A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bishop James S. Thomas (1919-2010)

United Methodist Bishop, James S. Thomas has died. He was 91. Bishop Thomas was my first bishop when I entered into the membership of the East Ohio Annual Conference back in the 1980s. As a Conference we were blessed to have his leadership for twelve years, and I was honored to have been ordained a Deacon by Bishop Thomas before Deacons and Elders Orders became two separate tracks at the 1996 General Conference. He had retired when I was ordained an Elder.

For me personally, Bishop Thomas embodied everything that a bishop should be. He was a bold leader who modeled the servant ministry of Jesus. And while I knew he was my bishop and I was therefore under his authority, I also knew that he considered me and every other pastor in the Conference as a colleague in ministry.

I loved listening to Bishop Thomas preach-- his sermons were biblical, substantive, challenging, and sprinkled with his wonderful sense of humor. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine said to me that after some of his own sermons he wondered if his congregation silently thought to themselves, "So what?" That was never ever a silent thought after one of Bishop Thomas' sermons. When one of James Thomas' sermons was finished, the gospel had indeed been proclaimed.

As an African American bishop, Thomas blazed new trails and broke down racial barriers in the church and its ministry. One wonders if the UMC would have come as far as it has in this respect without the leadership of Bishop Thomas. He was able to be so effective because of his own attitude as bishop. He once said, "I didn't come to be a black bishop. I've always been black. I have come to be the best bishop I can be." And indeed he was.

As Bishop Thomas has now joined the saints in glory, we who remain stand on his shoulders and continue the work of ministry that the Church of Jesus Christ has been called to do. He wasn't the first great servant leader in the church and he won't be the last; but we would be more diminished as individual believers and as a church without his presence and witness.

O God of All the Saints, we give you thanks for the gift of Bishop James S. Thomas to the church of Jesus Christ and to those who had the high honor of knowing him.

UMNS reports here on Bishop Thomas' life and death.

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