Bishop James Swanson
Get to Know the Bishop-in-Residence
On October 11, 2023, United Theological Seminary welcomed Bishop James Swanson as the seminary’s Bishop-in-Residence. We recently spent some time with Bishop Swanson, asking him about his journey in ministry and his hopes for his role at United.
How did you realize God was calling you into ministry?
As far back as I can recall, I’ve always loved going to church. I felt at home there. My memory of first thinking about ministry was sparked during the summer of my eighth birthday. I was walking from my aunt’s home toward my home, and I met a man walking towards me on the sidewalk. He patted me on the head and said to me, “Hello, little preacher.” I said hello to him and continued to walk. When I realized what he had said I turned to look back at him and he was gone. That moment changed my life. And I couldn’t shake those words, “Hello, little preacher,” from my mind. Those words stayed with me until one night at a prayer meeting I said “Yes, Lord.”
Is there a pivotal moment or person that shaped your faith journey?
Elder Arthur J. Buddage was my pastor when I was eight, and he preached a sermon one Sunday morning that compelled me to ask my mother if Jesus really loved me, even when I was bad. She said yes. So, I asked her, “What does Jesus want from me?” She said he just wants you to give him your heart. She led me in a prayer of forgiveness and acceptance of God’s love into my heart. The people of my churches and other childhood saints nurtured me in the faith from that time on.
What are you most looking forward to in your role as Bishop-in-Residence at United?
I want to do for the students that come to United what Elder Buddage, my mother, the saints of my home churches, two Army Chaplains, Bishop Cornelius Henderson, Ed Bufford and so many others have done for me on my journey and continue to do for me even now. They helped me to hear God’s voice and trust the Holy Spirit speaking to me. They taught me to walk faithfully, to be fruitful in my life, and to work as unto God. I desire to open my life as a book before United’s students, faculty, administrators, donors and others as a witness that God is real, Jesus yet saves, and the Holy Spirit is still empowering people to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ to this world.
In my role as Bishop-in Residence I’m looking forward to being a learner within this academic community, learning from students, faculty members, administrators, guest lecturers and ancillary persons I will encounter in this role. And more than anything else, I’m looking forward to bringing to United the benefits of my experiences that I believe will augment what the Holy Spirit is already doing here. I will also endeavor to keep before United the necessity of producing spiritual leaders to fulfill God’s mission for local churches in their context that will serve both locally and globally.
Now that you are retired is there something fun you like to do with your time?
Retirement has opened a whole new venue to me of searching my heart to discover if there are other ways I can live life fully with joy and celebration. I was already an avid golfer but refused to carve out time in my life to enjoy it more. Thanks to developing new friends, I’m doing that now. With the assistance of those friends, I’m trying to finally complete a book that has been on my heart for 15 years. I’m spending more time with my wife especially around the house and just enjoying watching her enjoy “her” home. Of course, I grumble about babysitting the grandkids, but they bring me lots of joy. Believe it or not, I still love to travel.
Any advice for someone just starting a career in ministry?
There are many things I would say to those just beginning to answer their call in ministry but let me make it brief. Above everything, learn how to love yourself by being in constant communication with God. Please notice and store the compliments you will receive on this journey and go back and review them when you are feeling useless. Make friends with people who will help you to laugh while being serious about this gift of service and life. Lastly, keep your eyes open to the beauty of God’s creation, all of it. And that includes your family.
Anything else you’d like to share with the United community?
Continue to scrutinize the details while staying focused on the mission. We are the stewards of what God has given to The United Methodist Church in particular and, because we are followers of John Wesley, we open ourselves to the world as our parish. The world is rather large and the people we seek to serve are many. But, thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit came and with the coming of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to reach more, teach more and help to transform more as we combine our gifts together. I hear and feel a Fresh Wind blowing and I’m glad to be.