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North Central Jurisdiction Confirms: Northern Illinois and Wisconsin Will Share a Bishop

Posted: January 23 2024 at 09:22 PM
Author: Lisa Wink (Wisconsin) and Victoria Rebeck (Northern Illinois)

It’s official: Wisconsin Conference and Northern Illinois Conference will start sharing a bishop on Sept. 1.

The North Central Jurisdiction, meeting online in a special session on Jan. 23, passed two motions: to form a new episcopal area composed of Northern Illinois and Wisconsin Conferences and to form another composed of East Ohio and West Ohio Conferences.

“The action by the NCJ to consolidate four episcopal areas into two clarifies the future direction of one bishop serving both the Wisconsin and Northern Illinois conferences,” stated Rev. Steve Zekoff, chair of Wisconsin's Shared Ministry Task Force. “The question is no longer will we share a bishop. The focus can now be on how we can maximize effective episcopal oversight of our two separate annual conferences.

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“There is much to be gained as we live into being yoked as parts of a single episcopal area. We will continue to have our unique individual conference identities, yet under the leadership of a shared bishop opportunities for future cooperation will become more evident over time. Both conferences have strengths that can benefit the other.”

Rev. Myron McCoy, pastor of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple and chair of the Northern Illinois Shared Bishop Task Force, concurs.

“The vote by members of the jurisdictional conference means the rapport we have already developed with our comparable colleagues in Wisconsin will propel our ongoing work and that of responsible annual conference committees in making decisions to have things in place for Sept. 1,” Rev. McCoy.

As two annual conferences in one episcopal area, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin will continue to govern themselves separately and retain their staff. However, the same bishop will oversee both conferences.

Although in most cases the geographical bounds of a United Methodist episcopal area coincide with those of an annual conference, they are not the same entity. Episcopal areas comprising more than one annual conference already exist in the NCJ and other jurisdictions.

In 2022, the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy encouraged East Ohio, West Ohio, Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin Conferences to begin conversations about the possibility of being paired under one bishop, should the jurisdiction approve such a proposal. Since last fall, task forces from both Wisconsin and Northern Illinois have been meeting separately and together to raise questions, discover differences and commonalities, build relationships, and explore ways to share ministries. Task-force members from both conferences say they have enjoyed discovering common ministry values and look forward to deepening relationships.

Methodists in Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, and Iowa were once in the same annual conference, Rock River, established in 1840. (At that time, Methodists in the southern two-thirds of Illinois were part of the Illinois Conference.) The establishment of The United Methodist Church in 1968 formed the Wisconsin Conference and Northern Illinois Conference from the new denomination’s predecessor bodies.

Follow the news sections of Wisconsin Conference and Northern Illinois Conference to read updates of the task forces’ work.

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