Earlier this month, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Texas Annual Conference became the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. You can read about Bishop Huie and her vision for the Church in this article from the United Methodist News Service.
Bishop Huie is now the closest thing we United Methodists have to a "pope". While she carries little denominational authority beyond basically being a spokesperson for the Council, she will, for a time, be our visible head.
This is very encouraging, for a variety of reasons.
First, she is, quite obviously, a woman. It is wonderful that in this year when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of women being granted full clergy status in the UMC (actually, in the Methodist Church, which preceded the UMC), a woman is the "head" of our denomination. It says a great deal about us and our willingness to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. As a firm supporter of women in ministry, I rejoice for the Church!
Second, Bishop Huie has an exciting vision (which you can read about in the article mentioned above). She desires a "...return to the time when Methodism was seen as a movement instead of an institution." Amen, Bishop Huie! Amen! She unashamedly uses words like "holiness", and believes in the authority of Scripture and a movement which is "mission-fed and laity-led". She is also a "...strong advocate of leadership training and development...", which are sorely needed in the Church today.
Finally, she is a committed Wesleyan. So many of our pastors are either committed Protestant liberals (or perhaps Boston personalists if their seminary training came as far back as the 1950s) or Calvinist evangelicals (the "inerrancy" crowd). Bishop Huie is an odd duck for us...an actual Wesleyan. Praise God! We need more like her in every Annual Conference!
I have no illusions. Bishop Huie, like the rest of the Council of Bishops, disagreed with the recent Judicial Council decisions. In recent years, our Bishops' have often confused as much as they have led, and Bishop Huie has been an Episcopal leader since 1996. Additionally, she will preside over a difficult time in the life of the Church, when many United Methodist leaders disregard our covenantal responsibilities and accountability. She has real challenges ahead.
But I find more to be excited about than to worry about. God is still doing wonderful things in and through American Methodism, and hasn't yet given up on us. Glory to God!