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Will Wisconsin and Northern Illinois share a bishop?

Posted: August 30 2023 at 09:02 AM
Author: by Victoria Rebeck, Director of Communications

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Wisconsin and Northern Illinois conferences continue to anticipate the possibility they will share a bishop—something like a two-point charge—in the near future. A Bishop-Sharing Task Force in Northern Illinois met on Aug. 28 to plan NIC’s next steps in the exploration.

Sharing a bishop does not entail a merger of conferences. 

The conferences would continue as distinct entities. One bishop would lead the two conferences, appointing clergy, presiding at annual conference sessions, and overseeing administration for each conference separately.

At the 2022 North Central Jurisdictional conference, delegates from Northern Illinois and Wisconsin conferences read a shared statement affirming that the two conferences were willingly considering sharing a bishop, including holding joint conversations.

Over the past several years, jurisdictions have been asked to reduce bishop positions. It is possible—though not yet certain—that Northern Illinois and Wisconsin would be assigned to share a bishop. Some other conferences around the United Methodist connection relate in this way.

Each conference, separately and together, is thinking ahead about what the possibility might require.

“We are not reacting to a problem,” says Rev. Myron McCoy, chairperson of NIC’s Bishop Sharing Task Force. “We are exploring how we can create a positive future.”

Constituting the task force are Rev. Myron McCoy, chairperson; Lonnie Chafin, Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Rev. Brian Gilbert, Liz Gracie, Rev. Fabiola Grandon-Mayer, Mark Manzi, Rev. Victoria Rebeck, Eugene Williams, and Bishop Dan Schwerin.

Joining forces as a two-part episcopal area could also enhance partnership opportunities, the task force observes. For example, churches in both conferences that minister with language minorities could collaborate and achieve more together. Each conference has its strengths, and if yoked in an episcopal area, may be able to assist each other.

A few statistical similarities and differences between the conferences:

  • Both have significant rural expanses as well as urban centers
  • Geographic area: NIC is about 25 percent the size of Wisconsin
  • Number of churches: NIC, 321; Wisconsin, 400
  • Disaffiliations: NIC, 8; Wisconsin, 43
  • Districts: NIC, 5; Wisconsin is reducing from 5 to 4

Jurisdictions around the connection—including the North Central Jurisdiction, of which Northern Illinois is a member—have already begun realigning their bishop assignments.     “In various jurisdictions, conferences have experimented with different models for sharing a bishop,” said Rev. Arlene Christopherson, assistant to the bishop. “This is a time to take a look at those models.”

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