Installation service held for UMC Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth in Juneau

    Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth (left) and Bishop Carlo Rapanut (right) pray before the Holy Communion. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The installation service was held on Saturday at Aldersgate UMC (United Methodist Church) for Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth as the episcopal leader of United Methodist Churches in the Greater Northwest Area.

    Bishop Cedrick D. Bridgeforth, Ed.D., is assigned as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

    The area encompasses the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific Northwest Conferences.

    In total, all three conferences represent more than 400 churches across four states — Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

    Bishop Bridgeforth was elected to the episcopacy at The Western Jurisdictional Conference of The UMC in Salt Lake City in Nov. of 2022.

    He was elected by lay and clergy representatives from across the western United States.

    Once elected, the Western Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee assigned him to The Greater Northwest Area, effective Jan. 1.

    His election to the episcopacy makes history as he has become the first openly gay black man to be elected.

    Bishop Bridgeforth told News of the North what led him into ministry.

    "The first inkling I had about ministry was when I was nine or 10 years old. My maternal grandmother said to me, one day you're going to preach. She said this in front of our entire congregation in rural North Alabama, and I went running out of the church screaming, I don't want to preach, I don't want to preach. So that was the first thing I'd ever heard about me and my vocation in the church. It was when I was 19 years old while serving in the United States Air Force, that I really started to feel as though God was calling me to do something other than what I was doing," Bishop Bridgeforth shared. "And as a young person, I wasn't clear what that was. So, I talked to my pastor about it. He prayed with me and spent a lot of time with me and helped me understand that God may be speaking to me about a vocation serving in the church in some way. So, I started a journey then of just trying things out within the church and even beyond. But everything kept bringing me back to the church where I felt comfortable and felt that that was where I had the most effect and felt that it was the best use of my gifts."

    He was previously serving as the director of innovation and communication in southern California in the Los Angeles area, known as the California Pacific Annual Conference.

    This is what he hopes to bring to the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area.

    "I hope to bring my experience that I've had in over 20 years of ministry serving local churches, serving in our regional office as a Congregational Development person. So, starting new ministries, helping ministries find new ways of being relevant in their communities," he said. "Also helping our clergy, both our clergy and lay leaders in just being more purposeful in what they do in their communities."

    Bishop Bridgeforth has many other gifts to share, such as being a writer. He is the author of Alabama Grandson: A Black, Gay Minister’s Passage Out of Hiding, Thoughts, and Prayers as well as a few other books.

    "That's a memoir of sorts that talks about lessons I learned growing up, particularly from my maternal grandmother. It started as a series of letters to my deceased maternal grandmother introducing my current self to her, and really explaining some of the situations I've gone through in life," he said. "Really exploring this question of how would I be received by someone that I knew loved and respected so deeply and someone who had such a profound Christian faith. I was really curious about that, and that's what that exploration was about. Before that, I wrote some devotional books and a book on leadership as well."

    He is also an educator, U.S. Air Force Veteran, and clergy coach.

    During the installation service, a presentation of signs of Episcopal ministry was held through a giving of gifts.

    Above: Bishop Carlo Rapanut of the Desert Southwest Conference of The UMC presents Bishop Bridgeforth with the pastoral staff followed by an embrace. Below: Raven K. gifts Bishop Bridgeforth the Bible. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: The Bible, water and pitcher, bread and cup, towel and basin, stole, Book of Discipline and gavel rest on a table after being given to Bishop Bridgeforth. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Bishop Bridgeforth was asked what he would tell someone who is wondering the same thing he was years ago about fitting in.

    "Don't worry about everybody accepting you and don't worry about everybody understanding your story or your journey, but find that one person that you know, love, and trust, who knows, loves, and trusts you. Invite them into your story. I'm against people coming out because none of my siblings or relatives ever had to come to me and come out of anything. And even when I tell you who I am, I'm not coming out of anything. I'm inviting you into my story, and then to my journey, and that allows me to stay in the power position," he stated. "And it allows me to decide who's in and who's out of that. So, for me, it starts with that one person that I know, love and trust and I know loves and trust me. Then once I'm settled in that, maybe another person. That way, I'm not concerned about what the world thinks. And I'm not concerned about what everybody or how everybody's going to respond to me, but I know I'm grounded in one space where I know I am loved, and I'm trusted."

    He noted he also travels around the country to share his message, not just in the Greater Northwest. He expanded on his message.

    "I don't hide who I am, I don't hide the fact that I am a person of faith. I don't hide the fact that I've had struggles in life, I don't hide the fact that I've overcome some of those struggles. I think that sense of what I hope is authenticity and honesty about who I am, and the path that I've traveled will invite people to move past this perception that in order to be a person of faith that you need to be perfect. Or you need to hide who you really are," he said. "For me, the essence of faith is trusting that all of who I am needs some work. I can't do that work on my own, I can do that work with the Spirit. I can do that work best within a community of other people who are willing to claim their frailty, to claim their imperfections as we seek to be more perfect in love, and in faith, and in truth with one another."

    This was a takeaway he will be leaving Juneau with. It was his first time in town.

    "My big takeaway from Juneau is I don't know how you ever go inside with the beauty and majesty of these mountains," he laughed. "I think the hospitality of the people and just the blending of the many cultures but also the particularity that's allowed to exist, among the Native and Indigenous people and those of us who are indwellers and visitors...that's really heartwarming to see the insistence of the continued honoring of the Indigenous people here." 

    Above: Tlingit Gospel Singers sing "I Will Serve Thee". (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    In the United Methodist tradition, they have what's called an annual conference. It's an annual meeting of all the churches. The pastors, the lay members of the churches, will come together and celebrate the ministries of the past year. They'll also project their focus for the coming year.

    The Alaska annual conference will be taking place in Fairbanks this June. The message Bishop Bridgeforth is sharing moving forward is "Go and Do Likewise" from the Scripture Luke 10:30-37 (CEB). His Alaska office is located in Anchorage.

    On Sunday, Aldersgate UMC held a listening session with Veterans for Peace. Bishop Bridgeforth gave insight into his time spent in the U.S. Air Force.

    "I served four years in the United States Air Force, and grateful to all of my siblings who have committed and sacrificed their lives in order to serve this country and in other countries as well. But, you know, that was a decision I made at the age of 17 to join the Air Force and wasn't sure how much that would affect my life going forward," he shared. "And here I am, several years after I completed my term still impacted by the service that I rendered from a very young age and all of that work that I did. And I believe that many of those who served within our armed forces are there for issues and efforts of peace, not for war-making. It's really about peacekeeping, not about war-making."

    He also talked about "stopping the war on our climate", saying his first time seeing a glacier while in Juneau made him think about standing up to protect the Arctic. Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. an act of public witness will be held at the Whale Statue downtown to raise awareness about a "nuclear-free Arctic."

    Bishop Bridgeforth left Juneau with a final message of inclusivity, acceptance, and action.

    "I find this time in history very important for us as people of faith. And as people who care about our environment, and people who care about each other. I think it's a time where we can really pause and learn the lessons," he said. "Pay attention to the lessons that the pandemic taught us. To really take time to listen to one another, to get to know each other, and zero in on those things and those relationships that are most important to us. If there's any message that I would want to leave with the world, it's that. We really have to focus on those people, those issues, and those opportunities that are most important to us and do that in ways that invites others to come along."

    Above: Bishop Bridgeforth laughs with the church during Sermon. Below: Bishop Bridgeforth breaks the bread for Communion and invites all to participate. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Hannah Kuhnert sings a hymn. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Pride flags line the walkway to Aldersgate UMC. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

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