Central Jurisdiction Portraits

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The Rev. William B. McClain

The Rev. William B. McClain has a rich Methodist heritage. His Alabama ancestors founded the Sweet Home Methodist Church in 1872, and he was ordained in the Central Alabama Conference of the Central Jurisdiction. Having led churches in Alabama before the abolition of the jurisdiction, he remembers the fellowship within its structure with fondness and appreciation but says, "Black people were abused and insulted and disappointed that the church was not willing to be one church." McClain is the Mary Elizabeth Joyce professor of preaching and worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
The Rev. Joseph Lowery

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a preacher and civil rights advocate, said the Central Jurisdiction was mysterious and had its own mystique. The Central Jurisdiction was a "micro-microcosm" of life in the United States, where minorities have lived in a system dominated by a white majority. The Central Jurisdiction era represented a journey for black Methodists to achieve dignity and justice in a white-controlled institution. Lowery was a founder and chief executive officer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He retired from active United Methodist ministry in 1997 and from the SCLC in 1998 but still remains active. He works to encourage African Americans to vote, and recently recorded a rap with artist NATE the Great to help spread this message. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly

Bishop Leontine T. C. Kelly was the first African-American woman elected to the episcopacy in the United Methodist Church. She finds meaning in the Central Jurisdiction by recalling it as a time when her family's home in Cincinnati hosted many Methodist leaders of historic significance. In the Central Jurisdiction, blacks received training and skills in church leadership that they would not have received anywhere else in society, she says. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
Rhett Jackson

Before the dismantling of the Central Jurisdiction, the South Carolina Annual Conference had an African-American bishop and a white bishop. Both appointed merger committees in 1966, two years before the dissolution of the jurisdiction. A layperson from Columbia, S.C., Rhett Jackson led the committee for the white conference. After the two committees were formed, the black and white committees merged into one. Jackson recalls working with the former chairperson of the black committee to make the constituencies aware of what was occurring. He says he then realized how deep and apparent racism was in the state and was surprised at the racism of the white clergy. Merger in South Carolina took six years. Jackson says the state's merger had the best plan in the Southeast. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
Mai H. Gray

A retired educator, Mai H. Gray is actively involved in church and community activities in Kansas City, Mo. Her experience in the Central Jurisdiction began when her husband, the Rev. C. Jarrett Gray, started leading churches in Arkansas and Missouri. At the time, she saw the Central Jurisdiction as a hindrance or handicap. Now, she believes it was a place where God was calling both the black and white Methodist constituencies to see what was being done to people. The years of the Central Jurisdiction were a time of growth and understanding. "If not for the jurisdiction, many African Americans would not have had opportunities for real leadership (where they) were able to hone their skills." A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
Angella P. Current-Felder

Head of the Office of Loans and Scholarships for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry for 18 years, Angella P. Current-Felder is the first African American to hold the position. A fourth-generation Methodist, she continues a rich history of family involvement in the denomination. Her great-great-grandfather was a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church before the Central Jurisdiction was formed. "So many youth today have no knowledge of the historic contribution that African Americans have made to the United Methodist Church," says Current-Felder. She learned about the Central Jurisdiction around the dining room table, where her family talked about its experiences and told stories of other members. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
The Rev. Gilbert Caldwell

The Rev. Gilbert Caldwell says the Central Jurisdiction, as well as so much of the black experience, is "an illustration of how we create soul food - taking leftovers and making something good. The Central Jurisdiction was a representation of that." The child of a preacher, Caldwell was 5 years old when the Central Jurisdiction was created in 1939. He said he has fond memories of traveling and receiving his education and a seminary degree. He also calls the jurisdiction a compromise of the church's ideals, and he praises the perseverance of a people who made the most of the decision - made the most out of nothing. Caldwell is retired and lives in Denver. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 
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