Bishop James Swanson assigned to Holston Area
"I predict that when the story of Holston Conference is written, Bishop Swanson will be remembered as the most beloved bishop in its history."
Bishop Ray Chamberlain,
in a special letter to Holston
By Annette Bender
A district superintendent from South Georgia who once pastored a church that grew from 12 in average worship attendance to 525 has been assigned to lead Holston Conference for the next four years.
James Swanson, age 54, was elected bishop by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church on July 14. He was assigned to the Holston Area and immediately consecrated with five other newly elected bishops during a service on July 17.
Endorsed by the South Georgia Conference, Swanson received 349 of 556 votes cast on the fourth ballot. He was the third bishop to be elected on the first day of the conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Members of the Holston delegation numbering 32 among 556 total Southeastern Jurisdictional delegates said they favored Swanson as their new episcopal leader before a committee made it official.
"Our delegation has pretty much been of one mind that he was our first choice," said the Rev. Dan Taylor, delegate and Big Stone Gap District superintendent.
"He's a strong leader. He's worked in a diverse population. He's bold," Taylor said. "I firmly believe that this is the man who can pick up where Bishop Chamberlain left off and take us into the 21st century."
Swanson is Holston Conference's second African-American bishop. Bishop Scott Allen served Holston from 1969 to 1976.
Swanson has served as superintendent of the Savannah District of the South Georgia Conference since 2001. 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., from 1988 to 2001, leading the congregation to grow from 12 members to 950.
"My dream is to see the United Methodist Church turn this declining membership around," Swanson said soon after his election. "I really feel we have a message that the world needs to hear. We believe in personal salvation. We are so committed to social justice."
"The church has a mission to make a difference in the world," he said, adding, "I want to see the church having fun doing that, that's my dream."
Swanson 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.
Bishop Ray Chamberlain and others in the conference praised Swanson and the vision he could provide for Holston from 2004 to 2008.
"He comes with vision, vigor, immense goodwill and faith," Chamberlain stated in a letter to Holston Conference (see page 5). After serving Holston since 1996, Chamberlain will retire on Sept. 1. "I relinquish with an enormous sigh of relief my responsibilities to him, for my prayer is answered that Holston Conference receive a great spiritual leader."
"This is a new day for Holston," said Steve Hodges, alternate delegate and director of the Jubilee Project.
Swanson is married to Delphine Yvonne Ramsey. They have six children and seven grandchildren. Although Swanson's assignment in Holston does not take effect until Sept. 1, he is expected to arrive at the Knoxville episcopal residence in midAugust to enroll his younger children in school.
Holston members are invited to attend a "Service Celebrating the Assignment of Bishop James Edward Swanson Sr." on Saturday, Sept. 25, at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tenn. The service begins at 2 p.m.
United Methodist News Service contributed to this report. For additional stories about this month?s elections in the United Methodist Church, see page 6.
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