November Jurisdictional Conference to elect new bishops for UMC

S.C.’s Ken Nelson among nine episcopal nominees

By Jessica Brodie

How many bishops is the jurisdiction electing? Will South Carolina’s nominee become bishop? Will our annual conference get a new bishop, and if so, where will our current bishop go?

These are among many of the questions being asked as delegates prepare to gather Nov. 2-4 in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, for the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church.

It is the first SEJ Conference to be held in-person since 2016, and while there are many unknowns, a number of things are clear.

Foremost is that elected delegates from the 14 annual conferences in the jurisdiction will gather in-person to elect UMC bishops and set the scope of missions and ministries for the jurisdiction. South Carolina will have 32 delegates at SEJ to vote; 16 are clergy and 16 are laity, all elected at the 2019 Annual Conference.

 be voting on how many bishops the jurisdiction wants to elect.

While it is allowed to vote for a maximum of five—four bishops retired since the last election, and one more bishop, James Swanson, announced he will retire in December—the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy is recommending the election of only three bishops this year.

The COE cites “potential negative financial impact” as its justification for recommending three instead of five.

Delegates will decide at SEJ whether to agree with the COE recommendation of three or not.  Currently, there are only nine active bishops in the 14-conference jurisdiction, and some bishops are serving multiple episcopal areas because of the pandemic-related absence of a General Conference in 2020 and 2021.

As the COE stated in its rationale for the recommendation, “We understand the desire for the presence of a bishop in each episcopal area. We realize that asking a bishop to serve conferences that are not contiguous makes the situation even more strenuous.”

With three elections, the COE said, only two bishops would be asked to serve two areas until September 2024.

“We believe it would be irresponsible to ignore the potential negative financial impact of electing five bishops until we have clearer evidence of the sustainability of such elections,” the COE rationale added. “At least four conferences have planned a called annual conference meeting regarding disaffiliation this fall, which adds to this uncertainty. Bishops are elected and assigned to an area to serve until retirement, and their positions are funded by apportionments.

“Therefore, realizing the anxiety of not knowing the future, while trusting that future into God’s hands, we are confident that our recommendation offers a prudent resolution based on the information known to us today.”

They said no decisions or discussions regarding potential assignments will be made until the COE begins the assignment process following the November episcopal elections.

Ken Nelson is South Carolina’s episcopal nominee

SEJ will open Nov. 2 at 9 a.m.

After the number of bishops is determined by the body, balloting will begin as the delegates consider which of the nine episcopal nominees they wish to elect.

The Rev. Ken Nelson, conference secretary and Orangeburg District superintendent for the South Carolina Conference, is South Carolina’s episcopal nominee.

Other nominees include 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.

Learn more about the nominees—including biographies, pictures, videos and Q&As—at

Balloting and other business will continue 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.

Who are South Carolina’s 32 delegates?

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).

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).

What will happen to our current bishop?

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, which will appear in the December edition of the Advocate. For more information on SEJ:

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