The Rev. Cedrick D. Bridgeforth, director of innovation and communication in the California-Pacific Conference, has been elected a bishop by The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction. He becomes the first openly gay African American man to be elected a bishop in The United Methodist Church.
Delegates elected Bridgeforth on Nov. 4 at the jurisdiction’s meeting at Christ United Methodist Church on the 18th ballot. He received 73 votes out of 93 valid ballots cast. He needed 63 to be elected. Current Western Jurisdiction rules require two-thirds of valid ballots.
“It is the church where I found purpose — even when it felt like it was chewing me up and spitting me out,” Bridgeforth said, with his husband, Christopher Hucks-Ortiz, standing next to him.
Bridgeforth was the second bishop elected at the Nov. 2-5 meeting, following Carlo Rapanut.
Bridgeforth was elected by the Western Jurisdiction’s 96 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity from the eight conferences — church regional bodies — forming the jurisdiction. The jurisdiction encompasses the 12 westernmost states in the U.S. and the territories of Guam and Saipan.
An elder in the California-Pacific Conference, Bridgeforth has directed its office of innovation and communications since 2021. He previously has served as lead pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, a historically Black congregation in Los Angeles, and before that as lead pastor of Santa Ana United Methodist Church, a multi-ethnic congregation. During that time, he was also director of academic programs and outreach for the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies at the University of La Verne.
He also served as a district superintendent in the California-Pacific Conference from 2008 to 2015 and cabinet dean from 2011 to 2015. He was chair of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the denomination’s official Black caucus, from 2013 to 2016. He also was a board member of The United Methodist Church’s pension agency — now called Wespath — during the same period.
Bridgeforth has written books on leadership and prayer, including “20/20 Leadership Lessons: Seeing Vision and Focusing on Realities” and “Thoughts and Prayers.” In 2021, he published his memoir, “Alabama Grandson: A Black, Gay Minister’s Passage Out of Hiding.”
A native of Decatur, Alabama, Bridgeforth is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He holds a bachelor’s degree in religion from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, a Master of Divinity from the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California, and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Also elected were:
Robin Dease, a Black clergywoman from South Carolina, who was a write-in candidate on the first ballot. Her pre-election role as senior pastor at St. Andrew By-The-Sea in upscale Hilton Head, S.C., made her the first African American female lead pastor of a historically white UMC congregation in South Carolina.
Dee Williamston, a Black clergywoman and bishop’s assistant from Kansas, became the first African American female bishop in the region. She was elected with the most votes of the top candidates.
Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, a Black clergywoman and leader of pro-unity and centrist forces, was elected on the first ballot and was the first elected of all jurisdictions. Bigham-Tsai served as executive of the ministry-coordinating body, the Connectional Table, which has repeatedly proposed reorganizing the UMC’s global structure to permit more regional autonomy, thus opening a way for the possible U.S. repeal of anti-LGBTQ rules.
Cynthia Astle of Baptist News Global contributed to this report.