Methodism has always insisted on the importance of episcopé or 'oversight' in the life of the Church and has argued that, though it does not have the 'historic episcopate', it nevertheless provides for the proper oversight of God's people through both the pastoral ministry and the courts of the Church.

During his lifetime John Wesley exercised oversight over the Connexion both directly and through the itinerants, and always presided over the annual Conference. After his death, the final episcopé passed to the Conference corporately ('The Conference is the living Wesley'). WM regarded episcopé as residing primarily in the pastorate, though consultation with the Leaders' Meeting was always part of any disciplinary machinery involving lay members. The ministers exercised episcopé over each other. In the non-Wesleyan traditions, episcopé was shared with lay leaders. At and after the 1932 Union it was made clear that episcopé is always shared between ministers and lay leaders. In American Methodism episcopé is exercised jointly by the bishops and the Annual and General Conferences. British Methodism has discussed (in connection with the Covenanting Proposals) how personalized episcopacy might fit in with the corporate episcopé of the Conference.

A major report on 'What sort of Bishops?' was presented to the Conference of 2005.

See also Apostolic Succession; Discipline

  • Victor E. Vine, '"Episcopé" in Methodism', in WHS Proceedings 30 pp.162-70; also 31 pp.23-24, 27-31, 47-48, 65-70, 102; 34 pp.167-69
  • Eric R. Griffin, 'Practical Catholicism: John Wesley's theology of bishops reconsidered', in Churchman, vol.112 (1998), pp.324-38
  • Episcope and Episcopacy (Conference report, 2000), in Agenda, pp.120-50
  • Andrew Maguire, 'Methodists and Episcopacy - a Dialogue with the Early Centuries', in Epworth Review, April 2006 pp.34-44
  • John Harrod, 'A Pig in a Poke - also known as a Methodist Bishop', in Epworth Review, April 2006 pp.45-53