Main Menu

Bishop Ken Carter's era remembered for his compassion and vision

Bishop Ken Carter's era remembered for his compassion and vision

Leadership Social Justice Way Forward

As members and leaders in The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church prepare to bid farewell to Bishop Ken Carter, they describe him as a person of deep faith who was an inclusive, compassionate, resourceful, and visionary leader.

They will celebrate the legacy of Bishop Carter and his wife, Rev. Pam Carter, at a special service on Sunday, December 11, at Hyde Park UMC in Tampa. The service is scheduled from 4-6 p.m. in the sanctuary, followed by a reception in the Harnish Center.

He moves full-time to the Western North Carolina Conference, which he led starting in 2021, while also leading The Florida Conference.

During Bishop Carter’s ten years in Florida, he guided the Conference and its approximately 550 churches through complex and changing social norms and worship styles through the dramatic growth of Fresh Expressions. He was a steady hand after the state dealt with multiple massive hurricanes that inflicted heavy damage on many churches and as the pandemic redefined “normal” for the Conference. 

Bishop Carter and Rev. Wayne Wiatt prepare for baptisms.

He became a national leader as President of the Council of Bishops. And he was one of three moderators of The Commission on a Way Forward as The United Methodist Church grappled with the issue of whether openly and practicing LGBTQ+ members could be ordained as pastors.

“It is impossible to put into words the impact Bishop Carter has had on The Florida Conference over the last ten years.  His steady hand of leadership has led our annual conference through a time of great uncertainty and deep change,” said Rev. Alex Shanks, who served as the Assistant to the Bishop since 2006.

“Through it all, Bishop Carter has displayed an unwavering faith in Christ, a strong commitment to helping local churches flourish, and a generous desire for more and more people to be reached with the love of God.”

A personal touch

Even with all that, Bishop Carter’s personal touch resonated with so many people. That trait particularly stood out to Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems, Superintendent of the South East District.

“I recently learned that a clergy family in our district enthusiastically plans to attend the farewell service and reception for the Carters,” she said. “This will require them to leave immediately following their morning worship service and travel nearly four hours. The clergyperson’s spouse and eldest daughter, a teenager, are the most determined to see this plan through because of their fondness for Bishop Carter.

“To me, a pastoral family feeling cared for and loved by a bishop and his spouse is truly a sign of the impact the Carters have had on our conference and the lives of our lay and clergy families.”
Rev. Wayne Wiatt, Superintendent of the North West District, echoed that sentiment.

“We have appreciated the Carters’  leadership in Florida and their tremendous support, love, and care for our clergy, their families, and our laity,” he said.

Bishop Carter with the Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin and  Bishop Charlene Kammerer

Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, the Conference Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, was a District Superintendent when Bishop Carter was assigned to Florida. She recalled a meeting with him shortly after his arrival that dramatically changed her life.

“He invited me into a conversation a decade ago, which led to the appointment in my current role, which I had never envisioned.  This second chair position works closely with the bishop regarding the vision and mission of the Annual Conference,” she said.

“I have been blessed to serve in this capacity, which provided opportunities for my growth and service.”

She quickly learned that she could be honest with him about complex issues of racial equality and social justice. And she grew to appreciate his leadership style.

 “I regard him as a leader who brings a non-anxious presence and does not dabble at the water’s edge of issues but models a willingness to wade into the deep.  I recall so many core reflections of his leadership, which I continue to share with others,” she said.

“Pam brings levity, humor, and honesty about life and ministry, encouraging my husband Mike and me. They leave an indelible imprint in my ministry, for which I remain grateful.”

And  Retired Clergy. Dr. Geraldine McClellan noted that Bishop Carter "continued to improve the number of pastors serving in cross-cultural and cross-racial congregations." She added, "The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is much richer because of his commitment to becoming a more inclusive church."

A leader who leads the leaders

On Jan. 30 of this year, Bishop Carter announced Rev. Debbie Allen’s appointment as the Superintendent of the South West District, effective July 1. About three months after she assumed her new role, Category 4 Hurricane Ian roared ashore in the Fort Myers area, causing cataclysmic damage to multiple churches in her district.

Hurricane Ian dealt the South West District of Florida incredible damage.

That’s when Rev. Allen learned the value of someone who leads the leaders.

“I have been incredibly grateful for how Bishop Carter has helped lead our conference in the midst of the Hurricane Ian recovery. As a new superintendent, I have felt very supported in leading through this difficult season,” she said.

“He has been very pastoral with me and has helped us to think about different ways to walk alongside churches and clergy in this stressful time.”

Bishop Carter had his own stressful time during the contentious and ongoing process where some churches left the Conference through disaffiliation. Some churches joined a lawsuit against the Conference over the financial terms of their departure.

Rev. Sara McKinley, the Director for the Office of Clergy Excellence, serves on the Extended Cabinet and said she always appreciated Bishop Carter’s “big tent” approach. But that didn’t always go over well with more conservative churches, and it led to some bitter barbs from some of those leaders as he sought to uphold the unity of The United Methodist Church.

“He has been pulled in so many different directions but has maintained a heart of peace during so much negative press through social media and other attacks on his ministry through misinformation, lawsuits, and complaints,” she said.

“He is the personification of a non-anxious presence and has modeled what it is to lead amid crisis, trauma, and

Bishop Carter at the 2021 Florida Annual Conference.

monumental cultural shifts inside and outside the church. He has modeled adaptive leadership for us all and has set a clear vision for full inclusion for our Conference. He has stood on the side of justice. I am extremely grateful and blessed to have been in ministry with Bishop Carter for this season. He has left an indelible and positive impact upon The Florida Conference and will be greatly missed.”

Front row seat

Bishop Carter often shared his love of Major League Baseball, Duke University basketball, the serenity of North Carolina mountains, coffee made from freshly ground beans, and his favorite books and podcasts.

He is the author of 18 books and serves as a bishop-in-residence and consulting faculty member at Duke University Divinity School.

He has a commanding presence, but, as others noted, he does that without being overbearing. In times of turbulence, he truly was the calm in a storm.

And he and Rev. Pam Carter were truly a team.

That’s another thing Rev. Alex Shanks will remember.

“Along each step of Bishop Carter’s journey as Florida’s bishop, Rev. Pam Carter walked faithfully by his side, offering her incredible gifts as a pastor and leader in our missional work in Florida and around the world.  Her great relational connections, her ability to engage the complex missional needs of our conference, her deep commitment to justice, and her ability to bring joy to every room she entered impacted countless lives in our conference,” he said.

“The Carters have been an unparalleled force for good in The Florida Conference.  As we gather this Sunday, we will offer profound gratitude for their leadership in Florida, and their commitment to The United Methodist Church. Together we will point toward the bright future God has in mind for the people called Methodists. We thank God for Bishop Ken and Rev. Pam Carter and will be forever grateful for their transformational leadership among us.”

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

Similar Stories