North Alabama Methodists welcome first female bishop
by Brett Buckner
Special to The Star
Sep 01, 2012 | 2719 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Rev. Debra Wallace-Padgett likes to consider herself a work in progress; a woman of faith who is “still being shaped and changed into the person God designed me to be.”

Wallace-Padgett’s faith journey has taken a new turn as the Kentucky native was recently elected bishop of the Southeastern Judicial Conference of the United Methodist Church and was appointed to the North Alabama Conference. Today marks her first official day in office.

Upon learning of her election in mid-July, Wallace-Padgett was “humbled and excited” about the job that lies ahead for her.

A mother of two, Wallace-Padgett, it could be said, has UMC ministry in her blood. Her husband, the Rev. Lee Padgett, is the executive director of the Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center located about an hour from Lexington, Ky., and she’s a the daughter, sister and niece of United Methodist clergy.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you the first female bishop elected to this particular post?

A: Several women have been elected to serve as bishop in the United Methodist Church over the past 32 years. I am the fourth woman elected from the Southeastern jurisdiction, the first woman elected from Kentucky and the first woman assigned to North Alabama. The committee that assigns the bishops to specific conferences does so based on the missional needs of the conferences and the gifts and graces of the bishops they are assigning. The committee believes that my gifts and graces are a match for the missional needs of the North Alabama Conference

Q: I understand that you’ve only just been elected and your assignment won’t officially begin until Sept. 1, but what issues are you looking forward to addressing?

A: The biggest issue that the United Methodist Church faces today is developing greater effectiveness in accomplishing our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style — what makes you a good selection as bishop for this particular area?

A: Leadership disciplines define how I lead. Collaborating leadership involves developing a strong team. Enabling systemic change starts with drawing the right blueprint by clearly and accurately defining a system’s major parts. Facilitating cohesiveness requires designing a unit that works together. Executing with integrity involves not only saying the right words but doing the right things. Growing in grace occurs as God works in and through us. North Alabama has many competent lay and clergy leaders. My leadership style will access and empower those leaders as we work together in moving toward the Conference’s mission.

Q: For those who might not fully understand, can you describe the responsibilities of a bishop?

A: Bishops provide spiritual and administrative leadership in the United Methodist Church. Among other responsibilities this includes leading the church toward fulfilling its mission and presiding at annual, jurisdictional and general conference sessions.

Q: How much of an adjustment are you expecting there to be when transitioning from a pastor to a bishop who will be leading literally hundreds of churches?

A: It will be a big adjustment both in the scope of ministry that I oversee and the leadership strategy for accomplishing it. The North Alabama Conference District Superintendents and staff will be tremendous assets as we make this transition together.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your background. Tell me a little about your childhood. Your father was a minister — when did you realize you wanted to follow in his footsteps?

A: Originally I served as a diaconal minister with a specialty in Christian Education. Then after hearing God calling me to preach, I returned to seminary and prepared for pastoral ministry. It did not register with me until after seminary that I was following in my Dad’s footsteps. I have always admired both of my parents in their service to the church. (My mother has served as an adult Sunday school teacher, vacation Bible school director, disciple Bible study leader and Christian education strategist for many years. My sad has been a pastor for 50 plus years).

Q: Tell me what you love most about UMC and how you see its role in the future?

A: I love many things about the United Methodist Church including:

The understanding that we open ourselves to experience God more fully as we regularly practice holy habits like prayer, Scripture reading, worship, giving, service, fasting;

The call to make a positive difference in the world;

The global nature of the church;

The emphasis on accountability in the context of a deep understanding of God’s grace and so much more. The role of the United Methodist Church is to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do that, the lives of more and more individuals will be changed and we will make a greater and greater difference in the world.
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North Alabama Methodists welcome first female bishop by Brett Buckner
Special to The Star