Delegates consider new bishops for SEJ

(Pictured, Delegates from SC listen during a past SEJ round-robin session. Photo by Matt Brodie.)

By Jessica Brodie

Next month, 32 lay and clergy delegates from South Carolina will head to Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, for the first in-person Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church since 2016.

There, they will join delegates from the other conferences in the SEJ to elect UMC bishops and set the scope of missions and ministries for the jurisdiction.

Slated for Nov. 2-4, the meeting will also determine how many bishops will be elected in the SEJ this year, a number that is currently unknown. Of the 14 annual conferences within the SEJ, there are currently only nine active bishops. Because of the postponement of the 2020 SEJ from COVID-19, four bishops retired with no new bishops elected to take their place, so three bishops have been serving two annual conferences instead of just one, and one bishop has been serving three. A fifth bishop, James Swanson, plans to retire at the end of December. Delegates will decide how many bishops the SEJ can afford—five or fewer—before voting on the nominees begins

South Carolina’s the Rev. Ken Nelson is among the nine episcopal nominees up for consideration. As South Carolina’s episcopal nominee, endorsed unanimously by the delegation and elected as nominee at the last annual conference session in June, Nelson serves as co-chair with Jackie Jenkins of the South Carolina delegation to SEJ, as well as conference secretary and Orangeburg District superintendent for the South Carolina Conference of the UMC.

Current bishops will also be assigned to annual conferences. Per the UMC Book of Discipline, bishops may serve two four-year terms in one episcopal area and can be assigned for a third for missional purposes. Bishops are then assigned to a different episcopal area by their jurisdictional or central conference. 

South Carolina’s Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston has served this conference since 2012, when he was elected. He nears the end of his second term as bishop, as the 2016 appointment was extended beyond four years because of the pandemic.

The Advocate will be at SEJ to cover the news. Here, we explore what is a bishop, what conferences are in the SEJ, and who are the episcopal nominees:

What is a bishop?

According to Resource UMC, each bishop oversees the mission and ministry of an episcopal area based on the direction set by General Conference and the local context. Bishops are elders elected by members of a jurisdictional or central conference. Bishops in the jurisdictional conferences in the United States are elected for life. In the central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe, the term of their service as bishops varies and may require re-election. Bishops provides spiritual leadership to the global denomination as well as for the episcopal area of one or more annual conferences to which they are assigned.

Each bishop provides day-to-day leadership for the episcopal area for a four-year term. Within their areas, bishops preside over annual conference sessions and appoint ordained and licensed clergy to local churches and other places of service, including as district superintendents.

All bishops are part of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, which consists of all active and retired bishops in the United Methodist church.

What conferences are in the SEJ?

The SEJ is one of the five jurisdictional conferences; the others are the North Central Jurisdiction, Northeastern, South Central and Western.

Annual conferences in the SEJ include Alabama/West Florida, Central Appalachian Missionary, Florida, Holston, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Alabama, North Carolina, North Georgia, South Carolina, South Georgia, Tennessee-Western Kentucky, Virginia and Western North Carolina.

What bishops serve the SEJ?

In addition to Holston, who serves the South Carolina Conference, Bishop Ken Carter serves both the Florida and Western North Carolina conferences; Bishop Leonard Fairley serves the Kentucky, Central Appalachian Missionary and North Carolina conferences; Bishop David Graves serves the Alabama-West Florida and South Georgia conferences; and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett serves the North Alabama and Holston conferences. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson serves the North Georgia Conference, Bishop Sharma Lewis serves the Virginia Conference, Bishop Bill McAlilly serves the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference and Bishop Swanson serves the Mississippi Conference.

How are episcopal nominees determined?

People are nominated by their respective delegations or organizations to be considered for the episcopacy. For example, South Carolina’s nominee, Nelson, was nominated by the South Carolina delegation and endorsed by the annual conference.

Each nominee signs a principles agreement, acknowledging he or she understands the election of bishops is primarily a spiritual undertaking and agreeing to follow certain fair election practices, including no vote-swapping.

They also submit biographies, question-answer statements, short videos and more.As of press time, all nominees have their information posted on the website for SEJ at

Nine episcopal nominees

In addition to Nelson, the South Carolina Conference delegation nominee, there are eight other episcopal nominees up for vote at the Nov. 2-4 conference: Dr. Iosmar Alvarez, Kentucky Conference delegation nominee; the Rev. Sharon G. Austin, Florida Conference delegation nominee; the Rev. Tom Berlin, Virginia Conference delegation nominee; the Rev. Sharon Bowers, Holston Black Methodists for Church Renewal nominee; the Rev. Amy Coles, Western North Carolina Conference delegation nominee; the Rev. Edith Gleaves, North Carolina Conference delegation nominee; the Rev. Connie Shelton, SEJ Clergywomen nominee; and Dr. Byron Thomas, North Georgia Conference delegation nominee.

How can I find our more about the episcopal nominees?

Read bio, view pictures, watch videos and explore Q&As in full at the SEJ website:

Who decides this for S.C.?

Voting on the episcopal nominees and other SEJ business will be cast by the lay and clergy delegates elected to represent their annual conference at SEJ. South Carolina elected its 16 clergy delegates and 16 lay delegates at the 2019 Annual Conference.

South Carolina’s 16 lay delegates are Jacqueline Jenkins, James Salley, Michael Cheatham, Herman Lightsey, Chris Lynch, Martha Fridy Thompson, David Braddon, Emily Evans, Betty Void, David Salter, Valerie Brooks-Madden, Marlene Spencer, Jennifer Price, Tony Watson, Lou Jordan and Doug Coffeen (alternates Marvin Horton and Vicki McCartha).

South Carolina’s 16 clergy delegates are the Rev. Ken Nelson, Dr. Robin Dease, the Rev. Keith Hunter, the Rev. Susan Leonard, the Rev. Emily Sutton, the Rev. Will Malambri, the Rev. Tiffany Knowlin, the Rev. Karen Jones, the Rev. Tim Rogers, the Rev. Cathy Mitchell, the Rev. Fran Elrod, the Rev. Connie Barnes, the Rev. Mary Teasley, the Rev. Kathryn Hunter, the Rev. Elizabeth Murray and Dr. Stephen Love (alternate the Rev. Sara White).

What COVID-19 protocols will be followed?

Masks will be required for all persons in all meetings and Lake Junaluska buildings while at the conference. This requirement includes round-robin sessions, all conference business sessions, worship and other gatherings. Heads of delegations will be responsible for ensuring that masks are worn properly by all members of their delegations (including reserves) any time they are inside a building. In addition, seating will be socially distanced within Stuart Auditorium, which might limit the number of non-delegates and reserves who can be present.

Can anyone attend the SEJ Conference?

According to the SEJ website, “Conference guests are welcomed to attend the conference but will not be issued official credentials or nametags.”

What is the schedule?

Bishops and the Committee on the Episcopacy will begin arriving at Lake Junaluska for SEJ on Oct 30, with meetings and other preparation continuing until Nov. 1. Heads of delegations are scheduled as of now to meet Nov. 1 at 12:45 to receive credentials and seating information, and round robin sessions with episcopal nominees are currently scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 1.

Opening worship is to begin at 9 a.m. Nov. 2 in Stuart Auditorium. Business is slated to begin at 10:30, with balloting and other business until the evening of Nov. 3, when episcopal assignments will be announced and area receptions held.

The conference is expected to close with consecration of new bishops Nov. 4.

For more information on SEJ:

Get Periodic Updates from the Advocate We never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.