(RNS) — Four new bishops were elected to the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Saturday (July 10), the final day of the denomination’s General Conference in Orlando, Florida. Four general officers and two judicial council members were also elected. The Rev. Francine A. Brookins is the first biracial bishop to be elected, and Advocate Thabile M. Ngubeni is the first African lay person elected by the General Conference to hold any office.
Also elected bishop was the Rev. Dr. Silvester Scott Beaman, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, who delivered the benediction at President Biden’s inauguration. He will serve the 15th Episcopal District, which includes Western South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
The other bishops elected are the Rev. Marvin Clyde Zanders II, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Wright Sr., pastor of Quinn Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio. They will serve the 16th District (Caribbean, South America and Europe) and the 20th District (Malawi, Zimbabwe and Uganda), respectively.
Brookins is pastor of Bethel AME Church in Fontana, California, and is also a licensed attorney. Her father was the late Bishop Hamel Hartford Brookins, known for his role in the civil rights movement. She also ran for bishop in 2016 but was unsuccessful. She will serve the 18th District, which includes Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and a portion of Mozambique. She is the fifth woman elected bishop in the AME Church.
“As your bishop … I will continue to be a builder of healthy people, programs and media content, opening doors and making room to meet the mental, physical, financial, education and spiritual needs of all people,” said Brookins in a promotional video.
In a note to her supporters on her website, Brookins wrote, “For six and a half years you have remained steadfast and solid in pushing me when I wanted to stop and leave this to the rest of those seeking to serve. God is great and greatly to be praised, we have been running a long time, but we are not tired. Today may you be encouraged in your fatigue. You do make a difference. You matter to me and to many.”
Ngubeni, the first lay African on the Judicial Council or in any office elected by the General Conference, has over 11 years of civil litigation experience. She has served as steward and trustee board member at her local church, FC James AME Church in Bloemfontein, South Africa, located in the 19th Episcopal District.
The Judicial Council is the AME Church’s highest judiciary body. It is an appellate court, and members are elected by the General Conference.
Bishops serve as the chief officers of the AME Church and are elected by majority vote of the General Conference. They serve for life and retire at the General Conference closest to their 75th birthday.