LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Rev. Dr. Robin Dease, senior pastor of St. Andrew By-The-Sea UMC in Hilton Head Island, was elected Thursday as a bishop of The United Methodist Church by delegates to the 2022 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
Delegates elected Dease, 54, during the jurisdiction’s meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, on the 25th ballot after two full days of voting. She received 206 votes out of 343 valid ballots cast – exactly the number needed to be elected (60 percent of valid ballots).
Bishop-Elect Dease – nominated as a write-in on the first ballot on Wednesday – was the third bishop elected by SEJ delegates, following the Rev. Tom Berlin of the Virginia Conference and the Rev. Connie Shelton of the Mississippi Conference. She is the first bishop elected from the South Carolina Conference since Bishop William Willimon’s election in 2004.
“Whenever I had the opportunity to lead or to serve, I would run home to my parents…and they’d say, ‘Now, don’t go down there and make us ’shamed!’” Dease told delegates upon her election. “My commitment to you is: I will never make you ’shamed.”
Struggling to speak through tears, Dease thanked her fellow delegates for the honor, noting that her parents and most of her 13 siblings had all joined the Church Triumphant, with those remaining physically incapable of being there.
“But you are my family,” she said to resounding applause. Then, looking to the Rev. Ken Nelson, the endorsed nominee of the South Carolina Conference, in the audience, she added, “And Ken is my brother and my friend.”
Rev. Nelson was one of the first persons Dease embraced when the final ballot was announced.
“The South Carolina Conference is deeply elated to elect a faithful and fruitful leader who will help lead our church into the future,” he said. “We pray God’s blessings and promise our support along the way.”
Jackie Jenkins, lay delegate from St. Mark UMC in St. George and head of South Carolina’s SEJ delegation, said Palmetto State United Methodists are celebrating.
“In South Carolina, we are blessed with clergy who are committed to Wesleyan theology, spirituality and practices, and Robin Dease epitomizes those qualities,” Jenkins said. “Her election is a blessing for South Carolina – but even more so, it is a blessing for The United Methodist Church.”
Dease, who served as superintendent of the Hartsville District for eight years before her appointment as senior pastor of St. Andrew By-The-Sea, was born in Brooklyn, New York. After moving to South Carolina, she graduated from Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1992. She earned a master of divinity degree and a doctor of ministry degree in stewardship from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
She joined the South Carolina Conference in 1992, became a full-time local pastor in 1998, and was ordained an elder in 2001. She has served as pastor of Wesley UMC in Johns Island (1998-2008), John Wesley UMC in Greenville (2008-2012), and St. Andrew By-The-Sea UMC in Hilton Head (2021-present). She also has served as superintendent of the Hartsville District (2013-2021), and in 2012, was interim chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Claflin University in Orangeburg.
Her appointment as senior pastor at St. Andrew By-The-Sea made her the first African-American woman to serve as lead pastor of a historically white United Methodist church in South Carolina.
Dease has been involved in numerous denominational and conference boards and committees, and has been active in other organizations in the communities where she has served (Ministerial Alliance, Chamber of Commerce, United Way Faith-Based Committee).
She was elected by the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s 364 total delegates – an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, from the nine states forming the Southeastern Jurisdiction. The assignments of bishops in the Southeastern Jurisdiction for the next two years were scheduled to be announced on Friday. Dease’s two-year term of service begins Jan. 1. In the United States, bishops are elected to serve for life.