By Sybil Davidson
This Black History Month, North Georgia United Methodists have an addition to our history to celebrate.
On January 1, 2023, Bishop Robin Dease became the first African American bishop to serve the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and the first female African American bishop in our denomination assigned to Georgia.
“While I am honored and grateful to be celebrated as a 'first,' I must recognize there has been a great trail of United Methodist women (clergy and laity) of all colors who, often in anonymity, helped to make my episcopacy possible," said Bishop Dease. "For them, I am eternally grateful and say thank you!"
It is important to note that some of the historically black churches of the North Georgia Annual Conference have been served by African American bishops in their history. Between 1939 and 1971, churches of the Georgia Conference of the Central Jurisdiction were served well by African American bishops. Those bishops' names appear in the Journal of the North Georgia Conference.
Also important to note is the service of Bishop L. Scott Allen, the last bishop elected by the Central Jurisdiction. Bishop Allen, who was assigned to the Holston Annual Conference in 1968, presided alongside Bishop John Owen Smith at the 1971 North Georgia Annual Conference at which the black Georgia Conference and white North Georgia Conference voted to merge.
Bishop Allen’s portrait hangs in the United Methodist Center, as will Bishop Dease’s.
Our current North Georgia Annual Conference Journal explains some of our history:
“ ... in 1939, the black conferences all over the United States were placed in a separate jurisdiction, the Central Jurisdiction. So black and white Methodists in Georgia had very limited contact with each other. That situation prevailed until 1971 when the black Georgia Conference and the white North Georgia Conference merged. During the 1971-72 conference year, the black churches within the bounds of the South Georgia Conference comprised the Georgia Coastal District of the North Georgia Conference, but became a part of the South Georgia Conference in 1972. The 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church did not involve the kinds of changes for the Conference that were involved with other mergers, since there were no EUB churches within the bounds of the North Georgia Conference.” (2022 North Georgia Annual Conference Journal, page 591.)
North Georgia United Methodists take great pride in our Conference’s African American clergy who have been elected to the Episcopacy. These include Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson, Bishop Jonathan Holston, and Bishop Sharma Lewis. Bishop Lewis was the first Black female elected bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC. Additionally, the North Georgia Conference endorsed Rev. Dr. Byron Thomas as an episcopal nominee for the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
Read more about these history-making bishops in the articles below:
Bishop L. Scott Allen