I am currently at the 2012 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Oklahoma City, OK. In the United Methodist Church in America, a jurisdiction is a collection of annual conferences tied together by geography, by common missional ties, and by governance through a college of bishops. (The whole body of bishops in the UMC is known as the “Council of Bishops,” whereas the bishops in a particular jurisdiction is known as a “college.”)
Jurisdictions meet together once every four years. A four year period of time is significant in the United Methodist Church because our General Conference meets on that schedule. Thus, we call a four year period a “quadrennium.” Thus we say that both General and Jurisdictional Conferences meet “quadrennially.”
The purpose of a jurisdictional conference is to elect bishops to replace those who have retired, and then to assign them to episcopal areas that they will oversee. The jurisdictional conference (through its episcopacy committee) also moves bishops after they have served an appointed amount of time in a given place (usually 8 years, although exceptions are made to allow bishops to serve 12 years in an episcopal area at times).
There are some shared ministries of jurisdictions, and thus there is other business to focus upon at the jurisdictional conference. But all the energy, and most of the work, is centered around the election and assignment of bishops.
I mention all of this because many faithful Methodist folk in our local churches really have little clue about the way the church is governed at this level. The work of jurisdictional conferences is crucial, if you consider that the leadership of our bishops is itself crucial to the work of the church in practically every way. I will try to update my blog once or twice over the next couple of days to let people know what is going on, and I will certainly post at the end of the conference to let people know who the new bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction will be.
A final note: If you do follow current issues in the UMC (or particularly in the SCJ), then you probably have heard about the controversy surrounding Bishop Earl Bledsoe. Bishop Bledsoe has overseen the North Texas Annual Conference for the past four years. He has been recommended by the episcopacy committee of the jurisdiction for involuntary retirement, and earlier this morning Chair Don House from the episcopacy committee gave the committee’s report and recommendation. We will be discussing and voting on the report this afternoon. It is an extremely difficult situation for all involved. I’ll do my best to report what happens with regards to this issue moving forward.