Seawright named 133rd AME bishop

Brandy­wine pas­tor ap­pointed to Alabama’s ninth epis­co­pal dis­trict

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

Prince Ge­orge’s County’s own Harry L. Seawright was elected and con­se­crated the 133rd bishop of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal (AME) Church July 11 dur­ing the 50th Qua­dren­nial Ses­sion of the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence, AME Church in Philadel­phia.

Seawright, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion AME who is pas­tor of Union Bethel AME Church in Brandy­wine, has been ap­pointed to the ninth epis­co­pal dis­trict in Alabama where he will pre­side over 200 churches through­out the Alabama River Re­gion, South­east Alabama, North­east Alabama, South­west Alabama and North­west Alabama. This makes him the sec­ond bishop ever to be elected on the first bal­lot since Bishop John Hurst Adams in 1972, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from Seawright’s chief campaign ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Hav­ing re­mained com­mit­ted and con­sis­tent to the Lord’s call on his life, Seawright started his jour­ney to­ward be­com­ing a bishop in 2006, a 10-year campaign he says was an act of faith.

“[My call­ing to min­istry is based on] three things: to en­able, em­power and en­cour­age peo­ple,” said the Swansea, a South Carolina na­tive, in a phone in­ter­view. “I hope to do the same now that I will serve on the dis­trict level.”

The Epis­co­pal Church is a con­nec­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion where each lo­cal church is a part of the larger connection. The bish­ops are the chief of­fi­cers of the con­nec­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion and elected for life by a ma­jor­ity vote of the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence, which meets ev­ery four years. Bish­ops are bound by the laws of the

church to re­tire upon the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence near­est their 75th birth­day. Pas­tors re­ceive a yearly ap­point­ment to a charge, or church, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the pre­sid­ing elder and with the ap­proval and fi­nal ap­point­ment of the bishop. The pas­tor is in full charge of the church and is an ex-of­fi­cial mem­ber of all boards, or­ga­ni­za­tions and clubs of that church.

To­day, the Epis­co­pal Church has mem­ber­ship in 20 epis­co­pal dis­tricts, 39 coun­tries and on five con­ti­nents. Its mis­sion is to min­is­ter to the spir­i­tual, in­tel­lec­tual, phys­i­cal, emo­tional and en­vi­ron­men­tal needs of all peo­ple by spread­ing Christ’s gospel through word and deeds. The church evolved out the spirit of the orig­i­nal Free African So­ci­ety — that is, to seek out and save the lost and serve the needy. It be­lieves in the motto, “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Com­forter, Hu­mankind Our Fam­ily,” ac­cord­ing to the AME Church web­site.

“By all means, that’s what we call com­mu­nity em­pow­er­ment,” Seawright said. “That’s why the theme is to en­able and en­cour­age and em­power peo­ple so that we can do just those things — coun­ter­act the vi­o­lence, en­cour­age peo­ple to im­prove their lives, en­cour­age our com­mu­ni­ties to be a bet­ter place to live in. All of those things and I want to min­is­ter to the needs of all peo­ple, from chil­dren to se­niors to mar­ried cou- ples to sin­gle peo­ple, men, women, chil­dren, youth and young adults.”

Seawright has spent 40 years in min­istry, spe­cial­iz­ing in com­mu­nity lead­er­ship, church con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment. His af­fil­i­a­tions in­clude in­terim pas­tor of St. Stephen AME Church in St. Matthews, S.C.; staff min­is­ter at Reid Tem­ple AME Church in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; as­sis­tant to the pas­tor at Pil­grim AME Church in D.C. for three years; pas­tor of Payne Memo­rial AME Church in D.C. for two years; and pas­tor of Hem­ing­way Tem­ple AME Church in D.C. for three years.

In 1991, Seawright led Union Bethel in the con­struc­tion of a $1.6 mil­lion sanc­tu­ary. Union Bethel then opened a satel­lite church, Union Bethel North, pre­vi­ously known as Union Bethel In­ter- gen­er­a­tional Cen­ter Inc., in 2001 in Tem­ple Hills. This fa­cil­ity fea­tures a ban­quet hall for spe­cial events and is the for­mer home of the church’s non­profit cer­ti­fied HUD Hous­ing Coun­sel­ing Pro­gram of­fice, now lo­cated in Camp Springs.

“I’m an em­ployer. I’m an entrepreneur with 100 em­ploy­ees and we want to con­tinue to do things that will bring em­pow­er­ment to peo­ple by cre­at­ing jobs,” he said. “Even de­velop ways to coun­ter­act men­tal ill­ness and deal with all of the so­cial con­cerns through ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, job training pro­grams and en­cour­age­ment to peo­ple as we have done through our church by pro­vid­ing schol­ar­ships.”

When it comes to ad­dress­ing men­tal ill­ness and re­lated is­sues ev­i­dent in to­day’s so­ci­ety, Seawright said it’s all about col­lab­o­rat­ing and de­vel­op­ing mod­els at the na­tional level. Of­fer­ing work­shops and one-on- one coun­sel­ing for de­pres­sion, lone­li­ness and low self-es­teem is one way to help deal with so­cial con­cerns, he said.

“I feel that it’s an equal play­ing field. There’s a great need world­wide, I think,” said Seawright, a 2015 re­cip­i­ent of Howard Univer­sity School of Divin­ity Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion’s Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice in Pas­toral Min­istry Award. “Even with the po­lice shoot­ings and the num­ber of per­sons who have been shot by po­lice, all of that goes back to the root of men­tal break­down, frus­tra­tion, heartache and we not un­der­stand­ing each other. … All of that is a part of the im­prove­ments that need to be made.”

For Seawright, pas­tors are change agents who can bring about a lot of lead­er­ship skills needed in the com­mu­nity. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­body work­ing to­gether, he said.

“It be­comes so much more im­por­tant be­cause we can ac­com­plish so much more to­gether than we can sep­a­rated,” Seawright said.

A hus­band, father of two and grand­fa­ther of one, Seawright said he ap­pre­ci­ates the sup­port, prayers and sac­ri­fices his fam­ily has made for him, in­clud­ing his ex­tended fam­ily at Union Bethel AME. He said his last ser­mon will be on Sun­day, Aug. 7, in which he hopes to leave be­hind a le­gacy, sense of hope and de­ter­mi­na­tion for the church as it con­tin­ues to reach higher heights.

“I want to thank them for help­ing mold and shape me,” he said. “I’m grate­ful for the South­ern Mary­land area, hav­ing served that area for the past 30 years. It’s been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Bishop-elects sur­round Seawright as he is con­se­crated the 133rd AME Church bishop dur­ing the 50th Qua­dren­nial Ses­sion of the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church July 11 at the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Philadel­phia.

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF COLIN PEART

Rev. Harry L. Seawright was elected the 133rd bishop of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church on the first bal­lot, which makes him the sec­ond bishop to ever be elected on the first bal­lot since Bishop John Hurst Adams was elected in 1972. Seawright, pas­tor of Union Bethel AME Church in Brandy­wine and Tem­ple Hills, started his jour­ney to­wards be­com­ing a bishop in 2006. He has been as­signed to the Ninth Epis­co­pal Dis­trict which serves the great peo­ple of Alabama River Re­gion, South­east Alabama, North­east Alabama, South­west Alabama, and North­west Alabama. Seawright will give his last ser­mon at Union Bethel AME on Aug. 7.

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