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Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Deputy General Secretary for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), has been assigned as the new Episcopal leader for the Louisiana Annual Conference. Harvey was one of three new bishops elected during the South Central Jurisdictional Conference held July 18-21 in Oklahoma City.
Bishop Fierro Harvey and newly elected bishops, the Revs. Mike McKee and Gary Mueller, replace four retiring bishops from the jurisdiction. Bishop McKee is being assigned to the North Texas Conference and Bishop Mueller is appointed to the Arkansas conference.
Harvey, 53, was elected Thursday, July 19, at the jurisdiction’s quadrennial meeting in downtown Oklahoma City. On the fifth ballot, she received 165 of 720 votes cast. The number of votes needed for election on the fifth ballot was 144.
Harvey acknowledges that she will be seeking guidance from her peers and clergy and laity in her assigned conference.
“As I was receiving my hugs on the stage, I kept saying to these bishops, I’m counting on you to help me lead the way,” Harvey said. “I’m fortunate now to have folks who have plowed that field on my behalf, particularly Bishop Huie and Bishop Sherer-Simpson, to whom I am incredibly grateful.”
“We haven’t done this in 16 years, right?” said Harvey, referring to the fact that 1996 was the last time the South Central Jurisdiction elected a female bishop.
“I’m honored that I would be this person at this point in our life of the church.”
Harvey said that she wants those across the denomination to know that sharing the gospel with people that live on the edges or who haven’t heard about the gospel yet is important to her.
“To me that’s really an important part of who I am as a human being, certainly as a clergy person, and I hope now to be able to share that with an annual conference,” Harvey said.
Harvey was the first bishop elected by the 256 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, from the eight states that form the South Central Jurisdiction. Her four-year term of service begins Sept. 1.
Harvey was endorsed for the episcopacy by the Jurisdictional Conference Women’s Leadership Team and affirmed by MARCHA (Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans), the denomination’s Hispanic caucus. She also was endorsed by the Nebraska Annual Conference delegation.
Before leading UMCOR, she previously was the director of missional excellence for the Texas Annual (regional) Conference. In that role, she initiated a partnership with the Côte d’Ivoire Annual Conference. She is fluent in Spanish as well as English.
She also has previously served as executive associate pastor of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston and associate pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Houston. She is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.
She is married to Dean Alan Harvey. Their daughter Elizabeth Grace Harvey, 21, is a senior at Baylor University.
In other business, South Central Jurisdictional Conference delegates on Thursday afternoon, July 19, overwhelmingly affirmed its episcopacy committee’s decision to compel Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe’s early retirement as bishop.
Getting as much attention as the elections, the disagreement between Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe of North Texas and the jurisdictional episcopacy committee was played out on center stage at the South Central conference. Earlier this year, the committee had asked Bledsoe to retire, citing his administrative performance as a factor. After meeting with the committee, the bishop announced June 1 that he would retire, but then he changed course June 5 and said he would fight for his job. He charged the committee with trying to force him out of office.
In a hearing July 16-17, before the opening of the jurisdictional conference, the committee voted to place Bledsoe on involuntary retirement. On July 19, after hearing from both Bledsoe and committee chair Don House, the jurisdictional delegates affirmed the decision to remove Bledsoe in a 208-45 vote.
Late in the evening of July 20, House announced that Bledsoe would be “placed in a retired position” as of Aug. 31. The decision came after consultation with the jurisdiction’s other bishops. Bledsoe would remain retired even if he appealed the ruling to the denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council, House said. The bishop, 61, was elected to the episcopacy in 2008.
In other action, the delegates approved joining the Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska conferences into the Great Plains Annual Conference, effective Jan. 1, 2014. The new Great Plains Episcopal Area is made up of the Kansas and Nebraska areas, which the South Central College of Bishops directed to merge to meet the General Conference mandate. The delegates also approved joining the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas conferences, by 2016.
A consecration service for the three new bishops was held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, July 21, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. Video of the ceremony can be watched at the South Central Jurisdiction’s website.