Seawright named 133rd AME bishop
Brandywine pastor appointed to Alabama’s ninth episcopal district
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.
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.