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First female bishop of African Methodist Episcopal Church church visits Victoria

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 27, 2014 at 1:27 a.m.

The Rev. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the 10th District bishop of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church, visits with members of the Salter Chapel on South Cameron Street during her visit to Victoria.

DID YOU KNOW?

• In addition to being the first female bishop elected in the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, the Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie is the national chaplain of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

• She is married to retired NBA player Stan McKenzie.

• African Methodist Episcopal Church is a predominantly African-American Methodist denomination based in the United States.

•  It was founded by the Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1816, and it was formed out of the Free African Society by free blacks established in Pennsylvania.

• The church's roots are Methodist, but it operates with an Episcopal form of government with elected bishops.

The Rev. Cheryl Wilson stands at the front of Salter Chapel, a one-room sanctuary with vertical and horizontal pews installed in both directions.

A reception and gift table is arranged in the rear of the room, and a small group of daytime choir members sing atop a gospel remix blasting through the speakers.

"We give you praise, Lord," Wilson said over the microphone. "Everything we do, we do it for you."

There is joy in the room - clapping, singing, waiting for Salter's bishop, the Rev. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, to arrive.

Not only is she the leader of Texas' 10th district African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Salter Chapel belongs, but McKenzie is also the first female bishop to be elected in the denomination's almost 200-year-old history.

"She will probably never come to Victoria again, so we're blessed for this opportunity," Wilson said.

McKenzie visited the Crossroads two weeks ago during a district tour in Texas. She said she was attempting to stop at every church to speak on issues of life and spiritual building, and community service work as well as church enhancements the members could be doing as a body.

"We need to be serving those around us as often as possible," McKenzie said. "It's hard to hear about Jesus when you're hungry. . But it's easier to receive Jesus when your needs are being met."

A crowd of about 50 people attended the 11 a.m. midday special meet and greet for the bishop.

And even though Salter's congregation is small, she said the people can do great things for the community.

"I don't believe in small churches. I believe in faith," she said. "If you have faith, God will provide you with what you need."

McKenzie's bigger-than-life personality is exactly the kind of presence the district needs to reach the needs of the congregations.

And although she's the first female to be elected bishop, she said she doesn't see herself as a female bishop.

"I believe I was elected in that office because that's where I was supposed to be and not because of my gender," she said. "If God wanted me to be another gender, he would have made me that way."

For Wilson, however, she said it's inspiring to see her faith denomination and her church's district led by a woman, especially since she returned to the African Methodist Episcopal Church when her previous Baptist denomination didn't support her decision to become a minister.

"Where I was, the church told me that women couldn't be pastors," she said. "AME does have women in the church and that's one of the things that made me give up my old denomination. I had to follow my call."

For the past three years, Wilson has been fulfilling the training needed to carry out her call to the ministry. She has two years left of theological and pastoral training before her education is complete, but she was ordained in October, she said.

"When you love God, you do what he asks of you," she said, mentioning that she's still commuting each week from Austin until she finds permanent work and housing in Victoria. "If God has called you to ministry to preach, or to just do the gospel, do what he says because he makes no mistakes."

Wilson said the bishop's visit was inspiring to her and many members of her church because it allows members to feel connected with each other and the district as a whole.

And for the women, it sets an example that they can achieve beyond what society may suggest for them.

"We're glad to hear her speak. I know many were empowered and encouraged today," she said. "Bishop teaches us to be better . and it was good for the younger ones to see that."

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