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SEJ coverage: Florida UMC leaders remembered

SEJ coverage: Florida UMC leaders remembered

A former bishop and two others with ties to the episcopacy and Florida were remembered at a memorial service Thursday during the morning session of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C.

The service, a tradition at the meeting held primarily to elect and assign bishops for annual conferences in nine states, recognizes the passing of bishops and their spouses in the four years since the previous jurisdictional conference.
The conference opened with worship and Holy Communion, with Bishop William Willimon of North Alabama preaching and Florida’s Bishop Timothy Whitaker as celebrant.

Ernest Newman
Bishop Ernest Newman

Delegates began the first round of voting Wednesday. They cast ballots in multiple rounds of voting until five new bishops are selected. Episcopal assignments, including a new bishop for Florida, will be announced Thursday evening.

Among the bishops who have died since mid-2008 was Ernest Newman, the first black person to be elected bishop in the Southeast Jurisdiction since The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968. He served as bishop in the Nashville area from 1984 to 1992. 

Newman, a native of Kingstree, S.C., had already broken racial barriers in Florida, where he led several churches beginning in 1955. He served as district superintendent based in Melbourne for five years, starting in 1972.

In 1977, he became the first black pastor of a major all-white church, the 2,000-member Plantation UMC.

“That was probably our first cross-racial appointment at a large church, and he handled it beautifully,” recalled Rev. Chuck Weaver, assistant to the bishop at the Florida Conference.

“He was well-respected here in the Florida Conference,” Weaver noted. “We raised him, and then sent him to be a bishop somewhere else.”

Newman died Aug. 28, 2008, in Atlanta. He was 80. 

Milah McDavid
Milah McDavid

Weaver also remembered Milah Gibson McDavid, wife of a former Florida bishop, the late Joel McDavid. She died Sept.22, 2011, at age 95.

“They served in Florida for eight years,” starting in 1972, Weaver said. “She was his driver. She drove and he worked on his sermons or other things. She drove him all over the state.”

After two four-year terms in Florida, Joel McDavid served as bishop in Georgia until 1984. He died in 2003.

According to information supplied to SEJ, the McDavids met in a Methodist church youth group in Whistler, Ala. After their marriage, Milah worked as a secretary at the Candler School of Theology while her husband was in seminary. 

The couple served several churches in Alabama before coming to Florida. Milah was a former president of the United Methodist Women (UMW) of First UMC, Montgomery, and UMW treasurer at Dauphin Way UMC, Mobile, where she also was elected honorary steward of the administrative board, the highest honor for a lay person there. Her memorial service was held Sept. 26, 2011, at that church. 

Edith Knox
Edith Knox

Another bishop’s wife, Edith Laney Strawn Knox, died May 20, 2008, in St. Petersburg, only four days away from her 80th birthday. She was a native of Dunedin and wife of Tampa native James Lloyd Knox, a retired bishop who served in Alabama and North Georgia from 1984 to 1996, according to Emory University records.

After his retirement, Knox received temporary episcopal appointments in the Florida Conference from 1999 to 2001 during the illness of Bishop Cornelius Henderson and following Henderson’s death.

The Knoxes served as missionaries in Cuba and Argentina in the 1950s and ‘60s. When they returned to Florida in 1965, Edith found work as a registered nurse while her husband served as Spanish ministry coordinator for the Florida Conference and later as a district superintendent in DeLand and Miami. She also held UMW leadership roles.