The General Conference
The General Conference is indeed the supreme yet inclusive body of the A.M.E. church. It makes all laws that govern all other areas and departments of the church. The General conference also elects all bishops, and general and connectional officers of the church.
The General Conference is composed of all Bishops, General Officers, College Presidents, Deans of Seminaries, Chaplains in Armed Forces, and elected delegates (ministerial and lay) from Annual Conferences of each episcopal district.
The General Conference meets once every four years, but an extra session can be called with the consent of two thirds of the Annual Conferences when necessarily called by the bishops of the church.
The Annual Conference
The Annual Conference is not only a geographic designation, but also a legal entity. It is composed of all traveling Elders, Deacons and licentiates, all Local Elders and Local Deacons; Presidents of the Conference Lay Organization, Missionary Society, Conference Director of Christian Education and YPD Director. Every Annual Conference is incorporated, and being so is a legal and sovereign body The presiding Bishop is the president of the Annual Conference.
Once a year, the presiding elder calls all of the pastors and officials of the district together for them to give an account of their stewardship. In this meeting, members of the meeting receive inspiration and information to enhance their workmanship so as to do better jobs as servants of God. The district Conference, like the Annual Conference, is a pastor-centered meeting geared toward enriching the pastors of the district.
The presiding elder is the presiding officer of the Quarterly Conference. The quarterly conference shall consist of the traveling preachers of a charge, supernumerary preachers, retired ministers, local preacher, exhorters, stewards, stewardesses, trustees, class leaders, general officers, deaconesses, licensed missionaries evangelists, superintendent of the Sunday School, missionary president and presidents of all the organizations and agencies of the local church. The head of each auxiliary shall be answerable to the Quarterly Conference for his/her official conduct.
The Church Conference is the most inclusive meeting of the local church. In this meeting, all members of the church that are in good and regular standing, have a voice and a vote. At this meeting, the pastor presents an annual budget, as well as the total program for the church for the coming year. Also, the election of trustees is held at the Church Conference.
The A.M.E. church is divided into 19 geographical areas called episcopal districts. Thirteen districts are in the United States; five districts are in Africa; one district includes the Caribbean Islands and parts of South America and England. Bishops preside over these districts and it becomes their responsibility to oversee all the activities of each Presiding Elders district, each charge, pastor and the laity. In addition, the bishop oversees all institutions owned and operated by the A.M.E. church within that particular bishops jurisdiction. Primarily each bishop should seek to advance the Kingdom of God by saving, helping, teaching, and liberating the oppressed of his/her episcopal district. The program set up by the bishop should address itself to the needs of the people.
Many have asked “What is a presiding elder? Why do we need a go-between or a liaison between pastors and bishops?” The presiding elder is the bishop’s aide. It is impossible for the bishop to serve the length and width of his/her episcopal district alone, so a person is appointed who is capable of conveying the bishop’s program, wishes and administration to areas of the episcopal district. The presiding elder constantly reflects the directions of the bishop and acts for the bishop as it relates to giving information and direction. The presiding elders should be viewed as members of the bishop’s cabinet, helping to make the bishop’s administration the most effective that it can be as it relates to the bishop’s stewardship and obligation to the General Church.
The Pastor is God’s shepherd for God’s sheep. He/She never should drive them like cattle but should be in form, leading them toward the abundant life. A good pastor also protects the sheep of God from the dangers of life that would destroy them.
To lead and protect the church, the pastor seeks to relate well with the entire community, ready to serve all the people all the time in many situations. The pastor is charged with leading and protecting the church. As such, the pastor is the principal officer and chairman of all boards. The pastor must organize all boards and auxiliaries annually, and, should appoint class leaders and the superintendent of the Sunday School. The pastor is the chairman of the finance committee, which means that his/her signature must be on all checks written from the Steward, Trustee, and General Treasuries of the charge.
In these most complex times, pastors are compelled to assume many roles to promote the cause of the church. Being a pastor is indeed a full-time job.
The pastor is:
- a preacher who proclaims the work of God;
- a teacher who teaches the Bible, doctrine, and principles of Christian faith;
- an administrator, leading the people into programs that will motivate the church to work together in Kingdom building;
- a counselor, helping others to find solutions to their problems and frustrations;
- a priest who presents God during the acts of matrimony, burial of the dead, holy communion, confession, and prayers;
- worship leader, developing the atmosphere of worship, choosing the correct hymn, prayer, and scripture, to bring on a sense of oneness and closeness within the congregation;
- a community leader, exhibiting the love of God to more than members of the local church, remembering that his/her appointment was not to a church only but to a community.