A proposal to increase the number of bishops in the United Methodist Church from 61 will be presented to the denomination's quadrennial General Conference next April in St. Louis.

With almost 9.2 million members in the United States and Puerto Rico, the United Methodist Church has 45 active bishops in that territory and 16 bishops in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

There are five jurisdictions and 73 annual conferences in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Each bishop presides over an episcopal area, which may include one or more annual conferences. The size of each episcopal area is determined by a formula related to church membership.

Under the proposal made by the Southeastern Jurisdiction's Committee on the Episcopacy, any episcopal area with two or more annual conferences that has more than 125,000 members each could be divided into two episcopal areas.

This would mean an additional bishop could be elected in the Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas-Fort Worth and Indiana areas, the only ones that meet those requirements.

The proposal would require approval by the jurisdictional, or regional, conferences involved as well as the General Conference.

If the proposal takes effect, it could mean election of 16 bishops in July 1988 instead of the 12 now to be elected because of retirements and deaths.

The South Indiana Conference has filed a petition stipulating that any such changes would be made only with the consent of the affected annual conferences, smaller regional units within the jurisdictions.

Bishop J. Lloyd Knox of Birmingham, who is supporting the proposal, noted that the church's Book of Discipline "does not provide for the creation of new episcopal areas or the deployment of new bishops unless a jurisdiction grows by approximately 100,000 members."

The proposal would therefore be an amendment to the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

Two other petitions from annual conferences would affect the number of bishops.

A proposal from North Dakota would make the present number permanent, and the Wyoming Conference, which covers parts of Pennsylvania and New York, is asking a bishop for each of the 73 annual conferences in the United States and Puerto Rico.