Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett visited the campus of Memphis Theological Seminary last month to share the story of her leadership in the North Alabama Conference of the UMC with our students. While she was here, Bishop Wallace-Padgett and other officials from her annual conference were also able to learn more about the ongoing work of the Methodist House of Studies at MTS.

The North Alabama Conference sends a lot of students to MTS. So we were glad to have Bishop Wallace-Padgett on campus to show her how the Methodist House is working to become a vital resource for the church, both in our training of men and women for pastoral ministry and in our outreach to congregations. It was also just exciting for our students to have a UM bishop on campus. Her address at our Methodist House luncheon gave the students a chance to engage her in conversation in an intimate setting.

Bishop Wallace-Padgett speaking with MTS students on February 3, 2015

Bishop Wallace-Padgett speaking with MTS students on February 3, 2015

Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s message was focused on sharing the Ministry Action Plan of the North Alabama Conference. While that plan has a comprehensive set of commitments regarding the vision, mission, and values of the annual conference, what I found most intriguing was the bishop’s comments about her personal views on leadership. Here are a few of them:

  • On a personal connection with Christ: “For me, I could not do what I do if I did not have a daily experience with Jesus Christ.”
  • On ongoing spiritual formation: “Whatever your leadership role, it is critical that the spiritual part of you is healthy and growing. Spiritual formation is key.”
  • On the renewal of leaders: “For an annual conference to be renewed, it is crucial that the conference’s leaders are experiencing renewal on a daily basis.”
  • On ministry with a holy urgency: “We live in a world where it is urgent that we share the good news of Jesus Christ at every opportunity.”
  • In answer to a student’s question about how we can get people in our churches to take the Holy Spirit seriously: “A starting point is acknowledging that without the Holy Spirit breathing life into us, we are dead in the water. We must have a sense of absolute reliance on the person and power of the Holy Spirit.”

In many ways, Bishop Wallace-Padgett exhibits the very best in United Methodist episcopal leadership. She is clearly focused on a mission only oriented future for her annual conference, yet she is spiritually grounded enough to be aware of the nuances and complexities of people and situations around her. I had had the good fortune to work with Bishop Wallace-Padgett last year in organizing the Aldersgate Covenant Gathering in Kansas City, Missouri. I got to see her at the Methodist House luncheon in a different light — sharing her vision for the church that she leads, and interacting as a true shepherd in a conversation with up-and-coming pastoral leaders who were eager to engage one of the UMC’s episcopal leaders.

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Events of this type are exactly what we want to do more of in the Methodist House of Studies. After all, not all formation for ministry happens around the seminar table in a classroom. Breaking bread together, engaging in conversation about matters of real importance, and shared fellowship are all vital aspects of how best to train men and women for pastoral leadership in the church.

For other posts about the Methodist House of Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, click here.