From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Southeastern United Methodists elect Whitaker bishop

Date 28 Feb 2001 06:52:10

Feb. 28, 2001  News media contact: Joretta Purdue ·(202) 546-8722·Washington

NOTE: A photograph of Bishop Timothy Whitaker is available.

By Joretta Purdue*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) - A United Methodist clergyman who had declined
nomination as a bishop of the church has been elected to that post by
delegates from the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

The Rev. Timothy W. Whitaker, 52, superintendent of the denomination's
Norfolk (Va.) District, was elected Feb. 27 by the first ever called session
of a jurisdictional conference. He was elected at 7:37 p.m. Eastern time on
the 17th ballot.

Some 524 delegates participated in the three-day session of the Southeastern
Jurisdiction, which concluded with Whitaker's consecration on Feb. 28. The
new bishop was appointed to the church's Florida Area, which includes all of
the state except the panhandle. He will begin his duties April 2.

"I came here to vote, not to be elected," he quipped. "I came without wife,
robe or speech."

He said he had called his wife at 11:30 on the morning of his election to
tell her to relax because he was not in the running. He disturbed her
relaxed state when he called her back hours later, receiving more votes than
any other candidate on the 15th ballot of the session. At that point, he was
more than 100 votes short of the 60 percent needed for election. 

He said that he knew his wife, Melba, would support the new assignment
because "we are Christians together." She loves the church and she loves the
Lord of the church, he explained.

"I believe, through you, the Lord of the church has spoken," he told the
delegates. "And I accept the call of the church and the call of the Lord of
the church." 

Whitaker was a nominee of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference at the
2000 session of the Southeastern Jurisdiction in July. U.S. bishops in the
denomination are ordinarily elected in regularly scheduled jurisdictional
conferences held every four years. The Southeastern Jurisdiction is the
largest of the five U.S. jurisdictions.

When Southeastern delegates voted on candidates for three bishops' positions
last summer, Whitaker was a strong contender. However, when the competition
for the third opening narrowed to him and one other candidate, Whitaker
withdrew, paving the way for the election of the Rev. James R. King Jr.

Whitaker declined the efforts of the Virginia delegation to endorse him as
its candidate for the special session, saying that he did not feel God was
calling him to run at this time.  

When he garnered 51 votes on the first ballot of this three-day special
session, he reminded the 524 delegates about his decision and again refused
to accept the nomination.

Later that day, Whitaker told United Methodist News Service that he had been
surprised when he was asked to address the delegates, an opportunity that
was afforded three men who received 10 or more write-in votes on the first
ballot. At the time, he said he had not decided whether he would run or
withdraw his name. He approached the podium, he said, deciding that he would
talk through the decision with the people.

His remarks included a discussion of his understanding of the role of
bishop. "I believe that a bishop should be a pastoral theologian who is a
responsible administrator, but not a CEO," he observed. He said he has never
wanted to be a chief executive officer.

On the first ballot, Whitaker received just fewer than 10 percent of the
votes. After his withdrawal speech, he received few or no votes until he
reappeared on the 13th ballot with 20 votes. Four ballots later, he was a
clear winner with 395 votes. Only 299 had been needed to elect.

For several ballots, the leading candidates were the Rev. Alfred "Al" Gwinn
Jr., a Kentucky pastor, and the Rev. Nancy Burgin Rankin, a district
superintendent from Western North Carolina. Each of them drew more than 200
votes after most of the other candidates had withdrawn during the second day
of voting. The Rev. Charles L. Johnson Sr., the South Carolina Conference's
council on ministries director, had withdrawn after the eighth ballot, but
he saw a resurgence of support toward the end of the election. On the final
ballot, Johnson had 67 votes, Gwinn had 17 and Rankin had 15.

The death of Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson in December prompted the bishops
of the jurisdiction to issue a call for the special session. The 270 clergy
and 270 lay delegates that had served last summer were called to the
assembly, but some were unable to attend.

The cost was estimated at $270,000 by the jurisdiction's financial
administration arm. The delegates voted to pay the expenses out of reserves
and to replenish that fund by increasing the amount each of the 15 annual
(regional) conferences in the jurisdiction would pay in the budget years of
2002, 2002 and 2003.
A native of Mississippi, Whitaker served churches there and in Georgia first
as a student and then as a full-time pastor until 1975. He began serving
churches in Virginia in 1975 and continued until he became a district
superintendent in 1997.

Whitaker received academic awards for his scholarship while earning his
associate of arts degree from Hinds Junior College, a bachelor of arts
degree from United Methodist-related Millsaps College and a master of
divinity degree from United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology at
Emory University. He has also been a lecturer at Millsaps College and
Eastern Shore Community College.

The Florida Annual (regional) Conference, which constitutes the church's
Florida Area, is the second largest of the denomination's 65 annual
conferences in the United States. It has more than 340,000 members and 743

He is married to the former Melba Jane Jarvis, and they have two grown sons,
Stephen Scott and Richard Eric.

# # #

*Purdue is news director for United Methodist News Service's Washington

United Methodist News Service
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