At its 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference, which is the supreme body of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, local Pastor, Dr. Michael Mitchell has been elected its 134th Bishop following a six year petition for one of the historic denomination’s highest offices. Dr. Mitchell was chosen to succeed Bishop R.V. Webster as pastor of Saint Stephen AME in 1992 after he was elected Bishop.
Dr. Mitchell was raised in Jacksonville and is a product of the Duval County Public School System. He graduated from Wilberforce University in 1982 and received a Master of Divinity Degree from Turner Theological Seminary in 1986 and a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary in 2012.
The national gathering in Philadelphia also marks the last time Bishop John Richard Bryant will preside as the senior bishop.
Bryant is retiring after serving in the post since 2008. Church rules mandate a bishop retire at age 73.
“As senior bishop of the church, you are seen as the most seasoned and experienced bishop of the active bishops in the church and your counsel is sought by the rest of the council of bishops,” Bryant said. He will be succeeded by Bishop McKinley Young who was formerly over the Jacksonville area district.
Young, who is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, looks forward to taking the reins of leadership.
“First, I am grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “Secondly, I’m very proud of the leadership that has preceded me. Mr. Bryant has been the senior bishop for eight years and that to me provides a sound and solid foundation.
“I want to build on that continuity in terms of providing the leadership and providing the encouragement and support of the bishops and leaders of the church to do our best job,” he added. “We may change the person in the office, but we are not going to change the agenda.”
The AME Church was founded when a group of Black worshipers, including Mother Bethel founder Bishop Richard Allen, seceded from a segregated church in Philadelphia in 1787. The denomination is now an international organization, with more than 8,000 congregations and 2.5 million members. The AME Church encompasses 20 districts, spanning 39 districts.
The change in senior leadership comes as the AME church continues to champion issues of social justice.
AME parishioners took the streets of Philadelphia last week in response to the recent police shootings involving two Black men. The incident in Minnesota and the other Louisiana were both captured on video and shared on social media. About 1,000 Black pastors, organizers and families shut down rush-hour traffic in Center City and demanded justice regarding Black lives.
“Our marching was in keeping with our traditions as a church,” Bryant said.
“We like to say that in the AME Church political involvement has never been an issue open for debate,” he said, noting that the denomination will continue to be engaged in getting people registered to vote and out to the polls.
An estimated 30,000 participants attended the bicentennial conference that had an estimated economic impact of more than $20 million. During the conference, members discussed and enacted policy changes as well as elected bishops and general officers.
The denomination is not restricted to men. Bishop Vashti McKenzie serves as the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the denomination. Her election in 2000 was the first time in the history of the AME Church’s 200 years that a woman obtained that level in the church.
“What does it mean?” asked the bishop of her election 16 years later. “It means that women everywhere can stand up a little bit straighter and taller, square their shoulders and hold their heads up a little bit higher.
“But it also means that if God did this for me, He can do this for you,” she added. “If God can put you in a position where you cannot put yourself, then God can put you in a position that you never dreamed of, you never thought of, that you never ever believed would happen.”
She continued, “You know, thousands of women who served without affirmation, now look and say, ‘If God can do that, what else can God do?’ We serve a God who does the impossible every day. Scripture tells us, ‘Nothing is impossible with God,’ and so as we serve God, we know there is a God who makes impossible things possible.”
Currently, she is the presiding prelate of the 10th Episcopal District, which covers the entire state of Texas, and has many other achievements.
Besides garnering leadership and community service honors, Bishop McKenzie was appointed by President Barack Obama to the an advisory council for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships and was recognized by Huffington Post as one of the 50 most powerful women religious leaders in the world. She has authored five books, including “Not Without A Struggle, “Strength in the Struggle,” “Journey to the Well” and “Those Sisters Can Preach!”
“I tell young ministers all the time: ‘Your assignment to pastor a congregation is a privileged and an awesome honor,’ ” said McKenzie. “That people receive you as their leader, and that you have the privilege and the honor to build ministry with them; to teach, preach and serve with them in a community,” she added.
Also elected were: 133th Harry L. Seawright; 135th Anne Henning-Byfield; 136th Ronnie Brailsford ; 137th Stafford Wicker and 138th Frank Madison Reid III.