FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 5, 2024

Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team, College of Bishops, and Committee on Episcopacy Convene in San Diego

San Diego, California – Leaders in the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church gathered in San Diego last Wednesday and Thursday to collaborate, share, and plan as a year of significant conferencing begins for the denomination. The meetings included the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team (WJLT), composed of fourteen elected “at-large” members, four ex-officio members, six administrative members, and representatives from the jurisdiction’s missional programs. The Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops and Committee on the Episcopacy were also present and held meetings during this time. Rev. Dr. Anna Cho and Monalisa Tu’itahi presided as Co-Chairs of the Leadership Team.

Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, assigned to the California-Pacific Conference, presides over a celebration of Holy Communion for members of the WJLT, the WJ Committee on Episcopacy, and fellow members of the WJ College of Bishops.

The two-day meeting began with an invitation by Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, based on the words of Jeremiah 18:1-7, to be shaped, made, and formed in the hands of the Potter, and the celebration of communion. Throughout both days, the leadership team identified several action items for continuing support of the Western Jurisdiction (WJ) and its ministries. Five work groups were formed to support collaboration in the following areas: communications, membership, dedicated spaces for connection and wellness at upcoming conferences, witnessing at General Conference, and advancing equity in its shared ministries.

The group received reports on WJ initiatives and committees, including Permeable Boundaries, Immigration and Border Ministries, Dismantling Racism, Disaffiliation, Finance and Budget, the College of Bishops, the Committee on the Episcopacy, the WJ Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee, Claremont School of Theology, and WJ Conference Program and Arrangements.

WJLT Co-Chair Monalisa Tu’itahi offeres words of welcome and orientation to members of the leadership team gathered in San Diego.

The Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee met on Tuesday, January 30, where Rev. Dr. Joel Hortiales (California-Pacific Conference) was elected the new chair, Rev. Dr. Troy Carr (Pacific Northwest Conference) as vice chair, and Rev. Vathanak Heang (California-Nevada Conference) as secretary.

On Wednesday, Rev. David Valera, Director of Connectional Ministries, PNW, revisited earlier work on Permeable Boundaries and shared those recommendations for the Western Jurisdiction, focusing on formalizing the concept of permeable boundaries in our mission, organization, and identity. A robust conversation on Immigration and Border Issues recognized the urgency and varied complexities of the WJ, which includes several international borders, and a call to reconvene conversations with leaders along the Southern borders in an effort to increase missional impact. Rev. Dr. Cho led a discussion about efforts to dismantle racism and move towards equity in our conferences and jurisdiction, including comments from Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth about ongoing equity training in the Pacific Northwest Conference.

Toward the end of the day, Rev. Sandra Olewine (Cal-Pac South District Superintendent) joined the WJLT in a dialogue regarding disaffiliations in the jurisdiction, discussing ways to support members who are now without a church home. The team discussed offering care and healing for members and building stronger connections with some racial-ethnic majority congregations who still feel disconnected. It was noted that while the Western Jurisdiction did not experience disaffiliations to the extent of other jurisdictions, the pain of these separations was still felt even as hope persists for the future together.

Retired Bishop Warner Brown talks with Rev. Dr. Troy Carr and PNW Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. David Valera. Earlier in the week, Carr was elected vice chair of the WJ Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee.

On Thursday, WJ Council on Finance and Administration Chair Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking delivered news of an overall balanced budget for the Western Jurisdiction with faithful giving from the jurisdiction’s annual conferences and a healthy reserve. The WJLT acknowledged her recommendations for allocating funds for known requests through the rest of the quadrennium. An overview of the process for requesting funds for the 2025-2028 budget was provided.

In other reports, Bishop Grant Hagiya shared about the new location and direction of the Claremont School of Theology at Westwood United Methodist Church. Rev. David Nieda, WJ Conference Program and Arrangements Chair, shared highlights of the current program plans and the logo for the upcoming 2024 conference. The WJ Committee on the Episcopacy shared their reflections on the 2022 episcopal election process, indicating their plans to revise that process for potential elections in 2024. A separate release is planned by the committee to inform annual conference planning teams to provide more uniformity.

The Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team will reconvene online in late winter to hear reports from the newly formed work groups and continue planning for the upcoming General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

“I am energized to be a part of WJLT in this time, to lean into the call to remake, reform, and reshape, with openness to new and yet unknown possibilities,” shared Tu’itahi. “At the same time, we look forward to stewarding the gifts handed to us from those who have done this work before.”

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