Members of the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on Wednesday elected two bishops on day one of the session. They will continue balloting Thursday morning, with one more bishop to elect.
The Rev. Ken Nelson, superintendent of the Orangeburg District in South Carolina, is among the remaining nominees. He finished within the top three among nominees on all 12 ballots taken on Wednesday.
The Rev. Thomas M. Berlin, 59, lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, was elected bishop on the fourth ballot. He received 213 votes out of 346 valid ballots cast.
Berlin thanked his wife, Karen, and members of his Floris UMC staff who drove to Lake Junaluska to support him. He also thanked the people in the room: the delegates, the bishops, and all those with whom he has served in ministry and collaborative work.
“You all have been such a great blessing to my life, and to be elected as a bishop is a singular honor,” Berlin said. “Thank you. It is oddly humbling to stand before you and to accept this special assignment.”
The Rev. Dr. Connie Mitchell Shelton, 58, a district superintendent in the Mississippi Conference, was elected on the 12th ballot. She received 213 votes out of 350 valid ballots cast. Shelton was the endorsed candidate of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Clergywomen’s Caucus, and was supported by the Mississippi delegation to the Jurisdictional Conference.
Raised in the Southern Baptist tradition in her native Mississippi, Shelton later found that Methodist theology resonated in her life. She subsequently joined Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she and her husband, Joey, served as volunteer lay youth directors. Eventually, both she and her husband discerned a call to full-time ordained ministry.
The assignments of bishops in the Southeastern Jurisdiction for the next two years will be announced Thursday evening. Berlin’s and Shelton’s two-year terms of service begin Jan. 1.
“Red Bird” renamed Central Appalachian Missionary Conference
Delegates to the 2022 SEJ Conference formally approved a name change from Red Bird Missionary Conference to the Central Appalachian Missionary Conference. The new name is designed to reflect the position of the conference to serve beyond the bounds of the Red Bird Valley.
The official name change reflects the full transformation of the Central Appalachian Missionary Conference, with conference priorities now focusing on health and wellness initiatives, community outreach, and leadership transformation.
“We want to thank all those in attendance today at the Southeastern Jurisdictional meeting,” said Bishop Leonard Fairley, Bishop for the Kentucky and Red Bird Missionary Conferences. “Central Appalachian Missionary Conference is undergoing a transformation, and we are embracing growth of our ministries throughout the Appalachian region.
“Despite the disaster recovery going on throughout this region, God has given us hope and the ability for transformation.”
Find information about ministries of the rebirthed conference at centralappalachianumc.org. The website offers a chance to sign up for the conference’s newsletter and service opportunities, a way to partner with the conference long term, and focuses on Central Appalachian’s renewed commitment to transforming the region and beyond in the name of Jesus Christ.
Opening Worship: “A world filled with fear needs a fearless church”
Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., resident bishop of the Mississippi Conference, called on the Holy Spirit to guide the decisions of the delegates and the business of the conference. Bishop Swanson’s inspirational sermon during the worship service reassured delegates and bishops that God is with us and there is nothing to fear.
The scripture lesson at the heart of Bishop Swanson’s message came from John 15. In this chapter, Jesus assures the disciples that even though he is about to leave them, they should not be afraid.
“Uncertainty about this new moment is expected,” Bishop Swanson said, reminding delegates of the disciples’ anxiousness about the upcoming death of their leader. “Jesus sensed the fear in the disciples’ hearts.”
Bishop Swanson encouraged the conference not to be apprehensive, but to move forward boldly, saying that there can only be progress through the power of God’s spirit.
“You can’t fulfill the mission Jesus has called you to if you are filled with fear,” he said. “A world filled with fear needs a fearless church. In the midst of everything, forget your agenda and say to the Lord, ‘Let your will be done.’”