Posted by: morgan1965 | October 21, 2010

A Tribute To Bishop James S. Thomas

Like many other United Methodists, lay and clergy, I admired Bishop James S. Thomas, who died on October 10, 2010. He was admired and celebrated as a pastor, preacher, teacher, scholar, leader, historian, bishop, friend, colleague, and pioneer in the United Methodist Church.

As a pioneer, he helped to break down racial barriers in the dismantling of the former Central Jurisdiction. His courageous leadership helped to pave the way into a more inclusive UMC.

When the Central Jurisdiction elected Bishop Thomas to the Episcopacy in 1964, the delegates chose a man who was worthy of the mantle. The late Bishop Prince A. Taylor told a personal story about Bishop Thomas that unfolded at the time of his election. As the story goes, when James Thomas was elected, he made his way to the platform where Bishop Taylor was in the chair. As he approached Bishop Taylor, James Thomas said, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.” Bishop Taylor said to him, “you know that you are not worthy, and I know that you are not worthy. Come on up here before they [the voting members of the Central Jurisdictional Conference] find out that you are not worthy.”

This story is illustrative of Bishop Thomas’ genuine humility and integrity. He was a giant among leaders, but he was always humble, striving to serve God’s people with love and compassion.

When I was an episcopal candidate at the 1996 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, I was asked to share with one group a few of the bishops whom I most admired. I quickly mentioned the name of Bishop James Thomas, because I admired him as an episcopal leader. If elected, it was my desire to be able to preside over an annual conference session like Bishop Thomas with measured strength and abundant grace.

As it turned out, I was elected to the office of bishop, and Bishop and Mrs. Thomas led the orientation session that was convened by the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of bishops for the newly elected bishops. I give thanks to God for the gift of Bishop James Thomas and the opportunity and privilege for my journey to intersect with his life. My life has been greatly enriched because of my encounters with a spiritual leader who truly was a man of God.


  1. It was my privileged to have Bishop Thomas as my professor in my Methodist Studies class at Candler. He was kind, gracious and shared his love of Methodism and sense of history powerfully. I’m thankful for that opportunity and for God’s gift of his leadership for the UMC.

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