambeck serves the two conferences in the Dakotas – Minnesota Episcopal Area, which was created in 2012.

The United Methodist Church has a formula that determines the number of bishops assigned to a jurisdiction based on membership statistics. When looking at the decline in membership in the North Central Jurisdiction, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and disaffiliation, the Committee on the Episcopacy anticipated two years ago that the jurisdiction may need to reduce the number of episcopal areas. According to denominational data, United Methodist membership in the NCJ in 2021 was 22.5% less than in 2012.

At the November 2022 Special Session of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, the committee recommended that the conferences of Northern Illinois and Wisconsin and the conferences of East Ohio and West Ohio “begin conversations about the possibility of sharing an episcopal area, if such a sharing should be approved by the NCJ, beginning as soon as 2024.” A task force was also formed to look at the function and role of bishops in the jurisdiction to make sharing episcopal leadership manageable, sustainable, and fruitful.

The number of reductions in episcopal areas was also considered by the Committee on the Episcopacy because it was known that two bishops — Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble of Indiana and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of West Ohio — will retire in 2024 because of when their birthdays occur in relation to the mandatory retirement deadline. Bishop Palmer has been named to become executive secretary of the Council of Bishops, starting on September 1, 2024.

Electing and assigning bishops has usually been the most demanding task of delegates at jurisdictional conferences. In 2022, three new bishops were elected. Given the reduction in episcopal areas and the upcoming retirements of Trimble and Palmer, the NCJ may not need to elect new bishops at the forthcoming NCJ conference in July.

More details about the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, which will be held July 10-13, 2024, in Sioux Falls, SD, will be published in the coming months.

Last Updated on January 30, 2024

The Michigan Conference