Bishop Mack B. Stokes, who taught thousands of preachers and helped desegregate Mississippi United Methodists, died Nov. 21 in Perdido Key, Fla. He was 100, just a month shy of his 101st birthday.
In 1972, Stokes was elected to the episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and assigned to the Jackson (Miss.) Episcopal Area, where he served until his retirement as active bishop in 1980.
In Mississippi, Stokes took on the task of merging African-American and white annual conferences into two integrated conferences. This was four years after the newly formed United Methodist Church had voted to abolish the all-black Central Jurisdiction, which served to compel the separation of African-American and white Methodists in much of the southern United States.
“He served in Mississippi at an important time,” said retired Bishop Kenneth Lee Carder, who was the Jackson Area bishop from 2004 to 2008. “He brought to that task not only a pastoral sensitivity but also a deep theological grounding for reconciliation.”
During Stokes first year as bishop, he led the area’s four annual conferences — two black and two white — to merge into the new Mississippi Conference and the new North Mississippi Conference (the predecessors of today’s Mississippi Conference). In all four annual conferences, the votes for merger passed with large majorities.
Stokes also made a point of cultivating leaders without regard for race. He announced from the start that he would appoint an African-American district superintendent in each of the newly formed conferences.
By the time of his retirement in 1980, United Methodists in the state had changed, said retired Bishop C. P. Minnick Jr., who immediately followed Stokes as Jackson Area bishop.
“In many ways the bishop led both conferences in the process of integration through a model of relational evangelism,” said Bishop James E. Swanson, who began his tenure in the Jackson Area in September and is the first United Methodist African-American bishop assigned to Mississippi. “The model has served and continues to serve United Methodism in Mississippi in significant ways as the church seeks to live out an inclusive life in Christ. I am living proof that the church can live into God’s preferred future of a Church in which people of all races can worship, serve and lead God’s people.”
To read the full article by Heather Hahn of the United Methodist News Service, click here.