Swanson’s Sermon Uplifts SEJ Conference


By: Matthew Johnson. Connectional and Communications Assistant

Episcopal leader of the Mississippi Area, Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. preaches opening worship. 
On Wednesday, November 2, the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional, SEJ, Conference convened at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina. As the elder bishop in the college, Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. presided over his last opening worship service at the SEJ Conference as an active bishop. Worship consisted of responsive reading, songs, a sermon from Swanson and Communion was officiated by Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett. The worship service ushered in the Holy Spirit to guide the decisions of the delegates and the business of the conference. Bishop Swanson’s inspirational sermon during the worship service reassured delegates and bishops that God is with us and there is nothing to fear.
Episcopal leader of the North Alabama and Holston Conferences, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, officiates the Eucharist during opening worship.

The scripture lesson at the heart of Bishop Swanson's message came from John 15. In this chapter, Jesus assures the disciples that even though he is about to leave them they should not be afraid.

“Uncertainty about this new moment is expected,” Swanson reminded listeners of the disciples' anxiousness about the upcoming death of their leader. “Jesus sensed the fear in the disciples’ hearts.”

The SEJ, made up of 14 annual conferences, has the vital task of choosing leadership for episcopal vacancies. At a time when many churches have or are considering disaffiliation many in The United Methodist Church are unsure how to move forward or what the church will look like when all is said and done. Swanson informed the conference not to be apprehensive, but to move forward boldly, and that there can only be progress through the power of God’s Spirit.
Attendees participate in Communion during opening worship.

“You can’t fulfill the mission Jesus has called you to if you are filled with fear,” said Swanson. “A world filled with fear needs a fearless church. In the midst of everything, forget your agenda and say to the Lord 'let your will be done.'”

Swanson concluded his sermon by sharing his own faith story. After serving as bishop of the Holston Conference, Swanson and his wife, Mrs. Delphine Swanson, were uncertain about what the next phase of their life would be. At the 2012 SEJ Conference, Swanson was assigned to be bishop of the Mississippi Conference.
Worship leaders praise during opening worship service. 
Being the first African American to serve in that role, some thought the Swansons would experience extreme resistance and racism. Moving forward with godly confidence, the Swansons moved to Mississippi and received a loving welcome that continued their whole 10 years there.
Bishop Swanson’s sermon was a wake-up call to the SEJ Conference. Do not let the fear of the unknown rule, but progress boldly knowing that God is leading the way and will not fail. He reminded listeners that Jesus still speaks with us like he did in his final message to the disciples, and we will never be alone.
Bishop Swanson presides during the opening business session.
Swanson called the 2022 SEJ Conference's opening business session to order and the bar was set at 10:54 a.m. 

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