“I am among you as he that serveth.” – Luke 22:27.
The Rev. Dr. Caesar Richburg, pastor of Williams Chapel AME Church in Orangeburg, uses that Bible verse as his testimony of service to the Lord. He says he will need an attitude of servitude as he prepares to embark on a journey to become a bishop in the historic African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Richburg, who has served as pastor at Williams Chapel AME Church for the past decade, is readying himself for what he hopes will be his election as a bishop during the 50th Quadrennial Conference of the AME Church to be held Sunday, July 3, through Wednesday, July 13, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“We’re convening in Philadelphia because that’s the cradle of African Methodism, and many of the activities will take place at Mother Bethel AME Church,” Richburg said.
Mother Bethel AME Church, the mother church of the AME denomination, was founded in 1794 by Richard Allen, an African-American Methodist minister who is the founder of the first independent black denomination in the United States.
This year marks the 200th year since the first General Conference of the AME Church was called into session.
“We’ll be celebrating the bicentennial of the African Methodist Episcopal Church under the theme ‘An Extraordinary History and an Incredible Future.’ I’m a candidate to serve the church as one of its bishops,” Richburg said. “They superintend various geographical areas of the church.”
Richburg said bishops are elected by both clergy and lay members.
“There is an equal representation of clergy and lay members at the General Conference who derive from the different Episcopal Districts around the world,” he said. “The persons that will be voting will be delegates from those various districts. The recommendation is given by the Episcopal Committee and is approved and accepted by the delegates at the General Conference.”
Richburg said there are 21 active bishops in the church who are assigned to geographical areas or districts every four years. The maximum amount of time they can serve a given area is 96 months, or two four-year periods, he noted.
Richburg said he is one of approximately 30 clergy members who are running for bishop.
“There’s one gentleman from the Caribbean and there are others from the continent of Africa,” he said.
Besides Richburg, the only other candidates from South Carolina are the Rev. Dr. Ronnie E. Brailsford Sr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in Columbia, and the Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff, who served as interim pastor at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine black worshippers were shot and killed on June 17, 2015.
Richburg said he is looking forward to “expanding the church’s territory” as bishop.
“It’s a weighty calling in my life. … I think nothing is more rewarding than to offer leadership for the church,” particularly as it pertains to “engaging in nontraditional, cutting-edge ministry,” he said. “These are ministries that take you beyond the campus of a local congregation in transforming the lives of communities and people.”
The self-confident pastor said he feels he will be elected the AME Church’s next bishop, but also realizes that he will be losing a “wonderful congregation” at Williams Chapel AME Church.
“I believe that I will be elected. I’m not going to neutralize my faith with apprehension, but if an individual isn’t elected, they obviously return to their local church for the remainder of that conference year,” Richburg said.
He added, “Out of the 500-plus AME churches in this state, Williams Chapel is a plum. This is a wonderful congregation to serve. It’s a congregation that highly regards and respects its under-shepherd and looks to her pastor as leader of the flock. A sweet spirit resonates in this place.”
The Sumter native has spent 35 of his 40 years in the ministry as a pastor. He and wife of 37 years, Ella, are the parents of three children and they have one grandson.
Richburg said he is basing his campaign on four pillars of action: “transforming, recovering, re-visioning and renewing.”
“I’m talking about recovering the richness of the AME Church. Being that we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ from the curse of the law, it enables us to engage as a body of Christ in cutting-edge ministry from a more relevant perspective.
“Re-visioning is about how we do ministry. Healthy congregations look toward the future, growth and development. Re-visioning will allow the church to retool and meet the challenges of a changing world with intentionality,” Richburg said. “We can’t do eight-track ministry in an MP3 world.”
Having a Christ-centered vision focused on “renewing an affirmation of our faith, gifts, energies and fresh ideas of all people” is also key in moving the AME Church forward, he said.
Source: The T & D | DIONNE GLEATON