Jennifer Swann, New Conference Lay Leader

July 10, 2020
Like most Louisianians, Jennifer Swann loves a good festival.

Swann sees festivals as a fun time for all who attend, but she also sees them as a significant strength for Louisiana and a perfect expression of the Church. 

"I see our festivals as an expression of the value we place on gathering and celebrating community together," says Swann. "They serve as an opportunity for diverse groups to practice life together, united in celebration of food or music or an element of culture; if only for a day or a weekend."

Swann, a Lake Charles native, is the new Conference Lay Leader for the new quadrennium, replacing Terrel DeVille.

Swann, a member of University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, where her parents were baptized as infants, says she was initially reluctant to leave the local level and take on a significant conference role. 

"There's just so much to do at the local level, but ultimately I felt called to step up, hoping that other younger people might see me and begin to imagine themselves in leadership in their church," says Swann. "I hope that we can continue the work, and find ways to expand the conversation about lay leadership and encourage more people into leadership."

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey says Swann brings a freshness to the Cabinet. "She understands the Conference and connects well to everyone, particularly younger persons," says Bishop Harvey. "Jennifer is a strong and steady leader with the ability to listen carefully and thoughtfully. She will be a great leader for the Conference in these uncertain times. Jennifer will, alongside me, ensure that the voice and the presence of the laity are heard across the Conference."

Laypersons are incredibly crucial to the inner-workings of both the local Church and the larger denomination. 

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church leaves no doubt as to the "priesthood of all believers". Paragraph 134 in the Book of Discipline states, "The United Methodist tradition has recognized that laypersons as well as ordained persons are gifted and called by God to lead the Church".

Lay leaders function as the primary representative and role model of Christian discipleship, and faith lived out in the Church and daily life. Lay leaders work with the pastor(s) to fulfill the mission and vision of the congregation. 

"It's important to have skilled clergy, but I think it's equally important for our churches to have committed laypersons with healthy and strong leadership skills," says Swann. "In our itinerate system, clergy leadership is often a sprint and a baton pass, whereas lay leaders are positioned to play the long game. Lasting change and the kinds of hard decisions that won't have an immediate pay off will require leadership and commitment from the laity."

The Conference Lay Leader is the elected leader of Conference laity and is an officer of the Conference. The leader advocates for the role of the laity, enabling and supporting lay participation in planning and decision-making processes. To do this, the Conference Lay Leader works with clergy, district superintendents, conference staff, and the bishop. 

Swann, who previously served as Associate Chair of the Board of Laity, replaces Terrel DeVille, who has served as Conference Lay Leader since 2016. 

"It's been a gift to get to know Terrel, hear his life stories and experience his deep and sincere faith in God," says Swann. "He has led with calm decisive assurance. Terrel's career at the Children's home and his conference work, including his work with the Board of Laity, will be paying dividends for the children of Louisiana and the United Methodist Church for decades to come."

For eight years, DeVille has served the Laity of the Louisiana Annual Conference, four years as Associate Lay Leader alongside Carolyn Dove, and the past four years as Conference Lay Leader, serving alongside Swann.

"Terrel DeVille has brought his gentle, thoughtful, and faithful spirit to the work of the Cabinet," says Bishop Harvey. "His deep knowledge of the Louisiana Conference, its churches and its people has been a treasure as we continue to reach people for Jesus. While he is gentle, he is firm in the faith and served as a constant reminder of our call to love God and our neighbor."

"My service has been a small return for the forty-three and a half years of support and encouragement given me by the Church as the Director of the Louisiana Methodist Children's Home before my retirement," says DeVille. "Being a Lay Leader provides the opportunity to remind the laity that the great commission is just as important for them to live out as it is for the clergy. Lay leadership in a congregation is the key difference between a local congregation being involved in mission or not. The laity must become fully aware of the connectional nature of the Church. The size and scope of the United Methodist Church allow the laity to participate in ministry on a global scale actively. However, it must first take root at the local community level, requiring personal interaction with those in need of Christ's Love and God's Grace."

DeVille says Swann is the right person for Conference Lay Leader at this critical time. "She possesses a deep understanding of faith and an understanding of the Mission of the Annual Conference and the ability to communicate how the laity can help accomplish the Mission," DeVille says. "She also has a knowledge of organizational development and the ability to organize effectively. Plus, she has the ability to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to all points of view, which results in the ability to manage conflict."

Below is last year's Laity Report to the Annual Conference from Lay Leader Terrel DeVille:

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