Black Church Appoints Female Bishop

Wednesday, July 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) — Preacher. Journalist. Author. Now add to Vashti McKenzie's resume a position never before filled by a woman in the long history of the nation's oldest black church: Bishop.

The fiery church leader whose family has been active in African Methodist Episcopal Church affairs in Baltimore for more than a century has become the first female bishop in the denomination's 213-year history.

``Because of God's favor, the stained glass ceiling has been pierced and broken,'' McKenzie said. ``My sisters, we've come a mighty long way. But there's still a long way to go.''

McKenzie and three other new bishops were elected by the church's General Conference on Tuesday night and were then consecrated.

``The church made a major statement by electing the Rev. McKenzie,'' said the Rev. David Jarrett of Grand Rapids, Mich. ``The laity of the church rose up and made a major statement about the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the new millennium''

About 70 percent of the church's members are women, and women have long been accepted to the clergy. But the church had never had a female bishop until McKenzie won election on her first try.

Also elected to fill three other vacancies were the Rev. Richard Norris of Philadelphia, the Rev. Gregory Ingram of Detroit and the Rev. Preston Williams of Atlanta.

Momentum had been building for a female bishop, even though delegates last weekend rejected a resolution that would have required a woman to be elected.

McKenzie was one of two women among 42 candidates. When no one received a majority of votes on the first ballot, 15 candidates withdrew and McKenzie and Norris were elected on the second ballot. The other two bishops were chosen from 11 candidates who remained for a third ballot.

Delegates cheered loudly and McKenzie was surrounded by supporters when her election was announced.

``This is a wonderful thing,'' said Janie Franklin, a delegate from Orangeburg, S.C. ``I'm very excited that a woman has been elected, and I'm particularly glad it is the Rev. McKenzie. I liked her the first time I met her.''

McKenzie praised the pioneering work of women in the denomination, saying they had ``sacrificed, cried, died and gave their very best.'' She paid tribute to her mother and other family members, and she thanked her husband, former pro basketball player Stan McKenzie, for his support.

``God hand-picked a man just for me, and I thank God he picked this one,'' she said.

McKenzie, a former broadcast executive whose family founded the Afro-American Newspaper chain, has been pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church in Baltimore for 10 years. During that time, the congregation grew from 330 members to more than 1,700.

She wrote a book published in 1996 called ``Not Without a Struggle,'' which examines female leadership in different cultures and religions.

The AME Church, founded in Philadelphia in 1787, has more than 2.3 million members in the United States, Canada, England, Africa and the Caribbean.

Nearly 1,800 delegates attended its sometimes contentious, weeklong General Conference, where the selection of new bishops was delayed several times because of disputes over rules.

For the first time, delegates discarded paper ballots and voted electronically, and Jarrett said that may have helped McKenzie get elected.

``Voting electronically gave power to the people,'' Jarrett said. ``It uplifted the conference, and I think it helped build momentum for Rev. McKenzie.''


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