Meet Bishop Mark Webb

Bishop Mark Webb, a Williamsport native, is settling into his new role as leader of the United Methodist Church’s upper New York area.

Webb, who grew up as a member of St. John’s-Newberry United Methodist Church, was elected bishop July 19 and took his new post in Syracuse, N.Y., on Sept. 1.

“People have been very receptive to us,” Webb said. “The role of a bishop is one of leadership and oversight. We have about 182,000 members in our churches and 923 local congregations here, so it’s a lot of folks and territory to get to know.”

Webb and his wife, Jodi, will spend at least four years in Syracuse and up to 12 in the upper New York area.

Over that term, the church wants to “revitalize existing congregations by equipping clergy and laity to be transformational in their ministry and outreach and create new faith communities,” he said.

Stimulating change in the church requires taking new risks and beginning new projects that affect the world outside the church building’s walls.

“You have to take a risk to do a new ministry or add a new worship service, and once you see the fruit that comes from that it’s kind of like a snowball as the momentum continues to move,” Webb said. “Folks get a little less risk-averse and get a little more daring and bold for what they’re willing to do for the sake of the Gospel.”

Much of Webb’s job is bringing people together “to share best practices and look at new ways to be the church,” he said. “We’re early in that process, and already you see the lightbulbs going on, the a-ha moments.”

One new “faith community” that Webb offers as an example is a Sunday evening group for high school and young adult men in the Binghamton area.

“They meet at a nearby school and in the fall or spring they play football or ultimate frisbee, and basketball in the winter. They have a halftime where they do a devotion and share life with one another. It’s grown to a consistent group of 20-25, and this summer they’re planning to do some kind of mission project in the community together. It’s a great example of a new thing, a bold thing, a simple thing.”

Webb became a district superintendent in the York area of the Susquehanna Conference, which includes Williamsport, in 2007, after spending 18 years as a pastor in three Harrisburg area churches.

Webb says that the work he has done as a superintendent and now a bishop comes from his “desire to help churches grow.”

“You have the opportunity to work with multiple congregations, to help pastors be as transformational as they can be,” he said. “I enjoy working with pastors and laity in developing leadership and strategies for church growth.”

The seeds of Webb’s call to the ministry were sown in his time at St. John’s during his youth.

“The congregation there was very supportive of young people and it was through youth ministry and church camping where I kind of began to sense a call to full-time ministry,” he said. “It has always been a place of nurture and support. My senior year of college I preached my first sermons as I filled in for pastors on vacation around the Williamsport area. I look back on those now and say ‘did I really say that?’ “

Webb attended Shippensburg University, where he began as a business major, then went to Asbury Theological Seminary, in Wilmore, Ky., for graduate work.

Webb’s parents both died in the past few years, but he and his wife “still get the news” from Williamsport, Webb said. “There’s some great United Methodist pastors in the Williamsport area doing some exciting things.

“It all boils down to helping people connect with one another within the church and outside of the church, helping congregations learn to manage change. The common piece is helping folks engage in the lives of others and develop meaningful and deep relationships.”