Africa Initiative Calls for Election of New Bishops in the Central Conferences of Africa

PRESS RELEASE                            11/01/22

The Judicial Council, in its Decision 1445 (May 2022), gave permission for the Council of Bishops to call jurisdictional conferences this year to elect new bishops. Referencing Par. 45 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, the council ruled that “electing and assigning new bishops is essential to the establishment of a unified superintendency and episcopacy and the continuance of an episcopacy in The United Methodist Church.” They acknowledged that failure to elect new leaders would cause a strain upon existing bishops that threatened the health of the church. New bishops are also being elected in November 2022 for the Philippines, and Europe where no special ruling was required.

Africa is the only sphere of United Methodism where new bishops are not being elected. The three African central conferences are where the needs for additional episcopal supervision are most severe. Only 13 episcopal leaders provide leadership for such a vast Continent with the fastest growing population of the UMC. In fact, these 13 bishops provide leadership for as many members as are served by 46 bishops in the United States.

In light of this need, the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, approved the election of five additional bishops to strengthen the leadership capacity of the current bishops in Africa. Six years later, these new bishops have yet to be elected. The Council of Bishops been recently silent about the need for additional bishops in Africa. Some of our bishops who were due for mandatory retirement since 2020 to present are endorsed by the Council of Bishops to stay on until 2024. While episcopal elections take place in the U.S., Philippines, and Europe, we have only this word from the Council of Bishops: “Episcopal leaders in Africa announced that no new bishops would be elected on the continent until after General Conference, now scheduled in 2024”.

What are the disciplinary justifications for this decision? Whom did they consult prior to making this decision? Are there no qualified clergy to replace episcopal leaders due for retirement, including those who have long passed mandatory retirement age? Why did nominations take place in the Sierra Leone Annual Conference in anticipation of election to replace the late Bishop John K. Yambasu who died in a tragic motor accident about two years ago?

Why should an American retired bishop continue to lead the Sierra Leone Annual Conference when that conference has conducted nominations and is awaiting the West Africa Central Conference to elect its bishop to lead the conference?  Why has the Council of Bishops endorsed such a decision by the Africa College of Bishops in contravention to the 2016 Book of Discipline, and against the wishes and aspirations of the membership of the central conferences of Africa? Why dash the hopes of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference and that of other annual conferences who are looking forward to electing new bishops to replace bishops due for retirement? Why treat the central conferences of Africa in such a demeaning manner as if we do not matter?  We consider this action on the part of African College of Bishops, with the acquiescence of the Council of Bishops, as a violation of our rights to elect our own bishops when they are duly scheduled to be elected. This is a gross injustice to the growing membership of the three central conferences. The decision is therefore unacceptable. Hence, we call for the election of new bishops in the three central conferences of Africa where elections are due.  

Please consider the following:

1.     It is public knowledge that the election of new bishops is overdue in all three African central conferences due to mandatory retirement rules that govern our church.

2.     There is no justification for treating Africa differently than the rest of the UMC.

3.     Even if all current episcopal areas were filled, there would still be a shortage of episcopal leadership in Africa.

4.     It is disturbing to say the least that the Council of Bishops would agree to a plan that treats the African central conferences as second-class citizens of the United Methodist Church. While committed to confronting injustice, they have participated in a great injustice.

5.     The Council of Bishops has not acted consistently with its own past actions in enforcing the retirement rules of the Book of Discipline. This action on the part of the Council of Bishops violates the rights of the membership of the annual conferences of the UMC in Africa.

6.     It is not healthy for leaders to seek to hold on to power past their tenure. The church should model good governance for the rest of society.

7.     The committees on episcopacy in the central conferences seem not to have been consulted in the decision to postpone elections. This is certainly true in the West Africa Central Conference and seems to be the case elsewhere.

8.     There is an abundance of trained and qualified African clergypersons available to replace our bishops who have reached mandatory retirement.

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, in Paragraph 542.1, empowers the executive committee of each central conference to set a time and place for central conferences to meet. We call upon these executive committees to do so at the earliest possible opportunity. Alternatively, we call upon our African bishops to reconsider the decision to elect no new bishops before the next General Conference. This action would demonstrate their honest stewardship of the shepherding responsibility of God’s church entrusted to their care. By making such a decision, which is in the best interest of the three central conferences of Africa, they would finish well in ministry, and leave behind a positive legacy upon which current and future generations shall build toward the advancement of God’s Kingdom here in Africa until Christ returns. Thank you.

Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah

General Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative