Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams—Retired General Officer
It is truly a daunting task for me to reflect on our Bicentennial General Conference. When our family left Atlanta on Saturday, July 2, to attend the 50th Session of the AME General Conference, I realized that I was truly blessed to be able as a nonagenarian to attend my 19th General Conference. My first one, May, 1940, was small enough to be held in Ebenezer AME Church, Detroit. Except for 1944 I have been present at all since then to sing with others, “And Are We Yet Alive.”
For this memorable General Conference we owe a debt of gratitude to the loyal members of the First Episcopal District under the dynamic leadership of Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram and Supervisor Dr. Jessica Kendall Ingram, and to a dedicated staff. The Church of Richard Allen can justly claim “An Extraordinary History—An Incredible Future.” Bishop Samuel L. Green served as Chairperson, General Conference Commission, and Bishop McKinley Young, Program Chairperson.
When we reflect on this memorable celebration, we will recall the special events which preceded the official opening. It was a moving experience to worship at Mother Bethel on July 3, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost, and realize the significance of our beginnings as a denomination. Bishop Samuel Green preached a powerful sermon from I Samuel 17:31 using the subject “Blessing in Remembering.” Because of the outreach of the Church we look with pride on the AME Church’s historic collaboration with the American Cancer Society. As a symbol of the Church’s commitment to reduce cancer disparities between Caucasians and African Americans, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the American Cancer Society co-sponsored the Bicentennial Torch Run 2016. This two-day (July 2-3) 80-mile run from Dover, DE, to Philadelphia symbolized that commitment. Bishops William P. DeVeaux, Sr., and James L. Davis were the dedicated Co-chairs, working with Richard C. Wender, M.D., Chief Cancer Control Officer of the American Cancer Society and the Reverend Dr. Glenda F. Hodges. Runners representing eleven of the thirteen home districts completed the run on July 3 at the program unveiling the Richard Allen Statue in the Memorial Courtyard.
The July 4 event was the Unveiling and Dedication of The Legacy of Bishop Richard Allen and the AME Church Mural, spanning one side of the three-story First District Plaza. The impressive mural, designed by the artist Willis Humphrey, features some twenty historic scenes highlighting the legacy of Richard Allen and the AME Church.
The culminating special event was the First Episcopal District Banquet, with the Reverend Drs. Floyd and Elaine Flake serving as Master and Mistress of Ceremonies. The speaker for the occasion was the distinguished Professor of Law at Harvard University, Mr. Charles J. Ogletree, a loyal member of the AME Church.
With the dawning of July 6 the sons and daughters of Richard Allen assembled for the long-anticipated opening worship service of the 50th Quadrennial Session and the Bicentennial Celebration of the General Conference. Bishop T. Larry Kirkland preached a moving sermon from the subject “Go Back to the Future,” suggesting that the Church go back to the basics, go back to teaching, go back to fellowship, go back to sharing.
The Opening Business Session began at 3:00 p.m., with the 1637 delegates in place, plus 9563 observers for a total attendance of 11,200. For the next seven days we followed the usual procedure of listening to reports from the various committees, departments, General Officers of the Church. Of great interest was the introduction of new legislation. Following a tradition established at the 8th General Conference in 1848 at the Evening Session of the First Day, Bishop William P. DeVeaux, who prepared the Episcopal Address 2016—“Unstopping the Wells: Remember, Radicalize, and Revolutionize”—presented it, with other bishops assisting in the reading.
On July 8 the General Conference welcomed Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Her message resonated with the gathering and brought back memories of the President’s Inauguration Day Prayer Service (for President Bill Clinton) in January, 1993, when for the first time in history a black church was chosen to host it—Metropolitan AME Church, called the “national cathedral of African Methodism, and pastored by then Rev. William DeVeaux.
On July 10, as part of the Worship Service, the Bishops’ Quadrennial Distinguished Service Awards were presented to Governor Kenneth Ezra Mapp of the Virgin Islands and the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. In Bishop Curry’s acceptance of the award, he mentioned that his father, Kenneth Curry, had been graduated from Wilberforce University. Of special interest to me was that Kenneth, Class of 1950, was one of my former students. It was a pleasure to meet the Bishop later. A similar incident had occurred at the Connectional Lay Breakfast with Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, MI, serving as the Mistress of Ceremonies. It turned out that her father-in-law, Dr. Wrex Weaver, a Wilberforce classmate, had been a groomsman for my husband at our wedding in 1943 at St. John AME Church in Nashville, TN.
After all the reports were made, the recommendations accepted, the legislation passed or rejected, the General Conference turned to the election of General Officers and Bishops. I had a special interest in the election inasmuch as I had been writing about and urging the election of a woman and the giving of greater representation to the laity in our hierarchy. As a sponsor of Anne Henning-Byfield and the godmother of John Thomas, III, I am thankful for her election as the 135th Bishop and his election as the 21st Editor of The AME Christian Recorder. Warm congratulations and best wishes to Bishops Harry Seawright, Michael Mitchell, Ronald Brailsford, Stafford Wicker, and Frank Reid, III.
To God be the glory!
Jamye Coleman Williams, Ph.D. served as Editor of the AME Review from 1984-1992. She is a distinguished educator in the field of Communications with a career spanning over four decades at various public and private institutions of higher learning. Now retired, she currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and daughter.