As a child, the world of service to others surrounded Dottie Escobedo-Frank. The daughter of missionary parents always felt a call to serve while watching her parents, but then and repeatedly in life kept refusing it or setting it aside. She experienced what she termed a “re-call” moment, when she finally submitted herself to the calling of ordained ministry. When she took the next steps, she found support in her own pastor at the time, Buzz Stephens, who was thrilled she accepted this vocational call. Her first bishop, Bishop William Dew became one of her biggest cheerleaders and best listeners as she entered the ministry as an elder.
When Escobedo-Frank first became a minister, she was grateful for the support of some of her mentors, one of whom was Mary Bulles, the only other clergywoman she knew who had children. At first, there were few women serving in the Desert Southwest Conference and it took time to build a supportive network of women. Her bishop supported women in ministry, but the numbers had to grow in order to become normative. Bishop Hagiya, in his tenure in Desert Southwest, placed a request to make ordained ministry a safer place for women and the conference worked diligently to establish a wider network of clergywomen.
Escobedo-Frank baptizing a child in 2019. Photo courtesy of California-Pacific Annual Conference.
Though hesitant to step forward into pastoral ministry at first, Escobedo-Frank relished her time in the local church. One of her “most joyful” moments occurred during a baptism. A gay couple brought forward one of their 12 fostered (and eventually adopted) children who wanted to be baptized. The parents had yet to be baptized, so they made a family decision to all be baptized together. On that morning, Escobedo-Frank baptized not just one child, but an additional eleven siblings and their dads. She even had the opportunity to see them grow in life together in the congregation.
Escobedo-Frank also revived a congregation on the verge of closing while she was in parish ministry. Originally, the congregation served a white community, but as it became more multicultural, its outreach was insignificant. They added a second service that was eventually one-third Anglo, one-third Black, and one-third Hispanic. Of all of the new attendees, one-third of them were children. They created community partnerships in serving the hungry and unhoused. As these populations grew, the congregation avoided closure and now continues in vibrant service to its community.
Beyond parish life, Escobedo-Frank’s consideration for the episcopacy came through multiple steps, as it echoed out of her vocational calling. She ran in 2016 but withdrew. Initially, she decided not to run in 2020 because of her age. When the 2020 elections were postponed to late 2022, Escobedo-Frank stepped forward reluctantly, accepting that her call to leadership had not gone away and she had a need to close out the call. At the Western Jurisdiction Conference meeting, delegates expressed a desire to have candidates that could see the need for change and sustain the trajectory and the field was full of competent and qualified candidates for that role. In her candidacy statement, she noted her call to “stand in the middle of this moment, and to lend gifts of vision, voice, and innovation to help shape the church for our present-future.” On the 19th and final ballot of the election, Escobedo-Frank needed 63 votes and received 85, making her the third bishop-elect of the Western Jurisdictional Conference in 2022. She became the first elected bishop out of the Desert Southwest Conference and is the third Hispanic bishop to be elected in the Western Jurisdiction.
Escobedo-Frank outside of a local church. Photo courtesy of California-Pacific Annual Conference.
Although Escobedo-Frank was the first bishop elected out of the Desert Southwest Conference, she felt little pressure to perform differently from her normal self or her typical leadership style. She had no barriers to break as a woman because the Western Jurisdiction had created an environment for women to lead in a variety of ways. In her own home conference, she saw women elevated to many leadership roles. Strong women leaders were a common theme in her home conference, and their local COSROW and other groups formed to produce the necessary resources and materials for that continuation.
Escobedo-Frank carries a host of strong leadership characteristics into her newly-assigned California-Pacific Conference. Her background as a social worker brings an ability to watch for the marginalized, but it also allows her to be pastoral, though she claims it is not her primary gift. She leads with quiet strength, but she does not ignore or defer difficult decisions. She is strategic and collaborative and seeks to find the best way to center the local church and its ministries and ensure that ministry on the ground continues. One of her strongest appeals is for the church to remember its roots as being lay-driven, but that there is strength and innovation in imagining change within the church. She hopes to lead the Cal-Pac conference in looking deeply at the inequities occurring and asking strategic questions about how to address them as a conference. She wants to address as many inequities as possible, or at least as many as the conference will be willing to address.
Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank at the 2022 Western Jurisdiction Conference Consecration Service. Photo courtesy of California-Pacific Annual Conference.
As a clergywoman herself, Escobedo-Frank also wants to see the diversity in the larger United Methodist Church grow. She hopes to see women’s leadership increase, but not in a sense of a women’s rule. Instead, she hopes that all church siblings will share the load together. She insists that in order to do this, men’s voices are needed to vocalize this shift and that all voices need to be heard equally. She wants to see the spectrum of gender in the United Methodist Church reflected in its leadership roles. Most importantly, she believes the best way to lead is by leading together.
We welcome Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank to the Cal-Pac Conference and to the Council of Bishops! As an organization, GCSRW is grateful for the women who have blazed a path for Bishop Escobedo-Frank to have the ability to live deeply into her calling and lead the church strongly into the future. Additionally, we pray for Bishop Escobedo-Frank as she leads and for the women for whom she will create a path into their own vocational ministries.
Note: This profile is part of an eight-part blog series created in honor of Women's History Month, following the national theme of "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." You can view other profiles of newly elected women bishops here.
Rev. Emily Nelms Chastain is a PhD student at Boston University, where she focuses on 19th and 20th Century American Christian History and the intersectionality of faith and gender. She earned her B.A. in History at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2007 and graduated with an M.A. Religion and M.Div. in 2019 from Claremont School of Theology. She's an ordained United Methodist Deacon in the North Alabama Conference, and entered academia after serving for 9 years within the United Methodist Church where she worked in Connectional Ministries. Emily served as a reserve delegate to the 2016 General Conference and as a delegate for the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. She has served on the GCSRW board since 2016.