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Joe Whittemore

Joe Whittemore

Last night, in the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, the 13 bishops of the United Methodist Church’s Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) received their assignments for the next four years.

Current North Georgia Bishop Lindsey Davis will be heading back home to Kentucky after 12 years in Atlanta. Bishop Mike Watson, who has served the South Georgia Conference for the past eight years, will be moving to North Georgia.

Joe Whittemore of the North Georgia Conference, chair of the SEJ Committee on the Episcopacy, announced the assignments, with Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor presiding.

Listen to the reading of the assignments below (10 min.) — or download an mp3.

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Paul Leeland reacts to his election

Leeland reacts to his election

It came on the sixth ballot. The vote took place yesterday; the results were announced this morning.

Ballot 6

  • Number of votes cast – 498
  • Number of valid ballots – 493
  • Number needed to elect – 296

Paul Leeland was elected bishop with 298 votes.

Dr. Leeland is currently the director of ministerial relations and an assistant to Bishop Alfred Gwinn in the North Carolina Conference.

Let us pray that he continues to serve Jesus Christ wisely and well as a bishop.

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With the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference now underway, here is the “lay of the land” regarding who may be selected as the next North Georgia bishop.

It is unlikely that any of the six bishops elected four years ago will be moved from their current locations. It is also unlikely that Bishop Charlene Kammerer, assigned to the Va. Conference in 2004 after eight years in Western North Carolina, will be moved.

That leaves only four current bishops who could be reassigned to North Georgia: Bishop Timothy Whitaker (currently assigned to the Florida Conf.) Bishop Larry Goodpaster (currently in the Alabama-West Florida Conference), Bishop James King (Kentucky/Red Bird), and Bishop Mike Watson (South Ga.).

Bishop Whitaker, elected in a special election in 2001, has not yet served two full terms in the Florida Conference, so it is possible that he will not be moved (he has served about six months less than two full terms.) Bishop Whitaker is also something of a “reluctant bishop,” having withdrawn his name from the special election in 2001, only to be elected anyway. I have heard that he may wish to retire after this next term, so I would not be surprised if he is allowed to remain in Florida for another term.

That would leave the choice for North Georgia to be among Bishop Goodpaster, Bishop King, and Bishop Watson. (Bishop King has connections in Georgia — he’s a graduate of ITC and has family in both Athens and Atlanta — but I’m not sure if that would influence things one way or the other.)

This Jurisdictional Conference will also elect one bishop. At this point, it looks as though that person is likely to be Paul Leeland (PDF of resumé), currently the director of ministerial relations in the North Carolina Conference.

Dr. Leeland gave an excellent presentation to delegates today. You can listen to the stream below — or download the mp3.

(UPDATE: Video here, courtesy of the South Carolina Conference communications team. Note: Large file — 69MB.)

Paul Leeland

Paul Leeland

It is possible that Mr. Leeland, or whomever the newly elected bishop turns out to be, could be assigned to North Georgia (Bishop Lindsey Davis was assigned to North Georgia following his election in 1996). However, since the North Georgia Conference is now the largest U.S. conference in the connection (2008 North Ga. Conf. Report—PDF) and is one of the few U.S. Conferences that is growing, my sense is that Committee on the Episcopacy will select someone with episcopal experience, rather than a newcomer.

If I had to make an educated guess, I would predict that the next bishop of North Georgia would be either Bishop Goodpaster (author of a recent book on “clergy excellence, congregational health, and Wesleyan theology”) or Bishop Watson, who already knows a good bit about the North Georgia Conference because of the close cooperative nature of the North Georgia and South Georgia Conferences.

Of course, one hopes that the Episcopal Committee will go into their meeting room and discern what God wants — and what God wants is sometimes a surprise to everyone.

By the way, just to give a sense of how strong the SE Jurisdiction is (numerically) in relation to other U.S. jurisdictions, consider this list of all the Jurisdictional Conferences taking place this week and the number of delegates to each conference:

Southeastern (Lake Junaluska, N.C.) – 504 delegates
South Central (Dallas, Tex.) – 296 delegates
North Central (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – 276 delegates
Northeastern (Harrisburg, Pa.) – 252 delegates
Western (Portland, Ore.) – 80 delegates

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From the July 18 Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences of the United Methodist Church.

Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska,site of the SEJ Conference

Stuart Auditorium, site of the SEJ Conference

This week…504 delegates from the 15 Annual Conferences that make up the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church will gather at Lake Junaluska for their quadrennial conference.

Of that total, 56 delegates are from North Georgia and 24 from South Georgia.

The primary function of the Jurisdictional Conference is to elect Bishops. In addition the conference also has the powers and duties:

  • To promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary and benevolent interests of the church and to provide for interests and institutions within their boundaries;
  • To establish and constitute jurisdictional conference boards as auxiliaries to the general boards of the church;
  • To determine the boundaries of Annual Conferences;
  • To make rules and regulations for the administration of the church’s work within the Jurisdiction; and
  • To appoint a committee on appeals.

The theme of the 2008 Conference is “Living the United Methodist Way.” During the conference there will be four “Teaching Sessions” around that theme….

Since there is only one Bishop retiring, there will only be one Bishop elected. Once one of the candidates receives over 50% of the vote, the Episcopacy Committee will meet to assign that new Bishop to an Episcopal Area, and assign other Bishops to new Episcopal Areas as needed….

According to the [United Methodist Book of] Discipline, Bishops are assigned to serve a four-year term and can be reappointed to the same area once. Under special circumstances a Bishop may be reappointed a second time, but then will have to move…. Since Bishop [Lindsey] Davis has served North Georgia for three consecutive quadrennium [sic] he will have to move.

With his strong emphasis on evangelism and new church development, Bishop Davis has served this area well. Under his leadership, the North Georgia Conference has become the largest conference in the connection (in the U.S.). Membership in North Georgia has grown by 65,000 new members since he was assigned here in 1996.

Bishop Davis’ written report to the 2008 SEJ Conference is here (PDF).

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