Warner energized about possibilities in the Church
By Lindsay Peyton
Rev. Dr. Laceye Warner was first asked to consider candidacy for bishop two times before. While she considered the invitation a major honor, she declined, thinking the timing was not right. However, with all of the dynamics facing United Methodism at this time, Laceye feels called to offer her name for consideration. The challenges facing the United Methodist Church might deter others from submitting their name for candidacy for the episcopacy, but that is exactly why Warner feels now is the right time to help. She is called to challenges. In fact, her experience has equipped her for just this moment.
At the recent annual conference, colleagues convinced her to think about serving. “You have experience shifting culture and solving intractable problems,” they told her. “We want you to consider this. Go pray on it.”
And that’s exactly what she did. “I got excited,” she said. “I was energized by the possibilities in this Church which I love.”
Rev. Dr. Warner envisioned walking into a vocation in partnership with others willing to work in building God’s reign through the mission of the United Methodist Church. She imagined how she would navigate murky waters and use her experiences and skills to assist in the effort.
“It’s an unusual season,” Warner said. “There are serious constraints and obstacles. But there are also opportunities to help move the church forward.”
After submitting her paperwork, she was endorsed unanimously by the Texas Conference delegation in July. The next step is interviewing with the nine other conferences in the Jurisdiction.
“Laceye demonstrates an insightful understanding of the challenges facing the United Methodist Church, but also the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead for us,” says Dr. Tom Pace, the clergy head of the Texas Annual Conference delegation.
Voting will be completed during the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, which takes place in Houston in early November. There are three openings and seven candidates. Once elected, the new bishops will be appointed to serve over an episcopal area of one or more conferences.
Warner is an ordained elder in the Texas Annual Conference and also serves as an elected delegate to the Jurisdictional and General Conferences. She also currently co-pastors two churches with her husband Rev. Gaston Warner in the Central Texas Conference.
The couple live on a Texas farm, and Warner is a licensed flower farmer, who enjoys cultivating sustainably grown blossoms for church and community.
Pastor and evangelist
She is also the Royce and Jane Reynolds Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke University Divinity School. In addition, she is the school's Associate Dean of Wesleyan engagement and hybrid learning.
Warner has served on the Duke Divinity faculty since 2001 and teaches courses in United Methodist studies, mission, evangelism, and women’s ministry. Her research examines historic and contemporary church practices within the larger Christian narrative.
For most of the past 15 years, Warner has served in the senior administration at Duke Divinity, including as academic dean and executive vice dean. This administrative experience in furthering Christian mission is what has most prepared her for the role of Bishop.
In the senior administration at Duke Divinity, Warner practiced pastoral leadership in a community similar in size to a conference – with 200 staff members and 800 students. She also managed an $18 million annual budget and served as a point person for legal issues. She has led strategic planning, vision casting and goal sharing sessions, as well as creating and implementing assessment systems.
Warner currently serves as a primary investigator of institutional grants to Duke Divinity School from The Duke Endowment and Kern Family Foundation. Administering these and other grants has provided an opportunity to encourage and develop clergy and lay leaders, as well as to facilitate vibrant congregations.
In her leadership role at Duke, Warner was able to implement best practices and gather data from congregations across the country. In her work as an administrator and instructor, she has built relationships with countless students who are now serving as clergy. This connection continues to help her learn firsthand about the issues, concerns and strategies of pastors across the U.S.
“Relationships are a tremendous gift,” she said. “I have been able to listen to folks on the ground and connect with them as we envision where the Holy Spirit is leading.”
Warner is the author of numerous reviews and articles, as well as the texts, “Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice” and “The Method of Our Mission: United Methodist Polity and Organization,” She also co-authored with her husband “From Relief to Empowerment: How Your Church Can Cultivate Sustainable Mission” and is a contributor to “All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Advent.”
Warner co-edited “The Study of Evangelism” with Dr. Paul Chilcote and was a contributing editor to the Wesley Study Bible. She also co-authored “Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition” with retired Bishop Kenneth Carder.
Her writing and research provide her with an expansive view of the denomination – both the challenges faced and the possibilities, she explained. Warner has cultivated both a sense of history and an understanding of polity.
Teacher and leader
Other experiences that have prepared her as a candidate for Bishop include serving on the Council of Bishops’ Ministry Study, University Senate, the Council of Bishops’ Task Force on Leadership Formation and Theological Education and the Board of Ordained Ministry in the Texas Conference.
Warner was first called to ministry while in high school – during a work camp with UM ARMY. At that time, she lived in The Woodlands and attended The Woodlands UMC.
Warner pursued her bachelor’s degree at Trinity University, majoring in speech, rhetoric and communications and minoring in political science. Although her calling to ministry was still percolating, she envisioned a future career in law and spent each summer interning at law firms.
After an internship fell through due to company cutbacks, however, she received a phone call from an associate pastor at her church, asking if she would consider a role as a youth intern. She accepted – and that position became the stepping stone for a whole new journey as a faith leader.
When she told her undergraduate advisor about the position, and her calling to ministry, he revealed that he too was a United Methodist and wanted to help. He suggested that she look into Duke University for her Master of Divinity.
After earning her degree there, she headed to a pastoral appointment in England with her husband. “Gaston and I stayed for three years, with each of us serving two congregations,” she said.
While in England, Warner received her Ph.D. from Trinity College, University of Bristol. The program encouraged creative, independent study, which would shape her future teaching and leadership.
She was also intrigued by the integration of clergy and scholars in the U.K. “Seeing that, certainly helped inform my path,” she said.
Looking back, Warner is grateful for the divine intervention that brought her from law to her current position, as pastor, author, professor and administrator. “It really was God pulling me through all of these different experiences,” she said.
Now, the door has opened to the possibility of her serving as a Bishop. Ever since becoming an ordained elder, she has been committed to focusing her energy on the UMC. “All of my professional focus—teaching, writing, and administration—serves United Methodist lay and clergy,” she said. “If the Church discerns that I should be a Bishop, I would delight in taking those experiences and applying them to supporting the UMC as it moves where God leads.”
If not selected, Warner said that she will return to Duke refreshed, with new vision and new imagination. “Then I will continue to use that platform for the Church,” she said. “Either way, I feel called to engage in this moment in our United Methodist Church.”
Warner sees great promise for both the present and future of the UMC. “We have such a distinctive doctrine of grace within a Wesleyan understanding, and that message of inclusion and holiness is so compelling in the 21st century,” she said.
Warner added that she is energized by the faithful and dedicated clergy and laypeople in this difficult time. “I would love to serve alongside them, navigating this difficult landscape to continue participating in God’s mission,” she said. “Everyone needs a place to worship God and a path to follow Jesus to practice our Christian faith loving God and neighbor.”