As Dottie Escobedo-Frank walked up to the altar at Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City to be consecrated as a bishop, she did so with bare feet.
“I’ve always worked from the ground,” said Bishop Escobedo-Frank. “Every church I’ve been in, I’ve worked in the neighborhood. Everywhere I go, I look at what’s happening in the town, the neighborhood and the community. I won’t be a bishop who sits in Zoom meetings all the time – I hope. I still will need to be out with the community to see what’s happening on the ground.”
Her friend and colleague, Rev. Kristin Hansen of Desert Foothills UMC in Phoenix, watched on the live stream as Escobedo-Frank was elected bishop on the 19th ballot by the Western Jurisdiction. She saw those bare feet, too. She’s seen them before.
“Whenever I’ve seen her barefoot, I think of her standing on holy ground,” Hansen said. “She’s aware of that.”
Escobedo-Frank’s work and career are rooted in her family’s story and the places she’s served – both rural and urban – as a pastor, district superintendent, and pastor again in the Desert Southwest Conference. Currently serving Paradise Valley UMC in Phoenix Escobedo-Frank will become bishop of the California-Pacific Conference beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
“I believe the church has a lot to offer the world right now, in this time post-Covid, in this time of political division,” she said. “We can show the antithesis to that. Methodists have this long history of working together across theological ideas.”
Raised in “Ambos Nogales” (a town on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border), Escobedo-Frank is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor/missionary. Her father was born in the back of a bar after her grandmother crossed the Rio Grande River while in labor to give her children religious freedom. Her great grandfather on her mother’s side was a Methodist circuit rider in Kansas and Oklahoma. Raised in the Lutheran church, Escobedo-Frank spent 15 years as a social worker before she entered pastoral ministry.
She earned her master of divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology and entered the ministry in 1996, becoming an elder in full connection in 2000. She also holds a doctorate of ministry degree from George Fox Seminary in “Semiotics and Future Studies.” She has authored many books, including “ReStart Your Church” and most recently “The Sacred Secular, How God is Using the World to Shape the Church” with Rev. Rob Rynders.
Hansen met Escobedo-Frank in 2009 when both were in the doctorate program at George Fox. At the time, Hansen served as a pastor in The Church of God Reformation Movement. She was seeking out a denomination where women were more fully accepted in church leadership, and she wanted to be part of an inclusive denomination. Escobedo-Frank convinced her to come to the Desert Southwest Conference and become a United Methodist pastor.
“She was wonderful to work with. She’s been really helpful for me, guiding me through the process and getting acclimated,” Hansen said. “She’s incredibly knowledgeable, and she works great one-on-one and in groups.”
Escobedo-Frank’s immigrant roots have shaped many aspects of her ministry and her call to widen the church’s table to welcome more people around it rather than leaving them on the margins.
“(Bishop) Dottie connects with people so deeply where they’re at,” Hansen said. “There are people who need to be loved, who need to be championed. It’s just something that she does because people have called her to walk alongside them.”
Her friends and colleagues describe her as an empathetic person who is willing to get into “good trouble” for the sake of serving God and making room for others at the table. During the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference when she Escobedo-Frank was an episcopal candidate, she graciously bowed out in order to allow for the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who became the first queer bishop in The UMC.
“In this act, Dottie paved the way for the Western Jurisdiction to continue its prophetic role in leading the denomination in breaking barriers and moving more fully into God’s vision for the church. This is the kind of bishop we need,” said Rev. Dr. Kristin StoneKing of the California-Nevada Conference.
In 2019 at a Western Jurisdiction Fresh United Methodism summit, she was tapped to serve on the “team of 10” to envision a new, more inclusive church leading into the future. She got to know Rev. Jasper Peters of the Mountain Sky Conference.
“I have seen Dottie offer to a stranger the same thing she would offer to a friend: the presumption of good intent, a compassionate and listening ear, and a willingness to collaborate and conspire together for the good,” he said.
When her name was called out as a newly-elected bishop after the 19th ballot was taken at the Western Jurisdictional Conference this time, Escobedo-Frank spoke about the perfecting grace of love.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and what would become The United Methodist Church, often talked about moving “onto perfection.” As Escobedo-Frank interprets his words, that means being more loving.
“When we have dinner with someone who doesn’t believe or vote like we do, or look like we do, then suddenly our divisions take a back seat and our love takes a front seat,” she said.
It’s why she’s become so involved with projects such as The Inn in Tucson, where United Methodist Churches have taken on the task of providing shelter to migrant families crossing the U.S. border. It’s what has called her into relationship with the Latinx community, to serve the homeless, and what propels her to be a champion for LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the life of the church.
As The United Methodist Church moves forward into an unknown future where a split, splintering, or divorce might be necessary, Escobedo-Frank sees an opportunity. The church, she said, doesn’t need to remain the same. The church can be identified through its outreach ministries – not just a space where people worship once a week.
“The work of the church will be the new front door. People will come in because you’re growing a garden and they want to be part of that, because you’re caring for the earth, because we’re addressing a problem in our community,” Escobedo-Frank said. “Those are the places that people care about. They don’t care about our religion if they don’t see our love. We have to show our love and our care for God’s world and God’s people. As we actually live into that vision and show who we are, then the church won’t be in decline.”