By Jessica Brodie
LAKE JUNALUSKA, North Carolina—Delegates to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference got the chance to meet and hear directly from episcopal nominees July 12, the day before the conference officially started.
SEJ Conference 2016, July 13-15, is the jurisdiction’s quadrennial gathering, where every annual conference in the SEJ comes together to elect new bishops, approve the budget for the next four years and conduct general business.
South Carolina’s 32 delegates and four alternates (see names at bottom) joined their counterparts Tuesday morning in hearing a five-minute short speech from the 13 nominees for bishop, then spent the afternoon in “round robin” sessions, where each nominee rotated from room to room conducting an individual question-answer session with each annual conference delegation.
Five bishops will be elected this year.
South Carolina’s nominee for bishop, Delegation Chair Dr. Tim McClendon, was among the 13 nominees, and Delegation Vice Chair Barbara Ware lifted him up in prayer that God will be with him and his wife, Cindy, as they speak to the various delegations.
If elected, McClendon will be South Carolina’s first in many years; the last was Will Willimon, who was elected bishop in 2004. This is McClendon's third time as South Carolina's episcopal nominee; he ran for bishop at SEJ 2012 and 2008. In 2012, he was the top vote-getter on 14 ballots—every ballot following Ballot #11 until Ballot #26—but stepped down just after Ballot #28 after Virginia nominee Young Jin Cho took the lead. South Carolina delegates said they hope McClendon gets elected this year.
The nominees include 11 men and two women. Three are African-American; McClendon is Native American.
Virginia’s Shirley Cauffman, of the Committee on the Episcopacy, introduced the episcopal nominees Tuesday morning in Stuart Auditorium and said the 13 before the body “have remained true to their calling and even kept a sense of humor” throughout the process.
Highlights from the episcopal introductions
Lawson Bryan (Alabama-West Florida Conference) lifted up the word “immediately” in addressing the body, particularly given the violence and other societal strife occurring on a daily basis. “From Louisiana to Dallas, Texas, we see the world desperately needs what The United Methodist Church knows how to provide. The nation and the world need us immediately,” Bryan said noting the word immediately is a Bible word. “It occurs more than 40 times in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus acts immediately. People respond immediately. Lives are changed immediately. And The United Methodist Church is the agent that can deliver that word."
Leonard Fairley (North Carolina Conference) focused on having a leader’s heart especially during trying times. “The Spirit is found when the going gets tough. Jesus said for there you will know where a person’s heart is and where their treasure is,” Fairley said, noting that in all his actions, decisions and discernment, he strives to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. He said these are the times “where great leadership and creative vision are forged in the crucible of our people.” “We are a part of an unshakeable kingdom—not static, but possessing an incredible creative power,” Fairley said.
David Graves (Holston Conference) used his five minutes before the body to talk about his priorities when it comes to faith and leadership. “At the core of my being is about winning people to Christ, seeing the unseen, transforming lives and changing the world,” he said. “That is my agenda and that’s what I’m passionate about.” Calling himself an encourager, he said he believes in team ministry and being a bridge-builder. “Developing relationships is my strength,” he said.
Tom Grieb (Kentucky Conference) talked about how, in the midst of so many divergent opinions in the world today, the responsibilities of the role of bishop have never been greater. Grieb said discipleship is key. “From very beginning of our movement, discipleship has been front and center,” he said. But while we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, he said, “Sometimes I wonder if we are as into making disciples as we should, if we are doing nothing more than paying lip service.” He firmly believes making disciples will pull any church out of its malaise.
Sue Haupert-Johnson (Florida Conference) talked about the importance of evangelism, especially after horrible events such as the Orlando mass shooting. Quoting the hymn by Charles Wesley, “Come sinners to the Gospel feast let every soul be Jesus’ guest, ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bidden all mankind,” she said the UMC needs to be intentional about broadening the table and inviting all to Christ. “As long as the servers are arguing in the kitchen …we are wasting an opportunity to bring people to the table of God,” she said, calling on the Holy Spirit to “help the servers get their act together.” She said the Bible calls us to offer a sumptuous feast, but “I see too many churches serving happy meals at a dinette set.”
James Howell (Western North Carolina Conference) talked about the importance of joy in ministry and leadership and how it is more necessary to have accessible, people-oriented leaders than “titans on Mount Olympus.” “We forget this—there is joy in the Gospel,” Howell said. “We Methodists are so anxious and so serious about everything, and we forget about the joy.” He said if the church divides, it’s like saying the church is bickering just like you and has nothing to offer. “There is a center and we can find it. I’m confident in that.”
Sharma Lewis (North Georgia Conference) lifted up the importance of offering Christ in a world where God’s message has often gone quiet. “General Conference confirmed to me how critical current decisions are for our United Methodist Church. I believe with steady hands, level heads and, most importantly, bended knees God will show us a way.” She said she has a passion for unity, transformation and vision-casting. “I have a deep and abiding passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others,” Lewis said, noting we have a biblical mandate in the Gospel of Matthew (28:19) to make disciples. “When we truly believe and practice John Wesley’s famous phrase, ‘the world is my parish,’ we know we as Methodists have a responsibility to (spread) these mandates to the world.”
Tim McClendon (South Carolina Conference) spoke about living hope and fostering relationship in spite of the ominous voices that are already preaching our denominational funeral. “We must not define ourselves as church dying or even declining,” he said, noting that when we focus on discipleship and on being a people “in the making” we can find a way forward. He lifted up one of the most important ways to foster a strong, excellent church: relationships. In his time as the Columbia District superintendent, he spent hours with every one of his pastors cultivating strong relationships and mutual understanding. “I went to the zoo so many times the animals knew me by name,” he quipped, noting that fruitful relationships do so much, from good apportionment-making to shared strategic vision. “I ask for your prayerful support,” he said. “God bless The United Methodist Church and God bless each of you.”
Sky McCracken (Memphis Conference) talked about how the UMC is facing a great challenge right now, and he said we need to admit we have not always been graceful to each other and not always loved our neighbor as ourselves. “We cannot tell others about the transformative power of God through Jesus if the transformation we preach is not demonstrated in what Wesley called ‘our tempers and affections with each other,’” McCracken said. He said the church needs to start taking some risks and truly listening to each other instead of speaking over each other, particularly after the Dallas shootings and other violence nationwide, plus continue to strive toward excellence in every aspect of our ministry. “New wine calls for new wineskins,” he said. “We can do all these things and not sacrifice Methodism. Indeed, I’m convinced Methodism gives us our way forward.”
Robin Scott (North Alabama Conference) spoke directly about what he called the “elephant in the room: the polarization of the human sexuality issue and the church’s potential split over the issue. “My intent in no way to sway your opinion—what you believe you believe for how you discern God’s will. But my deep concern is there are those who have decided their individual discernment is greater than the General Conference.” He said the only entity that can speak for the general church is General Conference, and he thinks bishops have a duty to follow and lift up the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. “We do not have unity regarding human sexuality but we do have unity about the Discipline,” he said.
Ted Smith (BMCR of Virginia Conference) used his time to lift up the importance of best practices when it comes to the church. “Today in the world we’ve lost trust and credibility in the church, and within, we’ve lost trust and credibility with each other,” he said, noting the world needs deeper theology, spiritual transformation and episcopal leaders who exhibit best practices. Right now, there is a still, quiet voice we might be ignoring, he said, then sang before the body the chorus to A Great Big World’s ballad, “Say something I’m giving up on you, say something I’m giving up on you, anywhere I would have followed you, say something I’m giving up on you.” He implored the crowd to elect episcopal leaders who will say to the world “Christ is alive; Christ is here.”
Stephen Sparks (Mississippi Conference) said that disciple-making is the most critical thing the UMC can focus on. “I believe if we can get our theology and our practice correct around this one thing it would result in a unified spirit filled church,” Sparks said. “The greatest challenge we face is empowering each local church to (do this). It’s part of our identity as Methodists, and we need to remember who we once were.” He said we need to put greater focus on planting new churches and also unshackling creative energies of local churches who are already leading in these areas. “Every church must ask who we are and why we exist,” he said. We also said we need to change how we call train, educate, ordain and deploy our clergy and lay leadership, as well as rethink our strategies overall. “The United Methodist Church is indeed at a crossroads,” he said. “To ignore the elephant in the room is to shirk our task as leaders. To lead a divided church to a place of resolution and peace is going to require great leadership from our bishops.”
Farley Stuart (Red Bird Missionary Conference) spoke about being anchored in the word of God and being a vibrant, visible church that gets off the back streets of a community and back into the heart of the community. “We need to move from doing maintenance work in our churches to doing kingdom work,” he said, noting we must go where hurting are and where the broken hang out to make that happen. Stuart also lifted up the importance of holding each other accountable and doing our work with passion and commitment. “We must proclaim the Gospel of Christ,” he said.
Jorge Acevedo of the Committee on the Episcopacy closed the session by inviting the Holy Spirit to come do its work.
“The Holy Spirit is the one that needs to flood our hearts and our lives as it did at Pentecost,” Acevedo said. “We Methodists were Pentecostal before Pentecostal was cool. We are the movement of the warmed heart.”
South Carolina delegates
South Carolina delegates to SEJ were elected at Annual Conference 2015. Sixteen are laity and 16 are clergy, plus four alternates (two lay, two clergy).
- Barbara Ware
- James Salley
- Dr. Joseph Heyward
- Herman Lightsey
- Jackie Jenkins
- Michael Cheatham
- Martha Thompson
- David Braddon
- Lollie Haselden
- Emily Rogers Evans
- Donald Love
- Jennifer Price
- Chris Lynch
- Dr. Carolyn Briscoe
- Linda DuRant
- Lou Jordan
- Alternate: Cynthia Williams
- Alternate: Marilyn Murphy
- Dr. Tim McClendon
- Rev. Ken Nelson
- Rev. Tim Rogers
- Dr. Robin Dease
- Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
- Rev. Narcie Jeter
- Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
- Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
- Rev. Telley Gadson
- Rev. Michael Turner
- Rev. Kathy James
- Rev. George Ashford
- Rev. James Friday
- Rev. Sara White
- Rev. Emily Sutton
- Rev. Jeff Kersey
- Alternate: Rev. Connie Barnes
- Alternate: Rev. Cathy Joens