For the first time, a woman will be bishop of the West Virginia Area of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Dr. Sandra Steiner Ball was elected bishop July 18 by the Northeastern Jurisdiction (NEJ) of the United Methodist Church (UMC), and assigned to the West Virginia Area July 20. Her official duties begin on September 1, 2012.
The NEJ is one of five regional jurisdictions of the nation’s second-largest protestant denomination, and includes 11 northeastern states and the District of Columbia.
Steiner Ball brings extensive experience as a leader and pastor to the episcopacy. She serves currently as the Director of Connectional Ministries (DCM) for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. She has been a district superintendent, pastor, and General Conference delegate.
In addition to her administrative duties as a DCM, she recently served as interim pastor at Bayside Chapell, a new church start. The bishop’s passion is congregational development. “Revitalizing congregations and developing new faith communities is really important to the future of the United Methodist Church,” she said.
Steiner Ball also believes that laity must be “empowered and deployed to lead the church.” Steiner Ball is married to Rev. Barry D. Ball, and the couple has two daughters, Sarah and Becky.
The West Virginia Area (and conference) is comprised of all but three eastern panhandle counties in West Virginia and Garrett County, Md. More people worship at United Methodist Churches in West Virginia than any other protestant denomination in the state.
Every four years, United Methodists gather to elect new bishops for the church. The UMC is divided into five geographic jurisdictions in the United States, three of which elected and assigned bishops this week.
Laura Allen is director of communications for the West Virginia Annual Conference. Photo: Bishop elect Sandra Steiner Ball.
Photo: Laura Allen
After two days and 35 ballots a group of people sit in a room to decide where bishops in the United Methodist Church go. They are tired after a week of Holy Conferencing and voting.
May they draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit in their work this evening.
As for the rest of us:
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
Two 16-year-old high school students were elected co-chairs of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Youth Council at the Youth Convocation preceding the NEJ Conference. Drew Barnhart, left, of Western Pennsylvania and Danielle Ferdinand of New England Conference will work together to lead the group.
Julie Conley remembers her kindergarten art gracing the front of her parents’ refrigerator. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion. “I remember looking at art history books from an early age,” she said. “I was very drawn to the impressionists, especially Monet and Cezanne.”
Conley’s impressionist-themed monoprint “Yonder”, was the cover art for the opening worship bulletin on July 18. The painting depicts the mountains of West Virginia in green-blue layers. A gray-white blue sky completes the piece.
Foggy mountain vistas are a regular sight for West Virginians, and it’s a sight Conley has always loved. “The hills always amaze me, especially the long views of the mountain ranges. I am fascinated by the misty hills, the variations in values as they stretch out beyond us,” she said.
To create the painting, Conley used oil paints on a piece of plexiglass, which she then pressed onto paper. The resulting image is one of a kind. “It’s tough to get it just right,” she said.
When she began working on the piece last year, Conley had no inkling that her art would be used this week at the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference. The piece was originally intended as a gift.
“I feel that God often gives me with an idea, an image, that I feel I need to communicate in art,” she said. This time, God surprised her. The painting wound up working well with the NEJ tag line: “Rise up, encounter God, engage the world.”
For Conley, though, there’s a deeper meaning. “God’s love is infinite; it goes on and on like the distant mountain ranges,” she said. “Even in the obstacles, God will make a way.”
*Laura Allen is director of communications for the West Virginia Conference
The Rev. Sandra Steiner Ball, who was elected a bishop on the 5th ballot during the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference on July 18, is passionate about congregational development and has experience working on all levels of the church.
Steiner Ball, 50, currently serves as Director of Connectional Ministries in the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference, which endorsed her.
“I love congregational development,” Steiner Ball told communicators shortly after her election. “I am passionate about that. Revitalized congregations and development of new faith communities are what we need in the United Methodist Church.”
Annual conferences can’t go in and revitalize churches, but laity in those churches can, she said. The job of bishops and annual conferences is “motivating and inspiring and helping them see what can be done.”
In introducing Steiner Ball after her election, Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area,which includes the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, said: “She excels in the area of church development and resourcing and has vast experience in all levels of the church’s life and ministry.”
A graduate of Dickinson College with a B.A. in Religion , she earned her master of divinity from Duke Divinity School and a D. Min. from Wesley Theological Seminary. In addition to serving as DCM, she also has served as an interim pastor at Bayside Chapel, (a new church start), a district superintendent, pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in St. Michaels, MD and associate pastor at Kent Island UMC in Chester, MD.
Steiner Ball has served the denomination as a General and Jurisdictional Conference delegate, a member of the Inter-jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the United Methodist Endorsing Committee,and the NEJ Episcopacy Committee. She also serves as a trustee for Wesley College in Dover, DE.
AS a bishop, she said, “One of the things I am most excited about is having an opportunity to be more connected with the global church and building relationships with the global church.”
Steiner Ball is married to a United Methodist chaplain serving at Dover Air Force base. They are the parents of two young adult daughters : Sara, 22, a graduate of Highpoint University in North Carolina who has been doing mission work in Africa for a year and will begin graduate studies at Highpoint, and Becky, 18, who will begin her second year at Highpoint in the fall.
—Jackie Campbell, Western PA Conference communicator
The Thursday morning worship service at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference included a deep and moving time of prayers for the people. Rev. Laurel Scott of the New England Conference compiled and incorporated into the liturgy a collection of prayers that were written and submitted by NEJ delegates. The prayers were heartfelt and varied in their calling upon God to bless and heal and inspire in so many areas of our world and of its peoples.
In particular, this portion of the prayer drew murmurs and affirmations from many in the gathered body, and we offer it as one that we can all pray now for our jurisdiction, and might even be adapted for use in so many gatherings in our churches, conferences, and meetings. (Note: originally an individual prayer in the first person, instances of “I” have been changed to “we” in this version for use as a corporate prayer.)
We pray for our church, that the politics will not overtake the Holy Spirit as we follow the One who loves us, in spite of us! We pray that our leadership will not follow the corporate model, but that they would follow John Wesley’s model. Creator God, as we are assembled here guide our thoughts; give us the discernment to make right choices. As your Holy Spirit leads us, may your will be done in all ways and your children be blessed. We lift up all delegates here at the Northeastern Jurisdiction for the difficult decisions to be made, and to be made so that we may reach the last, the lonely and the lost. God, turn our hearts and raise our spirits beyond the walls of our churches and above the concerns of the UMC structure. Lead us to connect with all your children in a post-Christian mission field.
*Alexx Wood is the Communications Director for the New England Conference.