November 08, 2022 | by Kristen Caldwell,Selby Ewing
After electing three new bishops on Friday, delegates to the Western Jurisdictional Conference learned on Saturday (Nov. 5) bishops new and recently elected were assigned to episcopal areas for the remainder of the 2020-2024 quadrennium. In addition to that, significant pieces of legislation were approved that will help the Western Jurisdiction to work toward a more inclusive, de-colonized church.
“It’s a new era for the people called United Methodist in the Western Jurisdiction,” said Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference, who also is the president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
Bishop Carlo A. Rapanut will start his term as bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Rapanut has been serving as the assistant to the bishop for the Greater Northwest Area. He currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he served as a local church pastor, then as conference superintendent before being appointed to his current role.
“I feel grounded and excited,” Rapanut said. “It feels like a new day.”
Rapanut is the first Filipino-American to serve as a United Methodist bishop in the United States. He is also the first bishop ordained in a central conference who will serve in the U.S. He is grateful for his roots, for his culture and heritage, leading him into this new leadership role.
“I am an immigrant,” he said. “I pray the UMC will give me the space to lead from my authentic self.”
Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth will start his term as bishop of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area on Jan. 1, 2023. Bridgeforth currently serves as the director of communications and innovation for the California-Pacific Conference. He has been a local church pastor, district superintendent, professor and is an established author with the recent book “Alabama Grandson: A Black, Gay Minister’s Passage out of Hiding.”
Bridgeforth said it is a necessity for the church to be collaborative – across conference boundaries – at this point in its life.
“In order for us to innovate at the rate we need, we have to collaborate,” he said.
Bridgeforth’s election makes him the first openly gay man to serve in an episcopal role. While he acknowledges the groundbreaking history he has made, he has many gifts which he said he will bring to the role of bishop.
“My leadership style is about connecting with people,” he said. “My leadership style is very personal.”
Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank will start her term as bishop of the California-Pacific Conference on Jan. 1, 2023. She has served as both a rural and big-city church pastor in the Desert Southwest Conference, supervised churches as a district superintendent and helped advance immigration initiatives throughout her ministry.
“I’ve always worked from the ground,” said Escobedo-Frank. “I won’t be a bishop who sits in Zoom meetings all the time – I hope.”
Escobedo-Frank’s family has a rich history in the Methodist tradition, with her mother’s grandfather serving as a circuit rider in the early church in Oklahoma and Kansas. Her grandmother crossed the Rio Grande while in labor with her father to find religious freedom.
She was raised along the border in Nogales, both on the U.S. and Mexican sides. She believes The United Methodist Church, especially in the Western Jurisdiction, is poised to be an example of what it means to be the church right now in the world – through relationships, community engagement and what she described as John Wesley’s “perfecting love” by including those who live on the margins of society and don’t have a seat at the table.
“I think growing in love is what can change us,” she said. “Those are the places we need to grow. We’re working on it. We’ve made some steps. But we have a way to go still.”
Bishop Minerva Carcaño will be re-assigned to the California-Nevada Conference and remains under her current suspension. Carcaño was elected bishop in 2004 and served the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest Conferences before being assigned to the California-Nevada Conference in 2016.
Bishop Karen Oliveto will return to the Mountain Sky Area, where she has served since being elected bishop in 2016. At the time, she made history as the first openly-gay bishop to serve in The United Methodist Church.
*Profiles on each of the new bishops will be made available on the Western Jurisdiction website, along with videos, later this week.
With music, prayer and scripture, Revs. Carlo Rapanut, Cedrick Bridgeforth and Dottie Escobedo-Frank were officially consecrated as bishops in The United Methodist Church during a worship service on Saturday afternoon in the sanctuary of Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.
Songs were sung in Spanish and English. A local Tongan choir performed music. Scripture was read in Tagalog (one of the languages spoke in the Philippines) and English, with an emphasis on inclusive language.
They were asked: “As bishops and pastors, will you, in cooperation with diaconal ministers, commissioned ministers, deaconesses, home missioners, deacons, local pastors, and elders, encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, pray for them without ceasing, proclaim and interpret to them the gospel of Christ, and celebrate with them the Sacraments of our redemption?”
To which Bridgeforth, Escobedo-Frank, & Rapanut each replied: “I will, in the name of Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.”
Each then went up to the altar and knelt with hands laid upon their heads and prayers issued. Escobedo-Frank came barefoot, true to her word that she wanted to remain grounded in this work. They each received their red episcopal stoles as well.
As they exited the sanctuary, they were greeted with high-fives and hugs and Bishop Rapanut ran out off the sanctuary with a beaming smile while holding the bishops’ crosier.
Delegates of the Western Jurisdiction elected a diverse group of bishops and voted on legislation that establishes more representation at the jurisdictional level to bring more voices to the table.
The Western Jurisdiction Committee on Native American Ministries was officially established and given a $25,000 budget to create a ministry plan which will be adopted at the next Western Jurisdictional Conference. Additionally, the LGBTQIA Ministries of the Western Jurisdiction was approved with a $3,000 line item to start with. This came after the area approved legislation called “Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice and Empowerment For LGBTQIA+ People in The UMC.”
The WJ endorsed the Christmas Covenant legislation for General Conference 2024. Delegates also approved legislation titled “Leading with Integrity” to ask those no longer interested in the future of The United Methodist Church to exit gracefully without casting any votes that could further harm the future of The United Methodist Church.
Finally, General Conference 2024 will be held in Charlotte, NC, April 23 to May 3, and the Western Jurisdictional 2024 Conference will be held July 10-13 in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area.