Bishop Dease's Journey to North Georgia: 'Where He Leads, I Will Follow'
Bishop Robin Dease began serving as the bishop of the North Georgia Annual Conference and as an ex-officio member of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation's Board of Trustees on January 1, 2023. The following article is written by Sybil Davidson, North Georgia Conference communicator. Photo provided by Matt Brodie.
Bishop Robin Dease’s assignment to the North Georgia Annual Conference was a full-circle moment. It was right here in North Georgia that she first fell in love with The United Methodist Church.
Brooklyn, NY to Atlanta
Though Bishop Dease had 12 brothers and sisters, in many ways she has always been set apart.
“I was the only one in my family to go to college,” she shared. “My parents were from South Carolina and moved to New York for job opportunities. When they retired and decided to move back, I was entering my last year in high school. I was encouraged by my school to apply to college.”
She followed that advice and moved to Atlanta to attend Bauder Fashion College.
“I lived here with my sister those two years,” she said, “And that's how I got involved in The United Methodist Church.”
Her sister and brother-in-law were attending Kelley Chapel UMC in Decatur, so she joined them.
“I loved being there,” Bishop Dease remembered. “I loved the order of worship and The Apostles Creed. I embrace structure, and I fell in love with that style of worship.”
She graduated from Bauder with an associate degree and, after two years in Atlanta, she yearned to go back to New York to get a job in the fashion industry.
“My whole goal was to get back. I was looking for jobs in the garment industry,” she said. “My godparents, who happened to also be United Methodists, told me, ‘you aren't going to get a job in New York City with an associate degree. Go and get a bachelor's degree.’”
Atlanta to South Carolina
They encouraged her and paved the way for her to enroll in United Methodist-related Claflin University in Orangeburg, SC. They were both graduates of United Methodist institutions, and they had a love and a heart for The United Methodist Church.
“I majored in Elementary Education,” said Bishop Dease. “That's what my mother wanted. She wanted a teacher. And that was the model for African American women. When I had the opportunity to graduate early, my advisor told me, ‘Don't leave; graduate with your friends. Have you ever thought about taking religion and philosophy courses?’”
She hadn’t, so she enrolled in New Testament and Philosophy courses.
“I fell in love with New Testament and Philosophy of Religion,” she said. “A United Methodist pastor was teaching the course.”
That semester someone invited her to teach a bible study on Wednesday nights to college students.
“Soon I was teaching bible study to my classmates, teaching what I was learning in my classes,” she said.
She had the opportunity to do “field ed” work at Trinity UMC in Orangeburg.
“I had already joined St. Michael UMC in Bennettsville,” she said. “Being part of the religious life at Claflin, my professors would say, God is calling you to ministry. One day, I felt it. I reached out to some guy friends in class with me. Some said women can't be in ministry, but others said, ‘yes, I see it.'”
“I had never seen a woman in ministry, not a woman pastoring a church,” she said. “One friend in particular helped me discern and I started the candidacy process through the Marion District of the South Carolina Conference. I was assigned a supervising pastor and the rest is history.”
South Carolina to Washington, DC
At the urging of a classmate she applied and was accepted to Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.
“My first week at Wesley, they were looking for a cook. I had years of food service experience, so I applied for the job and got it,” she said.
Before long she was head cook at Wesley.
The seminary’s food service was operated by Marriott, which dominated the DC-area food industry. She moved up in the company, later taking on her own account, George Washington University.
Marriott offered her the opportunity to attend the Culinary Institute of America, which she accepted.
She was a part-time seminary student and Marriott employee for 7 years.
Fittingly, her boss was United Methodist.
“He knew I was in ministry and as the time approached for me to graduate, I finally said, it’s time to answer the call. I was running from the call,” said Bishop Dease.
Where He Leads, I Will Follow: DC to South Carolina to North Georgia
There’s a guiding principle Bishop Dease has leaned on for many years, a powerful message from Mother Theresa.
In her last interview Mother Theresa was asked, “Why do you do the work you do?” She answered, “Where He leads me I will follow.”
Where He has led, Bishop Dease, too, has followed.
While she had wonderful experiences in the Baltimore-Washington Conference during her years at Wesley Theological Seminary, including serving as a student intern on Capitol Hill, when the time came she returned to South Carolina. Her parents were aging and she wanted to be available to help the family.
There she received her first appointment, went through the ordination process, and has served as a pastor and a District Superintendent.
There’s much more to her story, but on November 3, 2022, Rev. Dr. Robin Dease was elected by her peers to be a bishop in The United Methodist Church. And on November 4 she was consecrated by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church at Lake Junaluska.
And now, as God leads her back to the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, she will follow.
“My goal is to love and care for the church and the people,” said Bishop Dease. “There is much division. I don't want to participate in that. I want to do the right thing, the just thing, and point people to Jesus—that old carpenter from Galilee.”
“Everything I do is based on scripture. I preach from the scriptures. I rely on the scriptures,” she continued. “He said, ‘I come that you might have life and have it abundantly.’ Let’s get to work to bring that to fruition.”
And she is ready to work.
“I feel hopeful and inspired in this season,” said Bishop Dease. “Old, young, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian. I am ready for the church to show up in full force, supporting one another. Let's be about building God's kingdom here on earth. Let’s get roofs over heads, clothes on backs, and food on tables. No more us and them.”
Bishop Dease begins her assignment as bishop of the North Georgia Conference on January 1, 2023. All are invited to attend in person or watch online as we celebrate her assignment with a service of installation on Sunday, January 8, 2023 at 4 p.m. at Oak Grove UMC in Decatur.