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CME conference kicks off with new leaders, farewells

Presiding Bishop Henry Williamson Sr. of the CME’s First Episcopal District is retiring to emeritus status.

When the district began its three-day annual conference Wednesday, Aug. 10, it was led by new Presiding Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas Sr. The annual conference ends Friday.

“I retired during the General Conference on a ZOOM meeting this year,” said Williamson Sr. “I am so grateful to God for all He has done through me, and now, it’s time to retire. I’m just closing one chapter, but I’ll continue to work in other capacities.”

Bishop Williamson said he will work across denominational lines to promote and expand his One School One Church initiative.

“I will now have time to do some things I have wanted to do,” said Bishop Williamson. “I was elected back in 2002, and God has helped us bring a grocery store to our community, just as a grocery was leaving. We also witnessed the re-opening of our historic connectional hospital.”

Mt. Olive Cathedral CME Church is hosting the three-day conference. Its pastor, the Rev. Peris Lester I, is heading to a newly-appointed office.

Bishop Thomas comes to Memphis from Baltimore, Maryland. He was elected the 62nd bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on July 1, 2014 at the 37th Quadrennial Session and 38th General Conference in Baltimore.

Prior to his election to the bishopric, Bishop Thomas served as dean of The Phillips School of Theology at the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He also pastored the Good News Community CME Church in Lithonia, Georgia.

Bishop Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in sociology from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from The Phillips School of Theology and the Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Thomas has served as the pastor of Walls Memorial CME Church in Chicago. In addition, Thomas has served as pastor of other churches, as well as presiding elder in both Alabama and Tennessee.

He was vice president of Student Affairs and a member of the Religion faculty at Lane College, a CME affiliate in Jackson, Tennessee. 

Meanwhile, Rev. Lester said, “It’s been an awesome ride, these eight years at Mt. Olive. I have loved being in Memphis during my tenure at Mt. Olive. This will be the last conference as pastor of this Memphis landmark. I’m excited for what the Lord has in store.”

Thomas has appointed Lester to be a presiding elder of the Second Episcopal District, which takes in the Evansville, Indiana-Hopkinsville, Kentucky area.

Rev. Lester will also serve as the new pastor of Phillips Temple CME Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

“They are in separate states, but actually, they’re really not that far apart,” said Lester. “I am glad for all I have experienced here at Mt. Olive. But I’m also excited about what the Lord has in store. I have learned so much from Bishop Williamson, and I owe him a great debt of love for challenging me and for helping me.”

Bishops in the CME Church are elected to the coveted post for life, and elections are held every four years by a majority vote at the General Conference. According to the CME website, bishops retire at the General Conference closest to their 74th birthday.

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