New Bishop May Renew Methodists
Wallace-Padgett blazes Trail
by Greg Garrison
The Rev. Debra Wallace-Padgett, elected the first woman bishop for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, said she hopes to work toward renewal in the church.
She will take office Sept. 1, succeeding Bishop William Willimon, who retires at the end of August.
“The United Methodist Church in the United States is ripe for renewal,” said Wallace-Padgett, who was consecrated Friday as a bishop after her election Wednesday night.
The 7.8 million-member United Methodist Church, the nation’s third-largest denomination after Catholics and Southern Baptists, has lost millions of members over the past several decades.
Wallace-Padgett said she looks forward to working toward renewal in North Alabama, which has 139,535 members in 739 churches.
“As local churches that need revitalization are revitalized, that’ll happen,” she said. “We need to work on new church plants and new worship services. That’s the way that can be turned around.”
Wallace-Padgett has been pastor of the 1,700-member St. Luke United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky., for eight years. “It’s a growing, thriving church,” she said.
She graduated from Berea College with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and has a master’s degree in Christian education from Scarritt College, a master of divinity degree from Lexington Theological Seminary and a doctorate of ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary. “We’re excited about her,” said lay church leader Gloria Holt of Trussville, who served on a committee with Wallace-Padgett at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. “She is an answered prayer. We think she has the gifts and grace we need. She has great leadership ability; she’s a collaborative leader.” Wallace-Padgett also served as a district superintendent in Kentucky.
“Being a pastor of a large church gives you key experience,” said the Rev. Bill Morgan, pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook, who was also on the committee with Padgett. “She was a district superintendent who took part in making ministerial appointments. That’s probably one of the most critical things for a bishop. She understands we need someone to hold us to high standards of accountability.”
North Alabama needed someone who could follow up on the work of Willimon, Morgan said.
“We’ve been pushed to see the big picture and how we need to change,” Morgan said. “We don’t want to lose any of that.”
Wallace-Padgett’s husband, the Rev. Lee Padgett, has supervised a church camp in Kentucky for more than 20 years. They have two children, Leanndra, 20, and Andrew, 17.
North Alabama United Methodists were ready for their first woman bishop, Morgan said.
“I think it’s very significant,” he said. “The time has come. There’s a sense of readiness. It’s the right time for us.”
The new bishop said she’s not very familiar with Alabama yet. “I look forward to learning more about Alabama, getting to know the conference, the leaders, the work Bishop Willimon did,” Wallace-Padgett said. “I look forward to getting ready for the next chapter of the conference.”