LAKESIDE, Ohio -- When the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church opens its annual four-day conference here Sunday, it will be the last one over which Bishop Bruce Ough presides. After a dozen years in Columbus, he has reached the denomination's limit of three four-year terms as bishop of a conference and will be sent to a new one next month.
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"I've hit the limit and I must be reassigned," the 61-year-old cleric said. "The choice is to retire or be reassigned, and I am too young to retire."
His next assignment will be somewhere in the United Methodist Church's North Central Jurisdiction, which, in addition to Ohio, includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Wherever he lands, Bishop Ough said, he will be keeping an eye on West Ohio, particularly on projects and initiatives he helped birth and considers crucial for the future.
Those initiatives include increased involvement in global missions, the development of young clergy leaders, and revitalization of congregations.
The West Ohio Conference has forged partnerships with United Methodist churches in "the four corners of the world" -- Mexico, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Southeast Asia -- facilitating such projects as hospitals, feeding programs, children's homes, and educational centers.
He anticipates one of the highlights of the Lakeside conference to be the annual "miracle offering," with this year's donations going to help aviation missionary Gaston Ntambo reach the goal of raising $1.6 million for a refurbished plane to use in Congo's remote North Katanga province.
Bishop Ough has a strong connection with Southeast Asia, where he serves as the denomination's overseer.
"We have over 200 congregations in Vietnam, with around 14,000 members," Bishop Ough said. "This is, of course, in a communist country. We have about 150 congregations in Laos, with membership of 8,000 or 9,000, and Thailand is not progressing at quite the same rate, only 10 or 11 congregations there. But they are growing and we have plans for expanding the number."
As for identifying and encouraging young people to enter the ministry, the bishop said that when he entered the ministry in the 1970s, 35 percent of all clergy were under age 35. Today, that percentage has plummeted to 5 percent.
"If there's any legacy to my ministry, I hope it will be developing the next generation of young clergy leaders," Bishop Ough said. "We have been intentional about increasing the number of young clergy, identifying and raising them up for the future of this conference … and also giving young clergy unique opportunities to grow in their leadership."
The Rev. Bob Ball, pastor of Rossford United Methodist and a former district superintendent, said it was unusual that Bishop Ough's first assignment as bishop was the West Ohio Conference, which has 250,000 members in 1,200 congregations in 58 counties.
"We were somewhat surprised when we found out that West Ohio, one of the largest conferences in United Methodism, would get a rookie bishop. But he has done a great job," Mr. Ball said.
He said Bishop Ough's previous assignment as a council director in Iowa helped him to develop programmatic approaches "to expand the church, to know what the church needs and how to address those needs."
One of the bishop's greatest contributions has been leadership development, Mr. Ball said.
The Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor of the 4,600-member Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church near Dayton, called Bishop Ough an "out-of-the-box innovator. I appreciate his visionary, missional, permission-giving leadership style."
As for the church's global perspective, overseas growth is causing some tensions within the United Methodist Church. As U.S. membership continues to slide -- as with all mainline Protestant denominations -- the church is gaining rapidly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines, giving the overseas contingent more voting power over church law and polity.
BISHOP BRUCE OUGH
Born: Feb. 12, 1951, in Williston, N.D.
Education: B.A., North Dakota State University; M. Div., Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.
Ordained: As a deacon in 1975, as an elder in 1979 in the North Dakota Conference.
Consecrated: As Bishop, assigned to West Ohio Conference, United Methodist Church, July, 2000.
Personal: Married Char Feldner on Aug. 14, 1976; couple have three sons.
Next assignment: To be announced July 20.
Recommendations to restructure the United Methodist Church into regional bodies dominated discussions in Tampa, Fla., last month at General Conference, the denomination's quadrennial session, Bishop Ough said.
"When you look around the world, there's only a couple of denominations that are global in their reach," he said. "One is the Catholic Church and one is Methodist. I think it would be a tremendous loss to the denomination if we do not maintain our goal and vision for being a global church."
Cultural differences between the United States, with 8 million members, and the growing numbers in Africa, Asia, and other developing regions, with 4 million members, have been cited as a factor in the denomination's decision last month to continue its ban on ordaining homosexual clergy or blessing same-gender unions.
Bishop Ough said that in his travels he's observed that in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of Asia, "the cultural dynamic is more typical of what the United States looked like 150, 200 years ago."
People in these regions tend to be more socially conservative than in the United States, he said, and are more inclined to uphold the church's status quo on homosexuality.
Bishop Ough grew up in North Dakota and said he was always religious as a child, but his views on God, church, and spirituality changed in high school when he spent a summer working on his uncle's farm.
"He was very evangelical in his faith and he was really instrumental in helping me understand there's a difference between being religious and giving one's life to Christ on a very personal level," Bishop Ough said.
"It was while watching a Billy Graham crusade on television one night that I really made a commitment to give my life to Christ and not just to give my life to the church."
Bishop Ough was ordained a deacon in 1975 and an elder (the equivalent of a minister) in 1979 in the North Dakota Conference.
He was consecrated a bishop in July, 2000, and was assigned to West Ohio. He and his wife, Char, have three sons.
The bishop expects "personal sorrow" when he leaves Ohio and "the people you've come to love and know intimately over such a long period of time," but feels ready for the next challenge.
"My wife Char and I are really at peace with the idea of being located to another place.
"We believe God will place us where God wants us to be and where we can best help the mission of Christ."
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.