Episcopal leader of the South Georgia Area
As Bishop Graves began his service as the new episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference in 2021, the Advocate asked him a series of questions to get to know him and his guiding principles.
ADVOCATE: Welcome to South Georgia, Bishop Graves! We’ve watched you lead and serve our neighbors in the Alabama-West Florida Conference for the past five years. What are your plans and goals as you begin this new, unique season?
BISHOP GRAVES: I plan to spend part of our time at the Episcopal residence in Macon as Nancy and I are excited to also call Macon home. I have plans to meet clergy and laity this fall at district meetings and to connect with as many people as we can in the midst of the COVID journey. My goal is to help give leadership to pastors and laity so that they can win people to Christ and make disciples. It is essential that I empower leaders to help the church be the church to the community that is dealing with many systemic issues.
ADVOCATE: We welcome, Nancy, to South Georgia, too! Tell us about your family.
BISHOP GRAVES: Nancy and I have been married for 40 years. We have two children. Casey is married to Bryan and Gregg is married to Tracy. We have three grandchildren: Brooks, Lucy, and Hannah. All of my family lives in the East Tennessee area. My parents are both living and reside in Knoxville, Tenn. and are transitioning to a retirement home in the coming weeks.
ADVOCATE: What’s your faith journey?
BISHOP GRAVES: I was born into the Methodist Episcopal South church, confirmed as a United Methodist and have always said I was going to church nine months before I was born. When I was 21 I experienced my heartwarming moment to lean into God’s call for full-time ministry in the UMC. There’s never been a thought about being something else. I was a church custodian and as I was turning the lights off in the sanctuary and pulpit area, I felt God’s calling on my life to be in full-time ministry. I’ve been following Christ for the last 42 years.
ADVOCATE: The South Georgia Conference and the Alabama-West Florida Conference are close geographically but also in other ways. Do you see the two conferences partnering in ministry or in other ways?
BISHOP GRAVES: Our UMC connection is one of our strengths. We have gifted clergy, laity, and conference staff in both conferences. We want to network and share resources when appropriate yet keep our conference identities.
ADVOCATE: Sharing Jesus and leading people to Jesus is your passion. How do you live that passion out as a bishop?
BISHOP GRAVES: This is encapsulated in my personal purpose statement which is, “winning people to Christ; seeing the unseen, transforming lives; and changing this corner of the world.” It’s how I’ve led as a pastor and district superintendent, and how I will lead as a bishop. I’m more focused about living out Matthew 25 and Matthew 28:18-20. I believe that is what is so desperately needed for our churches to model in this season of uncertainty with COVID, racial tension, political divide, and general unrest. We are called to be the apostolic church to share God’s love.
ADVOCATE: Taking on the responsibility of episcopal leadership of two conferences is no small task. How can the laity and clergy of South Georgia pray for you?
BISHOP GRAVES: Thank you for praying for my family and me. I’m a firm believer that we live life as a team. Marriage is a team and I’m blessed with a great partner in Nancy as well as a supportive family. It’s important that as clergy and laity we work as a team and focus on the great commission. That is where I need people to focus their prayer time – that we work together for the greater cause.
ADVOCATE: In these five years, you’ve led through a global pandemic, several natural disasters, racial division and unrest, and more. Where do you see hope? What do you see as the local church’s role in all of this?
BISHOP GRAVES: I see hope in God’s people filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ in their hearts. The heartbeat of ministry is in our local churches. They have the relationships with those in our communities to be able to reach people for Christ. From my perspective the annual conference exists to serve the local church. It’s where I will put my efforts and time into helping our local churches be all they can be to their communities.
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
BISHOP GRAVES: In my free time I like to sleep in my recliner! One of my spiritual disciplines is walking five miles a day. It allows me to restore myself mentally and physically while also serving as a time of exercise, prayer and decompressing. My goal is to walk 2,500 miles in 2021 and I most likely will surpass that. During holidays and vacation time I find myself enjoying our home in Chattanooga and spending time outside. I enjoy yard work and landscaping. I’m a huge Atlanta Braves fan … have been for 53 years and still love the Tennessee Vols despite their athletic unrest. I like to say we’re an academic school now! I also love anything chocolate although that shouldn’t be a hobby, per se.
Thank you for the opportunity to tell a little bit more about myself, and I look forward to hearing your stories and the great ministry occurring in our local churches.