07 Aug On the Floor in Choosing a New Bishop
Steve Dennie, Director of Communications
The business meeting of the US National Conference lasted throughout the morning and afternoon of Thursday, July 16. Several major proposals were on the docket. But the issue foremost in people’s hearts and minds was the resignation of Bishop Phil Whipple, which had occurred just one week before on July 8. What happened? And where would we go from here?
This issue was scheduled early in the business meeting—in fact, the first item of business after the preliminaries. The end result was the appointment of a new bishop.
The business session began with a hot breakfast for all delegates, sponsored by Logos Bible Software. There was some singing, then a brief presentation from Logos about the latest version of their software.
Around 9:30, the business session began. These persons served as officers:
- Chairman: Todd Fetters, director of National Ministries.
- Assistant chairman: Bishop Emeritus Paul Hirschy.
- Recording secretary: Rocky Spear, pastor of Mongul UB church (Shippensburg, Pa.).
- Parliamentarian: Craig Burkholder, pastor of Hudson UB church (Hudson, Ind.).
Into Executive Session
After approving the Rules & Procedures to govern the meeting, Todd Fetters turned the chair over to Paul Hirschy to process approval of the Executive Leadership Team minutes from the past two years—four regular meetings, plus a variety of decisions handled through online voting.
Jason Garwood, pastor of Colwood UB church (Caro, Mich.), asked if there would be some explanation of the resignation of Bishop Whipple. It was, indeed, the appropriate time for that.
Two members of the 2013-2015 ELT came forward. Darwin Dunten, pastor of Findlay First UB (Findlay, Ohio), moved that the conference go into executive session, with only delegates and advisory members present. All other persons were asked to leave the room, and they did. Then Gary Dilley, pastor of College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.), read a letter on behalf of the ELT about the circumstances surrounding the bishop’s resignation. There were questions and responses. Nothing was recorded in the minutes.
Bishop Hirschy closed the executive session at 10:30 with prayer. After a break, the delegates reconvened at 10:45. They quickly approved the work of the ELT.
Discussion continued about where to go from here. Eventually, this motion was made by Steve Fish, Teaching Pastor at Emmanuel Community Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.):
“I move the United Brethren National Conference affirm the ELT’s decision to appoint Todd Fetters as the Interim Bishop, and that this body determine that time-frame to begin on August 7, 2015, until the meeting of the next United Brethren National Conference in 2017.”
So, Todd Fetters would essentially serve the remainder of Bishop Whipple’s unexpired term, starting August 7 and continuing until a bishop was formally elected at the 2017 US National Conference.
There was discussion about what title to use—“interim bishop,” or something else. The Discipline mentioned appointing an “acting bishop.” Jim Bolich, senior pastor of Prince Street UB church (Shippensburg, Pa.), made a motion to drop “interim” and just use “bishop.” A number of people voted for this amendment, but it lost on a much stronger voice vote.
Todd Fetters was asked to comment on what title he preferred. He said he felt ambivalent. He understood that regardless of what title was used, it would carry the same weight. He also recognized that he would be serving an interim term, not an elected term. Later in the meeting, he said, “To have an asterisk by my title–that’s fine. I’m happy to serve in that capacity. I’m okay with it, because it’s a great reminder of who I have to be. I’m all right with that, and I want you to be all right with that.”
Dan Paternoster (layperson, Fowlerville, Mich.) said “interim” didn’t make the position smaller, but identified the position while reserving the term “bishop” for persons elected to that position.
At 11:05, a vote was taken on Steve Fish’s motion, which remained in its original form after several attempted amendments. It passed with only one dissent.
We had a new bishop.
Bishop Ramsey’s Prayer
Paul Hirschy asked Bishop Emeritus Ron Ramsey to come to the podium and pray for Todd Fetters. As he stood at the podium, with Todd seated at the table behind him, Bishop Ramsey said, “If I’m going to pray for Todd, I’d like to have my hand on him.” There was laughter and applause throughout the room. Todd then came to the podium and stood beside Bishop Ramsey, who placed his right hand on Todd’s shoulder and prayed:
Eternal God and Father, we have come to a point in our national conference, in our denomination, that probably nobody has enjoyed. But we also thank you for your sovereignty in bringing to us the skills and capabilities to take care of the position, and to serve the church in a wonderful way. I thank you for Todd. I thank you for his life, I thank you for his witness, I thank you for his testimony, and most of all I thank you for the consistent way he has walked in the way of the Lord and the way of the Word. And I pray that as he assumes this new position, that those things will not change.
Help him, Lord, to face the discouraging things without destroying him. Help him to accept the victories and wins without getting a big head. But Lord, I just pray you would be with him and strengthen and empower him for this awesome responsibility. Thank you for the years I’ve known him; I’ve known him to be honest and true and faithful. I pray that your Spirit would be upon him to continue moving him and directing him in that kind of fashion. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, amen.
Bishop Ramsey then told the conference, “Let me just say one thing. I think the denomination, for the next two years, will be in very capable hands.”