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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Meet the CME Church’s new first district presiding bishop

Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas Sr. comes to Memphis and the CME Church’s First Episcopal District at a pivotal time in politics and in history.

“I have come here knowing who Memphis is and what Memphis means,” said Thomas. “I come from a family of social activism. My mother was Ms. Minnie Thomas Brown. She had us in mass meetings and marches down there in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Oh, I know what coming to Memphis means.”

Bishop Thomas succeeds Bishop Emeritus Henry Williamson Sr., as the new presiding prelate of the First Episcopal District. Bishop Williamson served for two decades, distinguishing himself as the driving force behind the reopening the CME Connectional Hospital to serve the homeless.

Bishop Williamson also was a key figure in bringing a grocery store into an underserved, impoverished community when the original grocery chain pulled out.

Bishop Thomas feels strongly about the CME denomination continuing to play an integral role in community life beyond the confines of church walls. 

The prelate is determined to build on his record of social activism and political involvement. 

Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas Sr.: “I have come here knowing who Memphis is and what Memphis means.” (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

“We are called to not only open the doors of the church for men and women to accept Christ, but we are called of God to be politicians, politicians with ethics,” said Bishop Thomas. “When the politicians are giving the wrong message, we must change the narrative. To change the narrative, we must change the messengers.”

Bishop Thomas said politicians are needed “who come from our side of town.”

“There is no such thing as freedom when freedom leaves a group of people behind,” Bishop Thomas said. “A citywide approach to homelessness is necessary. Those in power must be challenged to not look beyond the least of these. Poverty, homelessness, hunger—get in the trenches with them. Social justice is the ministry of the moment.”

Bishop Thomas was first elected to the bishopric on July 1, 2014, the 62nd bishop of the CME Church, at the General Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

Thomas was first assigned to the Second Episcopal District, serving in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“My commitment to social justice in Cincinnati was evidenced in our work with the NAACP,” said Bishop Thomas. “Also, a new organization called “A Mighty Stream” pushed back against racial injustice. Mighty Stream is an interfaith community of activists from a number of faiths.”

Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas Sr. feels strongly about the CME denomination continuing to play an integral role in community life beyond the confines of church walls. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Bishop Thomas was among the African-American children who desegregated the schools in Tuscaloosa. That time in civil rights history solidified his committed to activism.

The bishop said in this present time, the power of voting must be conveyed and impressed upon every eligible voter as the (Nov. 8) mid-term elections approach.

“Voter drives for registration, and voter education are paramount right now. Activism must be directed at not allowing the mid-terms to go the way mid-term elections generally go.

“Blatant voter suppression is on the rise in many states. This is, indeed, a very critical time in politics,” Bishop Thomas said.

Bishop Thomas knew on July 1, 2022, that he would be transferring to the First Episcopal District, which is comprised of Tennessee and Arkansas. He said Memphis is in “the premiere district.”

Bishop Thomas is a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors, and chairman of the Lane College, a CME affiliated institution, Board of Trustees. 

He also chairs the denomination’s Department of Lay Ministry.

Thomas earned a bachelor’s in history from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa; a Master of Divinity followed from The Phillips School of Theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. The Doctor of Ministry was earned at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Thomas has served in the Religion faculty at both Stillman and Lane Colleges. He was pastor of Walls Memorial CME Church in Chicago, as well as other congregations in the CME Church. Thomas has served as presiding elder in Alabama and Tennessee.

Thomas is the son of the late civil rights activist, Minnie Thomas Brown. He is the second of six children. 

He has two children, Kourtney Lea Thomas and Marvin Frank Thomas Jr., and one grandson, Kameron.

Thomas is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

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