2022 SEJ Updates

2022 SEJ Updates

Under the theme “This I Know,” the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference began November 1 with a session offered by the Committee on Episcopacy for delegates to get better acquainted with persons who have been nominated for the episcopacy.  

The Conference officially opens with worship at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 2. An offering will be received to go toward the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Native American ministries in the SEJ. Native American Ministries leaders assisted in worship preparation for this Conference.

The five jurisdictional conferences of The United Methodist Church typically meet once every four years, however, the Conferences were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the Council of Bishops called for Jurisdictional Conferences across the U.S. to meet November 2-5, 2022.   

The primary business of the session will be the election and assignment of bishops. Any United Methodist ordained elder may be elected a bishop by any jurisdictional conference. Each jurisdiction establishes the percentage of votes needed for election. In the SEJ, 60 percent is needed. This year the balloting will be electronic. 

In addition to the election of bishops, the Conference will hold several special worship services. The service of remembrance will be 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3. We will celebrate retiring bishop Thursday evening session. 

The SEJ Conference session will conclude on Friday, July 15, with the Service of Consecration for newly elected episcopal leaders. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022
SEJ Morning Session

Hey friends, 

In order to help you keep up with all that is happening at the SEJ Conference, Holston Communications and other SEJ communicators will be writing updates on this blog throughout the entire conference. Please check back frequently for updates. If you are interested in following the live stream, visit: https://www.sejumc.org/sej-conference-2022.

Tim Jones
Director of Communications

The 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference happens to be my first jurisdictional conference. From a logistics standpoint, I understood one of the most critical aspects of this conference was to elect new bishops and to make new episcopal assignments. This is the business of the conference, and with this business comes much angst, anxiety, and even some anguish. Yet, when we move beyond or deeper than the business, it is easy to see our leaders' admiration, affection, and acceptance for one another. I genuinely believe there isn't a single person here that wants to see the demise of The United Methodist Church. Our bishops, our delegates, our communicators, and our guests all want to see a church, a denomination, where we are known by our love.  

Bishop James Swanson, former Holston Conference bishop, began our day reminding us that "we are facing many difficult days, but without Jesus, we can do nothing." As he preached in a way that only he can, Swanson exclaimed, "You can't fulfill the Great Commission if you are guided by a spirit of fear." When he broke down this statement, he described how I felt about The UMC. I immediately thought of questions that sometimes keep me up at night: "What's going to happen to the church I love so much; What does our infighting say to those who are looking at us from outside our denomination; What will I do if this happens or if that happens?

Maybe I am alone in these thoughts and questions, but something tells me more people may be asking similar things. As these questions consumed my thoughts, Bishop Swanson nailed me with his following statement. Quoting John 15:5, Swanson reminded us that Jesus told his disciples and tells us today, "Without me, you can't do anything." He reminded us that the church will move forward, but none of us will be successful if we don't allow Jesus to lead us.

This time of worship has set our stage. We will soon be conducting our business. We will soon be electing three new bishops. We will soon find out where each of our SEJ bishops will be serving. May Jesus lead us in our process, because without him, we can do nothing.

- Tim Jones
(photo by Ben Smith, Holston Media Specialist)

Wednesday, November 2, 2022
SEJ Afternoon Session

Our delegates began voting just before we broke for lunch. In order to elect a new bishop, an episcopal nominee must receive 60% of the vote. No one was elected on the first ballot. In fact, it took us until 4:30 pm and our fourth ballot before Reverend Tom Berlin, endorsed by the Virginia Conference, was elected with 61% of the vote. Bishop David Graves announced the election, and the atmosphere in Stuart Auditorium was electric. Reverend Berlin made his way to the stage and received a standing ovation.

More about Rev. Tom Berlin
Raised in the United Methodist Church, Tom received a call to ordained ministry while serving as a summer counselor at the Tennessee Outreach Project. He has served churches of all sizes, including 25 years as the Lead Pastor of Floris UMC, a multi-site, multi-staff congregation near the nation’s capital. He believes in the value of our connectional church and cares deeply about its vitality and unity. He longs for a church where all people feel that they belong. Tom has experienced the power of our global connection through Floris UMC’s partnership with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, helping to create and support the Child Reintegration Centre and Mercy Hospital. He has been active in leadership in the Virginia Conference, chaired the Board of Governors at Wesley Theological Seminary, led delegations to General Conference, and served on the Commission on a Way Forward and the team that created the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation. In a time of difficulty in the United Methodist Church, Tom finds hope in the love and resurrection of Christ and the ways he sees the Holy Spirit active among those committed to the congregations where they live and serve. He is a speaker and author of books that focus on the Christian life and stewardship and has co-authored books on church leadership. Tom is married to Karen, and they have four daughters. These five women have enabled him to grow in sanctification and see people and life in ways he would have missed without them.

- Tim Jones
(photo by Ben Smith)

Wednesday, November 2, 2022
SEJ Evening Session

My friend and colleague, Aimee Yeager director of communications in the Western North Carolina Conference, shared this with me:

On Wednesday evening, as delegates returned to Stuart Auditorium for the day’s final business session, the white lights strung around a giant Christmas tree could be seen across the lake, the reflection shimmering in the water. An usher, in high spirits, called out in a sing-song voice, “Calling all delegates! Let’s elect some bishops!”

Well the usher's wish came true, or better yet, the usher's wish eventually came true. Ballot after ballot was cast. A few times, the vote was just a handful away from electing someone, and when that would happen, you could hear the murmurs across the room, "Surely the next vote we will see someone elected." But it wasn't the next vote, or the next, or even the next. It actually took eight more votes, but at 9:30 pm on ballot number twelve, Rev. Connie Shelton was elected as the second new bishop for the Southeastern Jurisdiction receiving 213 votes of the 210 needed to elect.

Click here to learn more about Rev. Connie Shelton.

- Tim Jones
(photo by Ben Smith)


Photo of the day

Preparing to process

Holston Bishop, Debra Wallace-Padgett, and former Holston Bishop, James Swanson, prepare to process into Stuart Auditorium for opening worship.
(photo by Ben Smith)


Thursday, November 3, 2022
SEJ Morning Session

Day Two of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference started with much hope there would be the third and final episcopal election that morning. But after two invalid votes and the withdrawal from the slate of one nominee, Iosmar Alvarez, the session closed with a vote on Ballot 15 but no results.

Bishop R. Lawson Bryan lifted up the great “mystery” of God’s secret plan and urged everyone to embrace that mystery as we strive to remain refreshed in the Lord. Refreshment is key to everything, Bryan reminded us, from relationships, business and community life to good preaching, yet we often go around feeling tired and worried, not refreshed. Yet even in a time of much turmoil— political polarization, a pandemic, racial reckoning, economic ups and downs, one nation invading another—we must remember the apostle Paul also experienced difficulty, and he was able to persevere by embracing what really seized his heart: the beautiful mystery of God’s secret plan to unite the Jews and the Gentiles as God’s people.

We should do the same, Bryan urged. “Is there any arena of life that does not benefit from refreshment?” he asked. “A mystery is not to be figured out but is to be lived.”

- Tim Jones and Jessica Brodie

Service of Remembrance

One of the realities of life is that our days are numbered, so let’s fill our days with wisdom and a faithful heart.
That was the word from Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, retired Holston Bishop, who preached the Service of Remembrance. Bishop Taylor drew from Psalm 90:12, which reminds us, “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NKJV).
Taylor lifted up the three bishops and six spouses who passed away since the last in-person jurisdictional conference: Bishops Bevel L. Jones III, R. Kern Eutsler and Robert Spain, and spouses Thelma H. Newman, Dorothy S. Lee, Jean Stockton, Mary Ann Hunt, Linda Carder and Rose King.
She told us stories of how she had spent time with each of those who had passed except for one. She told us about Jean Stockton, a fashionista who introduced so many to liturgical dance, and Linda Carder, loved so deeply across Holston, Mississippi and Tennessee conferences, who loved Lake Junaluska and the fellowship of bishops’ spouses. Bishop Jones had been her pastor during her high school and college years and officiated her wedding.
“We don’t know how many days we have, but we only have so many,” Taylor reminded us. “Because they are, we are invited to gain a heart of wisdom.”

A wise heart, according to the apostle Paul, is a heart filled with faith, hope and love.

“All of us gathered here today believe the church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time,” she said. “All times are uncertain. (But) our faith is in eternal God who made the heavens and the earth.”

The service opened with the hymn “Give Me Jesus,” then a greeting led by Emily Ballard and a prayer for illumination led by Derrick Scott.

After Taylor’s sermon, the Rev. Virginia Kagoro led the body in the statement of faith, and Bishop L. Jonathan Holston served as liturgist, offering a prayer for the saints and faithful departed.
- Jessica Brodie
(photo by Aimee Yeagar)

SEJ Afternoon Session

It took the entire afternoon and into the evening, but on the 25th ballot of the 2022 session, the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference elected South Carolina’s Dr. Robin Dease as its third and final bishop.
Dease’s 206 votes put her over the edge in the election, which had been close most of the day as she and South Carolina nominee the Rev. Ken Nelson were closely tied, sometimes with Nelson in the lead and sometimes Dease.
Swallowing back tears, Bishop-Elect Dease thanked the body for the honor, noting her parents had all joined the Church Triumphant and most of her 13 siblings as well, with those remaining physically incapable of being there.
“But you are my family,” she said to resounding applause. Then, looking to Nelson in the audience, she added, “And Ken is my brother and my friend.”
Throughout her career, whenever she had the opportunity to lead or serve somewhere new, she’d run home to her parents and celebrate the news, whether that was running an account, graduating from seminary, getting appointed to a church, or becoming a district superintendent.
“They’d say, ‘Now don’t go down there and make us shamed,’” Dease said. Looking again to the room standing in her honor, she said, “My commitment to you is: I will never make you shamed.”

- Jessica Brodie
(photo by Ben Smith)


Retirement Service

Bishop Kenneth Carter took the stage to usher in a special Celebration of Retiring Bishops—the four SEJ bishops who retired in 2021 and Bishop James Swanson, who will retire in December. 

Calling it a “really significant ritual,” Carter asked the bishops and their spouses to stand as they were recognized:
• Swanson, and his wife, Delphine, who was elected in 2004 and will retire in 2022;
• Hope Morgan Ward and her husband, Mike, elected in 2004 and retired in 2021;
• Mary Virginia Taylor and her husband, Rusty, elected in 2004 and retired in 2021;
• Paul Leeland and his wife, Janet, elected in 2008 and retired in 2021; and
• Lawson Bryan and his wife, Sherrill, elected in 2016 and retired in 2021.

- Tim Jones
(photo by Ben Smith)


Friday, November 4, 2022
Bishop Assignments

For many of us, today is the most important day of this Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. Today is when we will know who our Resident Bishop will be from January 1, 2023 until August 30, 2024. The announcement is close, so stay tuned.

  • Holston Conference - Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
  • Alabama/West Florida - Bishop David Graves
  • Central Appalachian Missionary (Formerly Red Bird) - Bishop Leonard Fairley
  • Florida - Bishop Tom Berlin
  • Kentucky - Bishop Leonard Fairley
  • Mississippi - Bishop Sharma Lewis
  • North Alabama - Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
  • North Carolina - Bishop Connie Shelton
  • North Georgia - Bishop Robin Dease
  • South Carolina - Bishop Jonathan Holston
  • South Georgia - Bishop David Graves
  • Tennessee-Western Kentucky (formerly Memphis and Tennessee Conferences) - Bishop Bill McAlilly
  • Virginia - Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
  • Western North Carolina - Bishop Ken Carter


Tim Jones

Tim is the Director of Communications at the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church, where he leads a diverse team of communicators. He oversees audio, graphic design, video and written content that helps the local churches of Holston stay...