Baltimore's Rev. Frank M. Reid III elected a bishop of African Methodist Episcopal Church

Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church has been elected to be a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, the longtime senior pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, is to be consecrated Wednesday as a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Bishop is the highest position in the Christian denomination of some 2 million. Reid's election this week at the quadrennial meeting of the church's leadership body in Philadelphia means he will be leaving Baltimore and Bethel, the pulpit he has held for 28 years.

Church leaders will tell him his new destination Wednesday.

The election was "doubly historic," Reid said, in that he will now follow in the footsteps of his late grandfather and father, both bishops also named Frank Madison Reid. It's the first time in the denomination's history that members of three generations have been elected to the position.

Reid will be one of 21 bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a member of the general conference, its supreme body. The denomination has churches on four continents.

Reid, 65, began campaigning for the position four years ago.

"It has been an emotional roller coaster, filled with joy, tiredness and gratitude," he said in a phone interview from Philadelphia, where he remained Tuesday.

He called the prospect of leaving Bethel "emotionally challenging," but said he considered his election to be part of a larger plan — just as it would have been had he fallen short.

"It's the will of God for Bethel to have a new pastor, and I believe that new pastor will lead it to a new height of greatness in service, in strength for our city, our region, our state and our nation," he said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake offered congratulations.

Reid "is a remarkable community leader who I am deeply proud to congratulate as he begins his new role," she said in a statement. "His advancement is a testament of the history, leadership and profound influence of Baltimore's faith communities and African American heritage.

"I am confident that he will continue to elevate his ministry and excel in his new capacity. As his friend, I also wish him many more years of impact and success."

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in Philadelphia in 1816, is divided into 20 episcopal districts. The Baltimore District, also known as the 2nd Episcopal District, includes Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Each district elects delegates to the general conference, which is held every four years. The conference elects new bishops when openings exist.

Over the past four years, Reid visited dozens of the annual conferences held within the episcopal districts.

To win election, candidates must receive more than half the votes cast at the general conference.

Reid said the 31 candidates for the six openings this year campaigned throughout the multiday convention.

He was elected on the fourth and final ballot to become the last of the new bishops chosen and the 138th in church history.

"It was nerve-racking," he said. "Or a more faith-based term might be 'faith-shaking.'"

"It makes you grateful, but it also strengthens your faith because whether you win the office or you don't, you're reminded of the reality of your faith and of God in a crazy world."

Reid is the longest-serving pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, a worship community in the Upton/Druid Heights section of West Baltimore.

The church, which dates to the 1700s, has long been the spiritual home of much of the city's African-American establishment.

Reid has been a pillar of stability in the neighborhood and the city, confronting high rates of AIDS and relatively low life expectancies.

He has been a promoter of interfaith charitable work, and was a calming presence in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray last April.

Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. On the day he was buried, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting.

Reid appeared repeatedly on television and marched in the streets with dozens of other ministers to help calm the city.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings — another calming presence during the unrest — said Reid will be missed but will certainly continue sharing his considerable gifts.

"I am grateful for [Reid's] many years of strong leadership as the Pastor of Bethel AME Church," the Baltimore lawmaker said in a statement. "For nearly three decades, he met the spiritual needs of his congregation and reached beyond the pulpit with resources and programs to strengthen the greater Baltimore community.

"Baltimore may be losing a pillar in our community, but the African Methodist Episcopal Church will gain a committed servant of God as a bishop."

Reid's grandfather was elected to the position in 1940. His father, Frank M. Reid Jr., followed in 1972.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Reid's stepbrother, was at the 1972 conference in Dallas and the one this week. He said both votes were "high-drama," going down to the last moment.

Schmoke said the politicking during election season in the church is historically so intense that in 1976, then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter visited the conference because he'd heard that was where he could learn the most about politics.

Schmoke, the president of the University of Baltimore, remembered that the elder Reid won election only after the presiding bishop at the time announced to attendees that "Frank M. Reid will be elected bishop over my dead body" — and seconds later suffered a heart attack that would prove fatal.

More than 30 Bethel members were in Philadelphia each day of the conference, carrying pro-Reid signs, singing pro-Reid songs and canvassing delegates.

One prominent Reid backer was former Mayor Sheila Dixon, a longtime Bethel member.

Reid registered 797 votes, 17 above the threshold for election, and just enough to edge out the only other candidate then remaining.

At that moment, Schmoke said, the Reid contingent "jumped up and threw their hands in the air, screaming with joy."

Reid earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Harvard Divinity School in 1978 and a doctorate in ministry from the Union Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 1990. He served A.M.E. congregations in Charlotte, N.C., and Los Angeles before coming to Baltimore in 1988.

He was among the Baltimore faith leaders who met with Pope Francis in Rome in February, and received his blessing for their work to bring peace to the city after Gray's death.

Reid first sought to become a bishop in 2004, but dropped out of the race prior to the election.

As he did so, he publicly ripped a church bureaucracy that he said valued career advancement over ministering to the needy.

The church's council of bishops is to consecrate its new members — and inform them of their new geographical postings — on Wednesday.

Reid said he could be assigned to any of the church's episcopal districts. The denomination has churches in Africa, Europe and South America; most are in the United States.

The bishop of the 2nd District, soon to be named, will choose Reid's successor at Bethel.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

jonpitts@baltsun.com

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