Six United Methodist bishops elected in the Southeast

July 17, 2004     

By Kathy L. Gilbert
United Methodist News Service

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)—Six new bishops will lead United Methodists in the denomination’s Southeastern Jurisdiction.

During a July 14-17 conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C., 556 delegates elected the new episcopal leaders.

The new bishops are, in order of election, the Rev. Hope Morgan Ward, North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference; the Rev. William H. Willimon, South Carolina Annual Conference; the Rev. James Swanson, South Georgia Annual Conference; the Rev. Alfred W. Gwinn Jr., Kentucky Annual Conference; the Rev. Richard J. Wills Jr., Florida Annual Conference; and the Rev. Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor, Holston Annual Conference.

The new bishops were consecrated during a July 17 worship service at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. They will begin their first assignments as bishops on Sept. 1.

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Bishop William H. Willimon

The first and last bishops elected by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference were both women. This is the first time the conference has elected two women as bishops during the same session. Ward and Taylor will join Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer, who was elected in 1996. Balloting began at noon July 14, with the first election coming on the second ballot at 7:30 p.m. The sixth and final election occurred on the 34th ballot, which was announced at 10:46 p.m. on July 16.

Seven Southeastern United Methodist leaders will continue in office. They are Bishop Lindsey G. Davis, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer, Bishop James R. King Jr., Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, Bishop B. Michael Watson, and Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker.  All 13 bishops will receive assignments on July 17 to 13 episcopal areas throughout the region that includes 15 annual conferences in nine states.

The conference also celebrated the retirement of six bishops who are retiring. They are Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, Mississippi area; Bishop Ray W. Chamberlain Jr., Holston area; Bishop Marion M. Edwards, Raleigh area; Bishop Robert E. Fannin, Birmingham area; Bishop William Morris, Nashville area; and Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr., Richmond area.

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Bishop James Swanson

Ward, who spent her childhood in a three-church charge in rural eastern North Carolina, currently serves as superintendent of the Raleigh district. Endorsed by the North Carolina delegation, Ward was elected on the second ballot. This is the first time the Southeastern Jurisdiction has elected a woman as the first bishop-elect. She is second woman elected as a bishop in the jurisdiction.

She was conference director of connectional ministries from 1997-2001 and has served as pastor of Soapstone United Methodist Church, 1986-97; pastor, Broadway United Methodist Church, 1983-86; minister of education, White Plains United Methodist Church, 1970-83; teaching parent and chaplain, Methodist Home for Children, 1977-79; and director of Christian education and mission, Fairmont United Methodist Church, 1973-78.

Ward received a master of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School in 1978 and a degree in English and religion from Duke in 1973. She is married to Mike Ward and has two children, Jason and Brooke.

Willimon, dean of the chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University for the past 20 years, was elected July 14. Endorsed by the South Carolina delegation, he was elected on the fourth ballot.

He is the author of 50 books, six videos and four audiotapes. He serves as editor-at-large for The Christian Century, The Whittenburg Door, Pulpit Digest and Preaching, and is editor and writer for the Pulpit Resource.

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A UMNS photo by Meredyth Earnest

The Rev. Al Gwinn reacts to becoming bishop-elect in the Southeastern Jurisidiction.

Willimon served as pastor at Level Creek United Methodist Church, Buford, Ga., 1971; associate pastor, Broad Street United Methodist Church, Clinton, S.C., 1971-73; pastor Trinity United Methodist Church, North Myrtle Beach, S.C., 1973-76; and pastor, Northside United Methodist Church, Greenville, S.C., 1980-84.

He has chaired the United Methodist Archives committee, is a trustee of Wofford College and Christ School and has been a delegate to three Southeastern Jurisdictional conferences and two General Conferences.

He is married to Patricia Parker and has two children, Harriett and William.

Swanson, who has served as superintendent of the Savannah District of the South Georgia Conference since 2001, was also elected July 14 on the fourth ballot. He was endorsed by the South Georgia conference.

Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and ordained in the Church of God, Swanson became pastor of the Statesboro Circuit in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church in 1981. He served as pastor of St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church, Columbus, Ga., 1988-2001. He was the first African-American chair of the South Georgia Annual Conference Council on Ministries and just completed eight years as a member of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

He holds a degree in Christian ministries from Southern Bible College and a master of divinity degree from C.H. Mason Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta. He is a candidate for a doctorate degree in evangelism from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He is married to Delphine Yvonne Ramsey, they have six children and seven grandchildren.

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Bishop Richard Wills

Gwinn, pastor of Lexington (Ky.) First United Methodist Church, was elected July 15. Endorsed by the Kentucky conference delegation, he was elected on the seventh ballot.

Before being appointed to Lexington First, Gwinn was pastor of Lexington Centenary United Methodist Church, 1987-97; and superintendent of the Lexington district. He has also chaired of the conference board of ordained ministry.

He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary. He is married to Joyce. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Wills currently serves as pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he has been since 1986. Endorsed by the Florida conference delegation, he was elected July 15.

He earlier served as pastor of Crystal Lake United Methodist Church, Lakeland, Fla., 1967-71; pastor, Madarin United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., 1971-75; associate council director, 1975-78; and pastor, Englewood United Methodist Church, Englewood, Fla., 1978-86.

He has also served on the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry; the large church initiative steering committee of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship; conference and jurisdictional committees on episcopacy; been a delegate to General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and chaired of the Order of Elders and conference camps task force. He is a trustee of Bethune-Cookman College.

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A UMNS photo by Meredyth Earnest.

New bishop Mary Virginia Taylor will be assigned to the Columbia, South Carolina area.

Willis wrote Waking to God’s Dream 2000 and is also the author of many articles on spiritual leadership. He has a degree in psychology from Florida Southern University and a master of divinity degree from Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Taylor, superintendent of the Cleveland District of the Holston Conference, was elected July 16. Endorsed by the Holston delegation, she was elected on the 34th and final ballot.

She has served as chaplain, Tennessee Wesleyan College, Athens, Tenn., 1975-76; associate pastor, Fountain City United Methodist Church, Knoxville, Tenn., 1977-78; pastor, Boones Creek United Methodist Church, Gray, Tenn., 1979-82; pastor, Elizabeth Chapel United Methodist Church, Bluff City, Tenn., 1983-86; pastor, St. Luke United Methodist Church, Kingsport, Tenn., 1987-88; co-pastor, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn., 1989-95, pastor, Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church, Knoxville, Tenn., 1996-98; district superintendent, Cleveland, Tenn., 1999-present.

She has been a member of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and a delegate to six General Conferences and six Southeastern Jurisdictional Conferences. She served on the conference Council on Ministries and conference Council on Finance and Administration, as well as on the Ministry Design (conference restructuring) Team. She is also a trustee of Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens. 

Taylor graduated from the University of Georgia in 1972 and received her master of divinity degree from Candler School of Theology in 1975. She is married to the Rev. James Russell Taylor and they have two children.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert ·(615) 742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.· E-mail:


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