Bickerton becomes president of Council of Bishops, calls for unity

UMCSC’s Holston is new secretary

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The bishops of The United Methodist Church completed their Spring meeting April 29 in a spirit of collegiality and love for one another and the worldwide denomination.

In a moving time of worship, the bishops celebrated the leadership of the Council of Bishops with the passing of the gavel as New York Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton assumed the mantle as the new president of the COB.

In his address, Bickerton called on the United Methodists to commit to “spending most of our time positioning our church for the next chapter of our life together: talking about the movement of the spirit in our midst, the exciting days that lie ahead, and the joy we will have being able to live out our calling to preach the Good News of God’s love rather than the bad news of what’s happening to us in the current moment.

“This is our church—let us claim it, guard it, preserve it and use it to bless generations for years to come just as we were blessed by those who came before us.”

Referring to the launch of the Global Methodist Church on May 1, Bishop Bickerton called for the re-launch of the UMC.

“In the midst of the heartache of separation, let us launch and proclaim once again a unity of purpose and ministry together. In the midst of legal documents and term sheets, let us launch and affirm the reality that United Methodists are Bible-based, faith-driven, mission focused and global in scope,” Bickerton said.

He urged United Methodists to be hopeful: “Let’s get out of the boat of our malaise, the boat of our current dilemma, and let us walk, no, run on the water keeping our eyes focused on the only one who can calm our anxious spirits, focus our blurry eyes and point us in the direction that will lead us once again to strength, relevancy and joy.”

The bishops began the last day of their five-day meeting in executive session as outgoing COB President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey shared the news that Bishop J. Mike Lowry had notified the COB of  resignation of his membership in the COB in accordance with Para. 408.4 in the Book of Discipline effective May 1.  Lowry stated he will join the Global Methodist Church on May 1 and continue his service on the Transition Leadership Council. Prior to his retirement in 2021,  Lowry was the resident bishop of the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church/Fort Worth Episcopal Area.

Harvey shared on behalf of the COB her appreciation for Lowry’s high level of integrity and his immeasurable contribution to the COB and the worldwide UMC but grieved his decision to leave the UMC.

The bishops and those joining on Facebook live were encouraged by the prophetic and timely word of Bishop James Swanson as he turned hearts and minds to Isaiah 40:31-32.

Addressing the issue of separation, the bishops acknowledged tension that exists with the leaders of  Wesleyan Covenant Association remaining in the UMC.  In a motion that was passed, the bishops urged the WCA leaders to clarify their intent to remain in the UMC or depart for the GMC.

The bishops then shared the work of their leadership teams and finally the highlight of the day: the passing of the gavel and welcoming of new officers.

Bickerton, who has served as president-designate, becomes president while Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of East Ohio Conference is the new president-designate and Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of South Carolina Conference is the new COB secretary.

Bishop Bruce Ough and Bishop Sally Dyck will continue in their roles as COB executive secretary and COB ecumenical officer, respectively.

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