LAKE JUNALUSKA — The Rev. Leonard Fairley, a native of Laurinburg, will be consecrated today as a new bishop of the United Methodist Church.
Fairley, who serves as a district superintendent in the North Carolina Conference, was elected Wednesday during the meeting of the denomination’s Southeastern Jurisdiction at Lake Junaluska that included delegates from nine southern states. He was greeted by applause and hugs after his selection was announced.
“My request my brothers and sisters is to pray that I might live into the fruit of the spirit,” Fairley told the gathering at Stuart Auditorium on Wednesday.
Fairley was one of five new bishops named, including the first African-American female bishop elected by the Southeastern Jurisdiction — the Rev. Sharma Lewis. Bishops are appointed leaders of conferences and serve for four years. The jurisdiction also elected the Rev. David Graves, the Rev. Dr. Lawson Bryan, and the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson.
Fairley currently serves as the chief mission strategist and spiritual and administrative leader to 96 churches and 134 active pastors in a geographic area that includes Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Clayton, Smithfield, Benson, Goldsboro, Knightdale and Wendell. The North Carolina Conference includes churches in 56 eastern North Carolina counties.
“I believe in seeing the possibilities and living the promise,” Fairley said. “I believe that the best years of the United Methodist Church are not behind us, they are in front of us.”
A graduate of Scotland High School, he received a bachelor’s degree from Pfeiffer University and a Masters of Divinity from Duke. He also has published a book of poetry, “Who Shall Hear My Voice.”
Previously, he has served as pastor at the Sanford Circuit, St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Hamlet, Soapstone United Methodist Church in Raleigh, Saint Francis United Methodist in Cary, and as the Rockingham District superintendent.
He was married to the late Priscilla Fairley and is the father of two children and the grandfather of three.
Fairley said his wife, who died in 2013 and his grandmother, Gladys, are among the two women he admires most.
“My grandmother couldn’t write, but she was the greatest theologian I have ever met,” he said. “As my grandmother used to say ‘pray my strength in the Lord.’ “