Dindy Taylor elected bishop on historic 34th ballot

By Annette Bender

At lunchtime on the day she was elected bishop of the United Methodist Church, Dindy Taylor told her fellow delegates they could stop voting for her. It didn't look like she would win.

"I told the delegation I loved them, and I thanked them for their support," Taylor said of the meeting in Memorial Chapel on July 16. "Then we all had a good cry."

But Taylor did not withdraw from the election, although many other candidates with trailing numbers did, including Holston's own Jerry Russell. On the afternoon after Taylor's announcement to her endorsing delegation, her vote count began to rise. The votes kept rising until Mary Virginia "Dindy" Taylor was elected bishop by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on the 34th ballot, receiving 354 of 549 votes cast.

Taylor's election was historic because she is the first female bishop from Holston Conference. The conference, held July 14-17 in Lake Junaluska, N.C., also registered a record-breaking number of ballots, surpassing the previous all-time jurisdictional record of 25.

Taylor, who was assigned to the South Carolina Conference less than 10 hours after her late-night election, said she didn't withdraw from the contest because she felt a call from God to stay. She remained among the bottom of vote-getters throughout most of the election, while a few leading candidates tried to break a deadlock lasting nearly two days.

Taylor's votes began to increase on the 26th ballot, spurring speculation and surprise among the jurisdiction's 556 delegates representing 15 Southeastern conferences. In the end, the Rev. Arnetta Beverly of Western North Carolina Conference, an African-American female candidate whose vote tally never dropped below 125 and at one point reached 221, was beaten by Taylor, whose votes numbered well below 100 for 24 ballots.

"I hoped two women would be elected, and I always said it didn't have to be me," Taylor said on the morning after her election.

"I didn't do anything strategic, and I wasn't trying to block anyone else's election. My piddly little votes didn't hurt anybody. I was just trying to be faithful to what God wanted me to do."

"I think it was wonderful that we never gave up, and that Dindy went on with patience and fortitude," said Mary Frances Tucker, Holston delegate and chair of the Personnel Resources Team.

Taylor is only the third female bishop to be elected in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and she will be South Carolina Conference's first female bishop. Taylor was one of two women elected bishop at the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, marking the first time the SEJ has elected two women at the same session.

In all, the SEJ elected six episcopal leaders. The first was Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina Conference, later assigned to the Mississippi Conference. The jurisdiction's first female bishop, Charlene Kammerer, was elected in 1996.

"I have been the "first" woman in every position I have ever been in," Taylor told the United Methodist News Service. "I have never followed a woman into an office."

Bishop Ray Chamberlain said that Taylor's election was "a remarkable affirmation of her and of Holston Conference."

"She will bring a wonderful sense of joyfulness to her new role and will strive to bring honor to the office," he said. "Holston Conference can rejoice in its embrace and nurture of her over the years. I join many others in celebrating her election and only regret her loss to this conference. "

Taylor, age 54, has served as Cleveland District superintendent for the past five years. She served as chaplain, Tennessee Wesleyan College, Athens, Tenn., 1975-76; associate pastor, Fountain City UMC, Knoxville, Tenn., 1977-78; pastor, Boones Creek UMC, Gray, Tenn., 1979-82; pastor, Elizabeth Chapel UMC, Bluff City, Tenn., 1983-86; pastor, St. Luke UMC, Kingsport, Tenn., 1987-88; co-pastor, Wesley Memorial UMC, Chattanooga, Tenn., 1989-95; and pastor, Beaver Ridge UMC, Knoxville, Tenn., 1996-98.

She has been chair 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 as chair of the conference Council on Finance and Administration. 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 has been married for 31 years to the Rev. Rusty Taylor, senior pastor at First Cleveland UMC. The Taylors' two children, Tiffany, a rising sophomore at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Mandy, an interior designer in Greenville, S.C., attended the consecration service on July 17.

"Thirty years ago, we said that we would serve the church in any way and go wherever we needed to go," Rusty Taylor said shortly after his wife's consecration. "And we meant that."

As the last bishop elected at the jurisdic-ional conference, Taylor told United Methodist News Service that she felt a "keen sense of God's presence throughout this process."

My dream is that the church will be a vibrant, active community of faith working together. When I picture that church it has all colors, all ages - all sorts of folks working together in the name of Christ, reaching out around the world."

Taylor's assignment to South Carolina is effective Sept. 1. She will reside in Columbia, S.C. The Rev. Charles Lippse, retired clergy member from Chattanooga, will serve as Cleveland District Superintendent through June 2005.

United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.


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