What If.........????

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The death of an actively serving Bishop (like Ming) is sufficient cause for all to be somewhat circumspect and courteous in conversations with one another. As the old saying goes, "be thankful for it could have been you". The Coucil of Bishops should be commended for acting in a timely yet respectful manner by reallocating its members to meet the new needs of the 1st District. I sincerely extend my best wishes and Godspeed to both Bishops Grady and Kirkland for their new and challenging assignments. Nonetheless, while I recognize that a melancholoy mood will understandably linger for several weeks after the triumphant homegoing of Bishop Ming, the uncomfortable truth is, we must press forward.

In moving forward we must come to "grips" also with the issue of catastrophic death. What if a Job-like event occurred (tornado, earthquake or terroist act) where all AME Bishops were simultaneously killed while meeting under one roof in a common venue? What are the guidlines for succession under these horrific conditions? While the likelihood of this event is infinitessimally small, the probability nonetheless exists. I'm sure neither Job nor his exaserbated wife "anticipated" the fatal events described in Chapter One. From an existential perspective, the only thing certain in life is oddly enough, uncertainty. More importantly, I don't see where the Discipline addresses such an unusual occurence. I speak to this point not with the intent on meditating on the macabre but to recognize that all precautions should be thoroughly considered since the work of our Zion must continue to move forward even in the midst of tragedy.

It is precisely for reasons of this type why one Cabinet member of the Executive Branch never attends the President's State of the Union Address. Likewise, special insurance arrangements are made for parents who select air travel on different itineraries when traveling with children. What if the AMEC adopted the governing model defined by the Federal Government and left one Bishop in an undisclosed place during the Bishops Council or General Conference in the unlikely event of such a catastrophe? Would that necessarily be a bad idea? For the sake of governance of this Zion I would say unequivocally, no. QED

-- Anonymous, March 25, 2002


Such a powerful "what if..." I have decided to let it soak in and respond after careful, prayerful consideration.

-- Anonymous, March 25, 2002


I seem to recall one year when a bishop died at the seat of the General Conference. Before they reached their assigned districts, I believe that two more also died. If I am correct, the year was 1972. At any rate they were reassigned and the districts were distributed among them in order to equalize and make their workloads feasible.

You are also aware that with the death of Bishop Ming we have yet 29 living bishops and only 19 Episcopal Districts. While the General Conference of 1976 passed legislation forcing bishops to retire at the quadrennial closest to their 75th birthday, many of them are still capable of handling an Episcopal District should the need arise.

In the event that ALL--as your supposition suggests--had to be replaced, thus leaving no Council to make such a decision, a special session of the General Conference would be held to elect and assign new bishops. Although I can't readily document the years or the reasons, I believe that in years past special sessions of various conferences have also been held.

Our Founding Fathers were thorough and left no stone unturned. The method works. We need only to apply what they have foreseen, adopted and designed.

-- Anonymous, March 25, 2002

-- Anonymous, March 26, 2002

For anyone with a Discipline, (which of course should be every AME) this is a good time to read Part VI Section 3 which starts on page 141 of the 2000 edition. Subsection B deals with filling vacancies if "there should be no one to exercise the episcopal office" whether from death retirement or expulsion. There is to be an Extra Session of the general conference which will fill all vacancies in the same manner of election as the regular session. (The procedure for the calling of an Extra Session is on p.253)

Subsection F.13 states that a retired bishop shall not be assigned again to a district by the episcopal committee or the council of bishops.

Subsection G.23 applies to what the Council of Bishops did to fill the vacancy in the 1st district caused by the death of Bishop Ming.

As a note my limited study of church history tells me it was once practice to split the supervision of a district between the the bishops of other districts but that is no longer allowed by positive church law.

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2002

An example of the latter occurred in 1950s (1955?). When Bishop D. Ormonde Walker, prelate of the 5th, passed, the District was supervised by three bishops, one in the west, one in the "east", and one in the central. One of those I believe was Bishop Primm.

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2002

Many thanks to the thoughtful perspectives contained in the above posts. I think we can all agree that contingency planning is important. I'm just not sure that orderly AME governance can proceed in the unlikely occurence of a catastrophic event described earlier. Calling a special session, I believe, is time-intensive and represents a huge logistical challenge. A transitional governing authority should be in place before special sessions. As usual with me, I have far more questions than answers. Robert advances the view that several members of our retired Bench could potentially be called back into service if the situation warranted such action. This is similar to the military manpower strategy of "reenlistment policy". My question is: Would these same individuals be physically capable of leading a District in 2002? I'm not suggesting that their skills have atrophied but is it really realistic to expect exemplary leadership from someone who has been disconnected from basic work tasks? Jerryl, where can I obtain the historical information you cite about the deaths of the recently elected Bishops? Michael, your reference to "positive church law" is an intriguing concept but I'm not quite sure I know what it means. Is there such thing as the opposite - "negative church law? QED

-- Anonymous, March 28, 2002


I only meant that it is specifically stated in the Discipline that spliting a district between 2 or more bishops is not allowed. Positive Law is the established rule of the governmental authority (you made me go to Webster's to make sure I knew what I was talking about!).

-- Anonymous, March 31, 2002

I gleaned the historical information on Episcopal Succession from the Christian Recorder, and from my own recollections of 1988-89. Rev. Brenson wrote an article recently about activities in the fifth in which he reflected on the Passing of Bishop Walker. (Recently may have been as far back as 1997 - I am doing a lot of catch-up reading). I'll look for the specific cite when I get home.

-- Anonymous, April 01, 2002

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