By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
Bishop James Swanson Sr., the incoming bishop of the Mississippi Conference of United Methodist churches, says he sees his assignment as “a great opportunity.”
Coming from the smaller Holston conference, which touches portions of Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, Swanson identifies with the spirit of the Mississippi Conference, and anticipates a good fit.
“I really identify with their emphasis on mission,” Swanson said in an interview this week with the Daily Journal. “The conference has a heart for mission, a hunger to spread the gospel.”
Swanson said he tries not to come into a situation with preconceived notions. He plans to spend time assessing human resources and feeling the “pulse of the people.”
“I’m keeping my eyes and ears open, so together we can build a consensus about God’s direction for us,” Swanson said.
As for the declining membership among Methodist churches, Swanson will call on local churches to reach out and start new congregations. Since being elected a bishop in 2004, Swanson said he has seen that the most effective way to improve membership is through starting new congregations, so he will assist local churches that are already strong and vibrant in replicating themselves.
“In Mississippi, many churches were started by other churches, by volunteers who planted a church where there wasn’t one,” Swanson said.
He will also help existing congregations to become re-energized, innovative, and intentional, he said.
“The population isn’t shrinking,” he said, “We are shrinking.”
Prior to his position as bishop, he spent 14 years as pastor of St. Mary’s Road UMC in Columbus, Ga. With the help of his leadership, the church increased its membership from 16 active members to 950. In addition, Swanson co-chaired a task force on gang activity.
From there, he served as superintendent of the Savannah district of the South Georgia conference from 2001-2004.
A native of Houston, Texas, Swanson earned his Bachelor of Science from Southern Bible College and attended the C.H. Mason Seminary, ITC, in Atlanta for his Master of Divinity. Currently, he is working to acquire a Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism from the Perkins School of Theology, a branch of Southern Methodist University.
Swanson will move to Mississippi in late August to assume his post on Sept. 1.