10 Questions for Church Leaders: Bishop Ken Carter

Bishop Ken Carter
Florida Episcopal Area

Bishop Ken Carter

Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. was elected in July of 2012 by the members of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church to the episcopacy, and appointed to serve the Florida Episcopal Area. A native of Georgia, Bishop Carter is a graduate of Columbus College (B.S.), Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.), the University of Virginia (M.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (D.Min.).  In addition, he was awarded an honorary D.D. from the United Methodist University of Liberia.   He was ordained a deacon in the Western North Carolina Conference in 1983 and an elder in 1986.  Subsequently he served a four-point charge, as an associate pastor of missions and evangelism, as a new church planter, and as senior pastor of two large regional churches; his ministry at Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte was described by the historian Diana Butler Bass in her Christianity for the Rest of Us.  Immediately prior to his election as a bishop he was the superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District of the Western North Carolina Conference, which included sixty-nine churches in the seven westernmost counties of the state, all within the region of Appalachia.

A noted author and church leader, Bishop Carter is married to Pam, a gifted minister focused on missions in her own right, and is the proud father of two daughters, Liz and Abby.

1) What is your story of faith? How did you come to faith in Jesus and participation in the UMC?

I grew up in a family where my mother and grandparents lived their faith, at times in difficult circumstances.  Our family began attending a United Methodist Church when my parents’ marriage ended; a friend of my mother’s invited us.  Later, in college, I was asked to serve as youth director at a small but faithful United Methodist Church in the inner city of Columbus, Georgia.  While I was always surrounded by faith and grace, I trace my conscious journey as a disciple to participation in a campus ministry in college that focused on memorizing scripture.

2) What are some of the ways that you work at maintaining and deepening your relationship with God?

I read a chapter of the New Testament each day, usually in the New Revised Standard Version and The Message translation. I try to identify a word or phrase that expresses what the Holy Spirit is saying to me. I begin with Matthew 1 on January 1, and once I’ve reached the end of the New Testament, I begin again with the gospels.

I also love Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, and I try to practice intercession in a pretty intentional way. I also have spent time along the way in silent retreat centers and Benedictine monasteries.

3) Who have been the greatest influences on your life and ministry?

I would begin with my wife, Pam; I trust her instincts and intuition about mission. I have learned a great deal over the years from gifted and visionary laity. I am an extrovert, and there are a number of clergy friends whose ministries have shaped me. Intellectually, I find myself returning again and again to the missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, the theologian Stanley Hauerwas, and the spirituality of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

4) What is the greatest challenge facing the United Methodist Church today and what is your vision for addressing that challenge?

Our greatest challenge is the will, confidence and passion to make disciples of Jesus Christ. I love the description of Lovett Weems about our calling: new disciples, younger disciples, more diverse disciples. If we cannot rediscover the practice of making disciples in the coming years, we will not have the capacity to fulfill the mission to which God is calling us, in response to growing human need, and our voice in the culture about issues that we care about will become increasingly irrelevant.

I am hopeful that we can create networks of teaching churches who have discipling processes, and I am fascinated by the British experience of creating “Fresh Expressions” of Christianity in the culture. I also try to invest time and energy with younger clergy and laity. This is both a joy and a necessity going forward; I also know this is the practice of a number of former and current bishops (Willimon, Goodpaster, Huie, Hagiya, Devadhar).

5) Where to you find hope for the future of the UMC?

I find hope in many of our large and vital churches, some located in challenging contexts. I am grateful for a few of our denominational ministries, such as Africa University and UMCOR. In the Florida Conference, we are blessed with strengths in camping ministries, campus ministries, our covenant relationship with the Methodist Church in Cuba, a number of innovative congregations, and serious engagement with families affected by our present immigration policies. I would add that more than half of the women and men in our ordination class this year are bi-lingual. In an increasingly multicultural world, this gives me hope.

 6) What do you think John Wesley would think about today’s world, and what would he say to our current culture?

Wesley was pretty committed to articulating the way of salvation through the grace of God, and so he would be engaged in articulating the faith. At the same time, he would find practical ways to respond to systemic poverty and injustice, just as be did in 18th century England. Wesley would have assumed that clergy lived in accountable and supportive relationships with each other, so it’s likely he would have rejected our inclination toward solo or “lone ranger” practices of leadership and ministry.

7) Kenda Creasy Dean’s book “Almost Christian” has suggested that we’ve been guilty of promoting a vision of Christianity that has little to do with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. How do we encourage and empower both our clergy and laity to engage in timely and relevant theological conversation?

Intellectual work requires something of us: sacrifice, perseverance, and focus. Our culture does not reinforce any of these habits, and thus clergy and laity engage in theological conversation for its own sake: in the language of the tradition, for “the love of learning and the desire for God”. It is all about knowing scripture and tradition, and trusting the material to be transformative.

8) What are you passionate about — both in your ministry and personal life?

I am passionate about calling forth the gifts of others, and creating opportunities for men and women who are eager to serve God. I am also committed to treating people with dignity, and creating systems where people are treated with dignity. I am reaching the place in life where it really is not about me, rather it’s mostly about discerning about placing clergy and laity in roles where they, but more importantly the mission will flourish.

9) What would people be surprised to find out about you?

My great-grandfather was a Congregational minister; my grandfather was a Pacifist with Quaker sensibilities; and my mother is a Baptist, and very active in her local church. I am a first generation United Methodist, drawn to this way of life by our deep, lifelong and inclusive doctrine of grace, and our connectionalism which broadens our mission and helps us to be accountable to each other.

10) What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

I grew up in Georgia, and there is nothing like homemade Peach Ice Cream!



Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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