United Methodist Bishops have from the beginning been itinerants, In 1796, BIshops Coke and Asbury wrote that “[o]ur grand plan, in all its parts, leads to an itinerant ministry. Our bishops are travelling bishops. All the different orders which compose our conferences are employed in the travelling line". After Asbury, the bishops organized their travels so that seldom would the same bishop preside at successive Annual Conferences.
As their executive duties between Annual Conferences increased however, these itinerant bishops became increasingly identified as the particular bishop serving the area in which they made their homes. This was true of the United Brethren bishops as well, though these bishops differed in that they were elected to serve only until the next quadrennial conference of their church, rather than for the remainder of their clerical career. After the Civil War, the system in both churches became more formal as a place of residence was provided in each area for a Resident Bishop.
A Manse was provided for a United Brethren Bishop in Baltimore, which was abandoned in favor of one in Pennsylvania at the turn of the next century. Methodist Episcopal, South Bishop A.W. Wilson would make his home in Baltimore as well, while the Methodist Episcopal [North] Bishop was provided a residence in Washington. As part of the Plan of Union between the Methodist Protestant and Methodist Episcopal Churches, the Methodist Protestant Church' President J.H Straughn and Past President J.C. Broomfeld became bishops in the reunited church.
After reunification of the Methodist Church in 1939, a jurisdictional system was established with resident bishops presiding at each annual conference in their assigned episcopal areas. The Bishop in Washington presided over each Baltimore, Peninsula and Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, while the Bishop in Baltimore presided over each of the racially segregated Washington and Delaware Annual Conferences of African-American Central Jurisdiction. Itinerancy was maintained by rotating bishops to a different episcopal area after two or three quadrennial terms.
After Unification in 1968, the desegregated Peninsula (-Delaware) Conference was assigned to the Philadelphia episcopal area and the Central Pennsylvania (Susquehanna) Conference was granted its own bishop, resident in Harrisburg. Thus the Bishop in Washington was left to preside only over the Baltimore (-Washington) Conference. Twenty-two bishops have been resident in this area from 1784 to the present, often alongside bishops of another Methodist Episcopal jurisdiction or the United Brethren Church.
Election and Transition
Rev. LaTrelle Miller Easterling of the New England Conference was elected bishop by the 2016 Northeastern
Jurisdictional Conference and assigned to the Washington Episcopal Area. She is the 23rd bishop in succession, and
the first woman bishop, resident in this area. She takes up her duties in the bicentennial year of the death of the first bishop
here, Francis Asbury, and the diamond (60 year) anniversary of full clergy rights for women in The Methodist Church.
More on the history of women in UMC and its predecessor denominations is available in the Timeline of Women in Methodism.
Death of Bishop May
Rev. Bp. Felton Edwin May, Washington Area Bishop from 1996 to 2004, died on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. Bishop Easterling writes that
“It is with deep regret that I have learned that Bishop Felton Edwin May, a giant of The United Methodist Church and a faithful servant of God,
has joined the Church Triumphant. I urge us all to actively keep his family and all those who loved him in our prayers.”
Bishop May is survived by his wife of 54 years, Phyllis May, a retired educator; two children, Daphne May Brown and Felton May II;
and eight grandchildren. More information at: www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/bishop-felton-edwin-may-1935-2017
John Wesley Lord
James Kenneth Mathews
David Frederick Wertz
Joseph Hughes Yeakel
Felton Edwin May
John Roland Schol