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LEGACY: Bishop William Graves

Only moments after the burial of Bishop E. Lynn Brown on Saturday, the passing of  Bishop William Graves sent more shockwaves through the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Bishop Lawrence Reddick posted a statement on the CME website Saturday afternoon:

“Dear CME Family, Bishop William H. Graves, the 42nd bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, died today, November 30, in Memphis, Tennessee. Bishop Graves succumbed after a brief hospitalization of a few days, and just minutes after the burial of his friend, Bishop E. Lynn Brown…

First District Presiding Bishop Henry Williamson, upon hearing the news, said: “Let us keep Mrs. Donna Graves and family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Funeral arrangements have been set for Monday, December 9, at Greenwood CME Church, 3311 Kimball Avenue. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m., and the funeral service will begin at 11 p.m. More information is promised as final services are being planned. It is anticipated that Bishop Graves will lie in state, just as Bishop Brown did prior to final services.

William H. Graves was born in Brownsville, Tn., to Johnnie and Leatha Graves, on June 19, 1936. While still a very young child, the family moved up to Detroit, where he spent the majority of his youth.

After graduating from high school in Detroit, Graves attended Lane College in Jackson, Tn, earning a bachelors degree. He later earned a masters degree at the Phillips School of Theology on the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He pursued his Doctor of Ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology.

After being licensed to preach, Bishop Graves served as the Assistant Pastor of his home church, St. John’s CME Church of Detroit, under the pastorate of Walter H. Amos, (who later became the 32nd Bishop of the church).

Following that assignment, he served as pastor of several churches, in Georgia, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Bishop Graves rose to prominence while pastoring the Phillips Temple CME Church of Los Angeles, where the historic congregation underwent a massive restoration of its worship facility. Graves was lauded as “an unusual leader in stewardship motivation.”

His climb to the national stage began when he was elected president of the National Youth Conference, where he represented the denomination in the World Council of Churches in India. The young presbyter later attended World Methodist Conferences in London, England; Dublin, Ireland; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

From 1982-2010, Bishop Graves presided over the First Episcopal District, which is headquartered in Memphis. At the 2006 CME General Conference, Bishop Graves was elected as the 42nd presiding prelate and CEO of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. At the 2010 General Conference in Mobile, Ala., Bishop Graves retired with honors.

Bishop Graves served on the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority and was a National Board Member of the NAACP. He is the immediate past president of the board of directors for the National Congress of Black Churches.

Left to cherish his memory is his wife, Donna Bentley Graves, and three adult children: Jacquelyn Graves Thomas, Ameera, and William II.


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