Second District AME Church Lay Organization
The Second Episcopal District Lay Organization is a fundamental part of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Church. First and foremost, the Second Episcopal District (SED) has always played a significant role in the historical growth and development of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as the United States of America. “In this Mid-Atlantic region covering two states, one commonwealth republic, and one territory, there is a sweet, sweet spirit and desire to ‘run and see’ what God has in store for the faithful”. Many of its congregations are more than a century old and among these church memberships are living legends who have contributed immeasurable historical knowledge and experiences. This great cloud of witnesses continues to serve, to inspire, and to motivate both clergy and laity to continue the work of the church that was envisioned by early church leaders.
Just as the Second Episcopal District of the A. M. E. Church encompasses the jurisdictions of Baltimore, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina and Western North Carolina, so does the Second Episcopal District Lay Organization of the African Methodist Church (SEDLO). Faithful, creative, and valiant describes the 61 years of service of the SEDLO to God, to the church, and to the greater community. The SEDLO’s rich history is steeped in the goals and objectives of the Connectional Lay Organization.
In 1956, under the visionary leadership of Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr., seasoned, loyal and dedicated laymen were summoned from Baltimore, Washington, Virginia and North Carolina, to Kittrell College in Henderson, North Carolina, to birth into existence the SEDLO. Because of the death of Bishop Lawrence Hemingway, Presiding Prelate of the Second Episcopal District, Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr. Presiding Prelate of the Seventh Episcopal District, the state of South Carolina, was assigned to preside over the North Carolina and Virginia Annual Conferences, while Bishop D. Ward Nichols, presiding prelate of the First Episcopal District, superintended the work of the Baltimore and the newly formed Washington Conference. Professor, Vernon Cowan was appointed as the President of the SEDLO, and it became his charge to establish Annual Conference Lay Organizations.
The Second Episcopal District (SED) went to that General Conference under the leadership of two Bishops, Reid and Nichols, but returned under the capable leadership of Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr. who had been assigned to the Second District. Professor Vernon Cowan proceeded to supervise the organization of each Annual Conference Lay Organization.
Retrospectively, in 1954, Bishop D. Ward Nichols, who had an interest in the Connectional Lay Organization, felt that the Baltimore and Washington Conferences should be represented at the 1955 Connectional Lay Organization Biennial held at the Bellview-Straton Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. Hence, he selected Rachael Valentine to represent the Washington Conference. Subsequently, when the Washington Conference Lay Organization (WCLO) was officially organized in 1956, Bishop Nichols’ selection of Mrs. Rachel Valentine to attend the Philadelphia
Biennial manifested itself as a wise choice and she was elected WCLO’s first president. The following members were elected charter members of the WCLO; Hazel Bailey, Darese Carter, James Childs, Gladys Grantt, Ella M. Gothard, Arlie P. Lewis, George W. Mitchell, Melvina Offutt, Bernice Shelton, Rachel Valentine, and Francis Wells. Vorhees Jameson was initially elected a charter member of the Baltimore Conference Lay Organization but, later moved to Washington and became a charter member of the Washington Conference. From the beginning the WCLO played a pivotal role in the SEDLO, willingly participating and engaging in all programs, activities, and events organized by SEDLO. Through the years, the WCLO served as hosts for the Connectional Biennials as well as the SEDLO conventions. In conjunction with the teaching and training model, WCLO stressed including youth, providing service, fostering scholarship and leadership. Accordingly, five Bishops have been elected from the Washington Annual Conference – Bishops G. Dewey Robinson, Frank Madison Reid, Jr., Robert L. Pruitt, William P. DeVeaux and Harry L. Seawright.
Moreover, Bishop Vasti Murphy McKenzie was elected from the Baltimore Conference of the Second Episcopal District of the A. M.E. Church.
On Saturday, November 24, 1956 at 4:00 P. M., the Virginia Conference assembled for the purpose of electing the first officers of the Virginia Lay Organization (VLO). Professor Vernon Cowan, of Asheville, N. C., president of the Second Episcopal District Lay Organization, presided over the election. After several members of the Lay delegation had expressed themselves regarding the merits of the organization, Professor Cowan declared the meeting open for nominations. The following officers were elected: Moses Jones, Suffolk, President, C. W. Traynham, Roanoke, Vice President, Virginia Bryant, Portsmouth, Secretary, F. W. Lewis, Norfolk, Treasurer, and A. B. Funn, Assistant Secretary. The officers were installed by Bishop Frank Madison Reid. The members of the Virginia Conference Lay Organization (VLO) voted to meet annually on the 4th Saturday of April. The (VLO) having met initially in Roanoke, VA, eventually expanded to the eastern shore and westward into little known areas establishing lay organizations and utilizing educational and enlightening workshops, activities and events to teach, train, and empower the laity.
For a period, the North Carolina Lay Organization(NCLO), organized in 1965, consisted of a Southern District Lay organization and a Northern District Lay Organization as well as the North Carolina Lay Organization. These organizations met once or twice a year. However, after a merger of those individual lay organizations in 1988, Florence Warren was elected President. With the merger, the (NCLO) was obligated to continue the teaching and training that had been enacted during the earlier years. Meaningful programs and activities were envisioned and enacted to carry out the goals of the Connectional Lay Organization of the A. M. E. Church. Pillars of the North Carolina Lay Organization included: Myrtle Knox, Maggie Jenkins, Lucille Wiggins, Katy Forman, Mary Lennons, Louis Warren, Rometta Mills, Dorothy Nichols, Leroy Vaugh, Sr. Alvin Hankins, Heziah Maeh, Steve Moore, Harry Gore, Barnabas Parker, Robert Boddie, Coley Ashe, Mitchell Gadsen, Annie Smith, and W. Malcoln Lea. The North Carolina Conference hosted the SEDLO Convention in 2004 in Atlantic Beach, N. C.
Because of the encouragement of Bishop Nichols, the Western North Carolina Conference (WNCCLO) was organized. Ruth Wadell of Sandford, N. C. served as the first president. The WNCCLO believed that it was important for the Lay Organization to grow and to fulfil its goals. Additionally, it is believed that communication had to be transparent between laity and clergy. Under great leadership, the WNCCLO was creative and industrious in its work and service. Over the years the WNCCLO created a Course of Study, and established a Religious Institute. The WNCCLO hosted the first SEDLO Convention at the Ramada Inn in Greensboro, NC from November 30 through December 2, 1989. Charter members of the North Carolina Lay Organization included: O. M. Carr. Minerva Evans, P. A. Williams, Vernon Cowan.
Lastly, the SEDLO continued to be a vibrant, growing District Lay Organization with a rich history entrenched in the goals and objectives of the Connectional Lay Organization. Since its inception, the SEDLO has been prolific in service and industrious in programmatic endeavors including recruiting new lay organizations, implementing social action projects, encouraging the engagement of youth, and establishing scholarships for young people. Since the fundamental purpose of the SEDLO ministry is teaching and training to empower the laity, forums such as workshops, seminars and creative activities with engaging speakers and presenters were held separately as well as at the seat of (SED) meetings. Annual Lay Night became a vital part of each (SED) annual Conference series. With the advent of the “digital age”, the SEDLO provided improved communication among the laity and embraced technology, utilizing the SEDLO website, tele conference calling, and other technology mediums. The SEDLO ensured that it was effectively featured in the Connectional Lay Organization periodical, WE Speak, also. Further, most local Lay Organizations met monthly and celebrated either Lay Witness Sunday or Lay Day annually.
The SEDLO remains proud of Dr. Joseph C. McKinney who wrote the Lay Handbook, 1988 and is, also, pleased to have been instrumental in renaming the A. M. E. Finance Building – the Joseph C. McKinney Building.