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The Rev. Leonard Fairley is congratulated by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Raleigh Episcopal Area and retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn following his election as a United Methodist bishop at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on July 13 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Photo by Derek Leek, North Carolina Conference

Photo by Derek Leek, North Carolina Conference

The Rev. Leonard Fairley is congratulated by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Raleigh Episcopal Area and retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn following his election as a United Methodist bishop at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on July 13 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Leonard Fairley elected as United Methodist bishop

By LeeAnne Thornton
July 13, 2016 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

The Rev. Leonard Fairley, Capital District superintendent in the North Carolina Conference, has been elected a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

Fairley, 59, was elected July 13 at the jurisdiction’s quadrennial meeting at Lake Junaluska. On the seventh ballot, he received 246 of 375 votes cast.

“My request for you, my brothers and sisters, is to pray for me that I might live into the fruit of the Spirit,” he told the delegates. He added that he believes The United Methodist Church’s best days are still ahead.

Fairley was the third bishop, and the second African American, elected in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Delegates from nine Southern states began voting on July 13. Later in the week, the Southeastern Jurisdiction will announce the assignment of bishops for the next four years. His four-year term of service begins Sept. 1.

Fairley has been the superintendent of the Capital District since 2015. As the Capital District superintendent, Fairley serves as the chief missional strategist and spiritual and administrative leader to 96 churches and 134 pastors in a geographic area that includes Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Clayton, Smithfield, Benson, Goldsboro, Knightdale and Wendell. The North Carolina Conference includes churches in 56 eastern North Carolina counties.

A native of Laurinburg, North Carolina, he was the third of nine children born into poverty. He told delegates that his neighborhood was the sort that police were reluctant to visit, but church members did, and they invited him to vacation Bible school as a youngster.

He said in his official biography he is “water-washed and Spirit-born,” and God has led him “to this great work of ministry, learning daily to see the possibilities and live the promise.”

Fairley graduated from Scotland High School in Laurinburg and received a Bachelor of Arts from Pfeiffer University and a Masters of Divinity from Duke. Previously, he has served as pastor at the Sanford Circuit, St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Hamlet, Soapstone United Methodist Church in Raleigh, and Saint Francis United Methodist in Cary. He also has been the Rockingham District superintendent.

He has published a book of poetry, “Who Shall Hear My Voice.” He also was a contributing writer to “The Day the Earth Moved Haiti: From Havoc to Healing.”

He was married to his lifelong soulmate, Priscilla Ann Russell, before she died in 2013. He has two adult children and three grandchildren.

A consecration service for the five new bishops will be held at 10 a.m. EDT Friday, July 15, at Lake Junaluska. The ceremony can be watched live at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center’s website.

Within the United States, local United Methodist churches are organized into increasingly larger groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and five jurisdictions. An episcopal area can include one or more conferences.

Thirteen active bishops now lead the 15 annual conferences that form the Southeastern Jurisdiction. A United Methodist bishop in the United States is elected for life. Typically, a bishop will serve a specific episcopal area for eight years, but can serve as long as 12 years in one area.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.”

Bishops provide oversight and support to The United Methodist Church’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They also are charged to work “for the unity of the church” and to “be the shepherd of the whole flock.”

The states represented in this jurisdiction are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

“I’ll say what my grandmother used to say, ‘Pray my strength in the Lord.' ”

Thornton is communications strategist for the North Carolina Conference.