Payne Theological Seminary and AME Church Leadership
by Dennis C. Dickerson
Since its incorporation in 1894, Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio has populated AME Church pulpits with unusually talented and conscientious clergy who served both their congregations and communities. Several of these alumni became General Officers including Henderson S. Davis, the 12th Historiographer (1980-1988), and Robert H. Reid, Jr., the 18th Editor of THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER (1976-1996). Pioneer female clergy, Martha Jayne Keys and Mary Evans were graduated in the 1910s. Charles S. Spivey, Jr., a graduate and former dean, served as Executive Director of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago. Several faculty members also have served African Methodism as Bishops and General Officers including Joseph Gomez, the 67th Bishop, John Hurst Adams, the 87th Bishop, who taught New Testament, and John William Porter Collier, Jr, the Secretary of Missions, who taught the Rural Church.
Several Bishops trained at Payne Seminary either as graduates or matriculated before earning degrees at other institutions. George B. Young, 52nd, elected in 1928, was the first bishop ever elected from Texas and who was born in Texas and who was serving in the state when he was elevated to the episcopacy. He served in southern Africa and then in Texas. George W. Baber, 63rd, a native of Cleveland, Ohio and the son of a veteran pastor in Canada, Bermuda, and in the United States, attended Payne Seminary. He was elected a bishop in 1944 from his pastorate at Ebenezer, Detroit. He served in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Episcopal Districts. Howard Thomas Primm, 71st, a Tennessean, became a bishop in 1952 from Union Bethel in New Orleans where he built the Four Freedoms Building. He served in several districts including the 4th, 5th, and 13th. John D. Bright, Sr., 79th, a Georgian, served Bethel, Pittsburgh, and Allen and Mother Bethel, Philadelphia. He was elected in 1960 and served in Africa, then Arkansas and Oklahoma, and then in the 1st Episcopal District. Harrison J. Bryant, 82nd, a South Carolinian, who was pastor at St. Paul, Lexington, Kentucky and Bethel, Baltimore. He was elected in 1964, and served in South Africa and then in the 5th Episcopal District. Bryant Temple Church in Los Angeles was named in his honor.
Richard Allen Hildebrand, 88th, was also a South Carolinian. He was pastor at Ross Chapel, Jamestown, Ohio, St. Paul, Akron, Ohio, Bethel, Providence, Rhode Island, Bethel, Wilmington, Delaware, Bethel, New York City, and Bridge Street, Brooklyn, New York. He was elected to the episcopacy in 1972 and served in the 6th, 1st, and 3rd. He also taught course at Payne Seminary on polity, church administration, and advanced preaching. After his retirement from the bishopric, he served as pastor at Macedonia in Fernandina Beach, Florida. H. Hartford Brookins, 90th, of Yazoo City, Mississippi, while at Payne Seminary, fulfilled his field education requirement at Woodlawn AME Church in Chicago where the politically active and socially conscious Archibald J. Carey, Jr. was pastor. After graduation he built St. Paul in Wichita, Kansas and First Church in Los Angeles. He was elected to the bishopric in 1972, served in the 17th Episcopal District where he opposed the white-minority government in Rhodesia and then he was assigned to the 5th Episcopal District. His subsequent assignments were in the 2nd, 13th, and 12t,h. He was also the Ecumenical Officer. Vinton R. Anderson, 91st, of Somerset, Bermuda, was elected to the episcopacy in 1972 after several pastorates in Kansas and then at St. Paul, St. Louis. He served in the 9th, 3rd, 5th, and 2nd Episcopal Districts. He was also the Ecumenical Officer and oversaw the celebration of the AME Bicentennial in 1987. He was President of the World Council of Churches. Donald G. K. Ming, 97th, also was born in Bermuda and was elected a bishop in 1976. He served in Beverly, New Jersey, Chester, Pennsylvania, and was the builder of Allen Church in Jamaica, New York. He served in the 15th, 16th, 8th, 6th, and 1st Episcopal Districts. J. Haskell Mayo, 100th, was a native of Springfield, Ohio, and was elected to the episcopacy in 1980. He had been pastor at Ward, Washington, D. C., St. James, St. Louis, Shorter, Denver, and Coppin in Chicago. As bishop he served in the 14th, 16th, 10th, and 4th Episcopal Districts. John E. Hunter, 101st, was born in Elida, Ohio and was pastor at First Church, Gary, Indiana and St. Stephen, Detroit. He was elected in 1980 and served in the 15th Episcopal District. Robert L. Pruitt, 103rd, an unusually gifted preacher, was born in South Carolina. He was pastor at Grant, Boston and Metropolitan, Washington, D. C. He was elected in 1984 and served in the 17th and 10th Episcopal Districts. Robert V. Webster, 110th, a native of Arkansas, was elected in 1992. He was the longtime pastor of St. Stephen, Jacksonville, Florida. He served as bishop in the 17th and 3rd Episcopal Districts. C. Garnett Henning, Sr., 112th, was elected in 1992, after socially conscious pastorates at. St. Peter, St. Louis, Ward, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, St. Louis. As bishop in the 14th Episcopal District he built the AME University. He also served in the 8th Episcopal District where he led churches in Louisiana and Mississippi in recovery from the devastating Hurricane Katrina. He next presided in the 3rd Episcopal District. Wilfred J. Messiah, 120th, was born in South Africa where he was a daring fighter against the apartheid regime. He was a pastor in the 3rd Episcopal District. As bishop he served in the 15th and 20th Episcopal Districts. Clement W. Fugh, 130th, born in Memphis, Tennessee, studied at Payne Seminary before he earned his divinity degree at Boston University. He was a pastor in Kentucky and Tennessee and was the builder of Greater Bethel in Nashville. He was elected General Secretary/Chief Information Officer in 2000, elected to the episcopacy in 2012, and assigned to the 14th Episcopal District.
The roster of pastors and clergy in other vocations is lengthy and attest to the broad influence of Payne Theological Seminary over its century of ministerial training.