Last week, North Carolina lost a religious leader we hardly knew.
Bishop James McCoy had been named back during the summer to be the Presiding Prelate of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church. He took office here a couple of months ago, was officially installed only a couple of weeks ago, and passed last week.
I attended his service last Saturday at Livingstone College in Salisbury. I was representing the bishops and other heads of the Council’s member bodies and our Governing Board. It was a powerful service of song, scripture, remembrance, and celebration.
The AME Zion Church occupies a special place in the Council’s history. As many of you know, the Council was created in 1935 by white religious leaders who were strongly opposed to racial segregation. Early on, the Council began to address racial justice issues. Several conferences of the AME Zion Church were the first African-American churches to be accepted as full members of the NC Council. It was in the early 1940s, a decade before Brown v. Board of Education.
During my time as executive director, the Council has enjoyed strong ecumenical relations with Bishop Cecil Bishop (a former President of the Council), Bishop George Walker, Bishop George Battle, and Bishop Richard Thompson. We also proudly claim ties to two new AME Zion bishops: Bishop Michael Frencher, who hosted Council gatherings as a pastor in Greensboro, and Bishop Seth O. Lartey, who served with distinction on the Council’s Governing Board while pastoring in Winston-Salem.
For me, one of the strongest testimonies about Bishop McCoy came from the Rev. Dr. Kathy McFadden, who had been his pastor when he was the bishop for the Alabama-Florida District. She noted that he was generous; loved the AME Zion Church; loved education and supported students financially; was stubborn; was a champion of women; and was a mentor, father figure, and friend. After hearing her talk about him, I was especially sorry that we had not had a chance to know him, to work with him, here in North Carolina. Bishop Battle, newly installed as the bishop of the Piedmont Episcopal District (the western half of NC) and senior bishop for the AME Zion Church, noted how Bishop McCoy treated his family, a wife and three daughters. Several other speakers noted his respect for women and his advancement of women in ministry. The woman sitting next to me at the service, an AME Zion pastor, said to me how important his affirmation of women clergy had been.
The North Carolina Council of Churches grieves at the passing of Bishop McCoy. We grieve with his wife Shirley and his three daughters and their families. We grieve with the AME Zion bishops. And we grieve especially with the Presiding Elders, pastors, and laity of the Eastern NC Episcopal District, who have lost their new bishop. We especially remember EC Dobson, a current member of the Council’s Board, and Joe Brown, a past president of the Council. Both are Presiding Elders in the Eastern NC Episcopal District and must now help their people cope with this loss.
And we grieve for ourselves – the Council – because we never had a chance to know Bishop McCoy and to work with him for justice and peace in North Carolina. It’s a huge loss on so many levels.
–George Reed, Executive Director