By Paul Black
SPRINGFIELD -- Rev. Sylvester Weatherall admits that he didn't see a second run for the episcopacy in 2020 as a possibility.
If past experience is an indicator, Weatherall -- who was the IGRC-endorsed candidate for the episcopacy in 2016 -- would be looked to for a a possible run in 2020. In fact, one of the four announced candidates in the field ran in 2016.
But Weatherall was ready to complete his time as a superintendent and settle back into the local church. On Jan. 1, he was appointed as directing pastor of Normal Calvary UMC. Something still was nagging at him.
"After must wrestling with my soul and much prayer, (wife) Aletha and I will respond to the call to the Episcopacy," Weatherall shared with the IGRC delegation last week. "Please keep us both in prayer. I look forward to sharing more about my call with our delegation."
Weatherall becomes the fifth announced candidate for bishop. Delegates from the North Central Jurisdictional Conference will meet July 15-18 in Fort Wayne, Ind. Although two bishops -- Bruce Ough and Sally Dyck -- have announced their retirements, the NCJ Committee on Episcopacy and the NCJ College of Bishops are jointly recommending that only one bishop be elected as shrinking membership will mean the jurisdiction will shrink from nine to eight episcopal areas beginning in the 2020-24 quadrennium.
The other four candidates that have announced are IGRC Director of Connectional Ministries, the Rev. Dr. Curtis Brown; Connectional Table executive, the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, endorsed by the Michigan Conference; the Rev. Aleze Fulbright, endorsed by the Indiana Conference; and the Rev. Dan Schwerin, endorsed by the Wisconsin Conference.
Weatherall's nomination paperwork was filed with NCJ Secretary Paul White and will be posted in the next few days on the jurisdictional website: www.ncjumc.org
Weatherall, who served five years as Spoon River District Superintendent and 2 1/2 years as Sangamon River District Superintendent, recalled that there was “a learning curve” when becoming superintendent. “The learning curve of the office of District Superintendent was steep,” he said. “But my colleagues have been great teachers and examples that have enabled me to meet the challenges of the office. I am sure the same is true of the episcopacy.”
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference and former bishop of the Illinois Area, noted Weatherall’s gifts in 2012 when he appointed him to the Cabinet.
“He is a strong preacher and has the heart of an evangelist,” Palmer said. “In every community where he has served he has a track record of missional engagement. He is a compassionate pastor and a committed lifelong learner.”
Born in St. Louis, Mo., Weatherall graduated from East St. Louis High School, McKendree College and Eden Theological Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1991. A probationary member in the former Southern Illinois Conference in 1990, Weatherall was ordained into full membership in 1993.
He began serving the East St. Louis Metro Ministry, which later became Washington Park Grace UMC in 1989 and was there for 13 years before being appointed to the Springfield East Side Mission Parish, serving a predominantly white congregation at Kumler and a predominantly African-American congregation at Grace UMC, beginning in 2002.
Weatherall was the first-elected clergy delegate for the 2016 General Conference and was a General Conference delegate in 2012, a General Conference alternate in 2008 and a jurisdictional conference delegate in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. He serves as the first clergy jurisdictional alternate in 2020.
He is a two-time winner of the Denman Evangelism Award, having been honored by both the former Southern Illinois Conference and the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. He is a former chair of the Conference Commission on Religion & Race and former chair of the Sangamon River District Committee on Ministry.