Felder, J: Making of an AME Bishop
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The idea to write this book came to me in 1976 while I was attending my first AME General Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I tagged along with Dr. Claude Stevens, a physician, who was chief of staff at Benevolent Society Hospital in Kingstree, SC. His father was an AME pastor in North Carolina. He warned me on what to expect at this conference. First, he said it was a reunion of persons who had not seen each other in four or eight or twelve years. Second, it was a religious convention. Third, it was a political convention. Fourth, some view it as a big circus that continues for two weeks. He was right on all accounts. The Democrat or Republican Party conventions could not hold a candle to this meeting. Having grown up in the AME Church I knew the inner workings of the local church, the District Planning Meeting and the Annual Conference. I have served as Sunday School Superintendent, Boy Scout Master and Steward Pro Tem of Union Station AME Church in Sumter, South Carolina. Those experiences did not prepare me for what I witnessed at the General Conference a body which meets every four years. This visit to my church conference wetted my appetite to learn more about this denomination of which I am a third generation participant. Before people of color could vote and participate in the political process of this country the big deal was getting elected a delegate to the General Conference to cast a vote for the election of bishops in the AME Church. Two of the most powerful positions in this country are an AME Bishop and a Federal Judge. In both cases they are elected for life and wield awesome power. The late Federal Judge Matthew J. Perry once opined that an AME Bishop has more power than a federal judge. Every member of the AME church should attend at least one General Conference. It is estimated that only 5% of AME members attend a conference during their lifetime. Much of the activities that take place at the General Conference are compiled and released in The Book Of Discipline Of The African American Episcopal Church which is the official authority of the church. It is widely distributed but so few members bother to read it. Therefore, I decided to write this book to pull back the curtain on how the General Conference functions and elects bishops for the church. I have attended five General Conferences since that Atlanta conference. I have interviewed 122 laymen, pastors and bishops. I have read and researched every morsel of information I could find on the AME Church. This book is the result of my efforts. I hope it enlightens my fellow AMEs and others who are interested in the saga of the AME Church.
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