Bishop R. Lawson Bryan begins serving as South Georgia’s bishop
Bishop Robert Lawson Bryan began his role as South Georgia Conference’s episcopal leader Thursday, Sept. 1 and will serve as the conference’s bishop for the next four years. He succeeds Bishop James R. King, Jr., who retired after serving eight years as South Georgia’s episcopal leader.
Bishop Bryan was elected bishop Wednesday, July 13 at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference’s quadrennial meeting at Lake Junaluska, N.C. On the tenth ballot, Bishop Bryan, 66, received 256 of 375 votes cast.
He previously served as senior pastor of Montgomery First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in the Alabama West-Florida Conference.
Following his election he stated, “It is an honor to be elected by colleagues in our jurisdiction and to see God at work. For the past year, I have referenced Ephesians 2:5, ‘Alive Together in Christ’ and ask for your prayers as I seek God’s will as a leader in our SEJ Conference.”
On Sept. 1, Bishop Bryan become one of 13 active bishops serving the episcopal areas of the 15 annual conferences that make up the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
“The opportunity to participate in the episcopal election process over the past year has been a great blessing to me,” Bishop Bryan said. “This truly is a spiritual discernment process. I have grown spiritually as I have prayerfully reflected on the questions and discussions. I am grateful to the delegates who served Christ and the Church so diligently. The experience of being elected and consecrated is still amazing to me. I would echo the words of one delegate who said, ‘the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable as the SEJ conference acted with a sense of unity and hope.’”
It took only one day and 10 ballots to elect five bishops on what was a historic day in Stuart Auditorium on the campus of Lake Junaluska. Among the five new bishops is Bishop Sharma Lewis, the first African-American female bishop elected by the Southeastern Jurisdiction. In addition to Bishops Bryan and Lewis, the jurisdiction elected Bishops David Graves, Leonard Fairley, and Sue Haupert-Johnson.
The conference’s work wasn’t over when the ballots were counted, though. The Committee on Episcopacy still had to convene and decide who would be assigned where and important matters – like the budget – were still before the conference.
“Two words describe my response to Bishop Bryan’s assignment to South Georgia: ‘ecstatic’ and ‘grateful,’” said Rev. Robert Beckum, head of the conference’s episcopacy committee, a member of the jurisdictional conference delegation, and senior pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus. “My overall takeaway from Jurisdiction Conference was the privilege Larry Price and I had to work through the week with the Committee on Episcopacy. Work in the committee was the most genuine experience of ‘holy conferencing.’ The committee’s work was in a profound sense of community, prayer, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The SEJ Committee on Episcopacy was the best of our Church at work.”
This is a “homecoming,” in a sense, for Bishop Bryan. Born just across the Georgia-Florida border in Quincy, Fla., Bishop Bryan spent his early years in Bainbridge before moving to Dothan, Ala. at 12.
“I thank God for the opportunity to serve alongside the faithful laity and clergy of the South Georgia Conference,” he said. “My connections to the conference go all the way back to my childhood. And it is not lost on me that South Georgia includes the area where John and Charles Wesley landed in America and where they worked for several years. Sherrill and I thank the conference for the radical hospitality that has already been extended to us. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:5, we are ‘alive together in Christ.’ Thank you for your prayers as we make this exciting transition to the wonderful South Georgia Conference.”
Bishop Bryan holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Tulane University and a doctorate in ministry from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His service to the church and community includes:
1975 – Associate Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Opelika, Alabama
1976 – Pastor, Hiland Park United Methodist Church, Panama City, Florida
1980 – Pastor, Dexter Avenue United Methodist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
1986 – Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Brewton, Alabama
1990 – Pastor, Ashland Place United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama
1997 – Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Dothan, Alabama
2007 – Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
Alabama-West Florida Conference Leadership
Chaired Alabama-West Florida Conference Council on Ministries, 1996-98
Served as board chair, Academy for Congregational Excellence, 2011-present
Dothan District Committee on Ministry, Chair, 2000-2006
Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Ministry, 1980-88; 2000-2012
Huntingdon College Board of Trustees, 2001-present
Chaired Board of Ordained Ministry, Alabama West-Florida Conference, 2007-2009
Participant and Leader in Three-year Covenant Community for Spiritual Growth
Developed partnership between First United Methodist Church Montgomery and Huntingdon College to provide intern program
Organized and hosted annual Pan-Methodist Pentecost Service
Southeastern Jurisdiction Leadership
Chaired Southeastern Jurisdiction Larger Church Consultation, 2001-2002
General Church Leadership
General Conference delegate in 2012 and 2016
Chaired Financial Administration Sub-committee at General Conference 2016
Local Church and Community Leadership
Leadership Mobile, Class of 1992
Chaired the Alzheimer’s Association “Walk to Remember,” 2000-2001
Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors, 2002-2005
Member of Downtown Rotary Club of Montgomery, 2007-present
Chaired Believe It! Montgomery, community partnership for public schools
Author of Pursuing Science, Finding Faith
Member of the Committee of 100 – Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Member of Leadership Alabama
Teaching Parish Supervisor – Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Chaired the Visioning Team for Adult Respite Ministry of First UMC Montgomery
A United Methodist bishop in the United States is elected for life. Bishops have a mandatory retirement age of 68 to 72, depending on when their birthday falls. Bishop Bryan will serve as an active bishop for four years, and he told delegate he plans to start working immediately.
Bishops are charged by the church’s Book of Discipline to “lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs” of the church and to “guard, transmit, teach and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically.”
Alabama-West Florida - Bishop David Graves
Charlotte - Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Florida - Bishop Ken Carter
Columbia - Bishop Jonathan Holston
Holston - Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
Louisville - Bishop Leonard Fairley
Mississippi - Bishop James Swanson
Nashville - Bishop Bill McAlilly
North Georgia - Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
Raleigh - Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Richmond - Bishop Sharma Lewis
Birmingham - Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett
South Georgia - Bishop Lawson Bryan
Mary Catherine Phillips, director of communications with the Alabama-West Florida Conference of The UMC, contributed to the story.