A Brief History of the Lay Organization in the
11th Episcopal District
Courtesy of the Connectional Lay Organization Historiographer Dr. Dorothy Henderson
From its inception in the AME Church in 1912, the Lay Organization has had to forge its way through the seas of resistance and discouragement. Buffered by sheer determination, it was in 1945, at the seat of the South Florida Annual Conference, that the Eleventh Episcopal District Lay Organization had its beginning.
During the 1944 General Conference convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Delegate E. M. Blocker, a steward of Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church in Miami, Florida, attended the Laymen’s Connectional meeting. It was this meeting that infused him with ideas and principles regarding the laity, and he was inspired to organize the Lay League in the Eleventh Episcopal District.
Under Brother Blocker’s leadership the Laymen met and organized the Miami District Laymen League at Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church. Other laymen were encouraged to participate, and the Lay movement began to gain momentum as Brother Blocker was invited to hold organizational meetings throughout the South Florida area.
News of the organizational meetings led by Brother Blocker and laymen of the North Miami and the West Palm Beach districts reached Bishop H.Y. Tookes, the Presiding Bishop of the Eleventh Episcopal District. Bishop Tookes directed Reverend H. W. Fayson and Reverend S. A. Cousin not to allow Laymen to hold meetings in churches.
The Lay movement continued to grow and finally, the message was received in other parts of the state. In the East Florida Conference Brother J. L. Williams, Sr. (father of future Connectional Lay President J. L. Williams, Jr.) of St. Paul AME Church, Jacksonville, called together Laymen who organized the Laymen Alliance Incorporation of the AME Church.
In 1945 during South Florida Annual Conference in Cocoa, Florida, Bishop Tookes, deciding it was better to have the laymen meet and organize properly, appointed Dr. A. J. White of St. Paul AME Church in Tampa, state Lay president and Brother E.M. Blocker president of the South Florida Conference.
: Laymen were not satisfied with the appointed organizational structure and expressed to the Bishop the desire to have an elected president as dictated by law. The Bishop denied them this privilege and amid much unrest, they proceeded to contact the General Church. In 1948, newly assigned Bishop John Andrew Gregg called his first district meeting at Edward Waters College, and the first item on his agenda was to call a special meeting to elect a president of the laity.
On November 2, 1948, the Laymen’s League met at St. Mark AME Church in Orlando. At this meeting Professor E. M. Blocker became the first elected Lay president of the Laymen League of the Eleventh Episcopal District andremained as such until 1953, when he received the Divine Call to the Holy ministry.
Felix White of Atlantic Beach, Florida was elected as the second Episcopal President in 1953. Selmo Bradley of Quincy, FL was elected as the third president and served from 1971 to1984. The fourth Episcopal Lay President James L. Williams, Jr. from Jacksonville, FL, served from 1984 until 1992. Fifth Episcopal President Jesse L. Burns of Bradenton, FL succeeded Williams and served from 1992 to 2000.
In 2000, the dawn of a new century and new millennium, the laity elected Marian Bacon White of West Palm Beach, the first woman to lead the Episcopal Lay Organization. She presided from 2000-2008. In 2008, president number 7, Charlie Nichols was elected. Under President Charlie Nichols’ admin- istration the Episcopal Lay Organization utilized the SMART goal format in presenting timely and accountable reports. The training retreat was re-established and a dedicated effort to engage young adults was enacted. Nichols served 8 years and was succeeded on June 24, 2016, by the second woman and the eighth person elected to the office of EEDLO President — Patricia H. Wright.
An avid teacher and learner, President Patricia Wright aspires to bring life to the Lay mission of teaching, thereby perpetuating a love for the history and traditions of our AME Zion legacy.
The Eleventh Episcopal District enjoys a rich history of involvement, activism and leadership. It holds a seat at the table of the AME church across the connection. The influence of the Eleventh District spreads throughout the Connection. Constituents serve on connectional committees, lead special causes, and present training during biennial sessions. Of the eleven presidents of the Connectional Lay Organization, three of them have come from the Eleventh…namely, Dr. R. R. Williams of Tampa Florida elected in 1924, Mr. J. L. Williams of Jacksonville Florida elected in 1993 and Mr. Jesse L. Burns of Bradenton, Florida, elected in 2005.
As we march toward the celebration of our 75th Annual Convention in 2019, we are ever focused on growing our Zion and preparing the next generation to lift the AME banner high for the cause of Christ.
About the West Coast Conference Lay
Read the West Coast Conference History in our inaugural newsletter, the Snapshot.