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The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, familiarly known as the CME Church, was organized December 16, 1870 in Jackson, Tennessee by 41 former slave members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Composed primarily of African Americans, the CME Church is a branch of Wesleyan Methodism founded and organized by John Wesley in England in 1844 and established in America as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. As such it is a church of Jesus Christ adhering to the basic tenets of historic Methodism, welcoming into its fellowship any and all desiring to “flee from the wrath to come and be saved from their sins.” It holds that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God whose life, teachings, sacrificial death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead reconciled humankind to God, overcame sin and conquered death, procuring thereby eternal salvation to all who believe. The CME Church believes that the Holy Spirit is God’s continuing presence in the world empowering the church to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fulfill its mission of saving and serving all humankind. Basic to the faith of the CME Church is the conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God containing all things necessary for human salvation. Presently the church reports approximately 800,000 communicant members in the continental United States and 14 African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and D. R. Congo.

The CME Church came into being in the tumultuous aftermath of the civil war and throes of Reconstruction. Beginning in 1619, the enslavement of native Africans, captured in their homeland and transported to America under horrendous conditions known as the Middle Passage, became integral to the American way of life. By the 19th century chattel slavery, especially on the cotton, cane and tobacco plantations of the South, had become the "Peculiar Institution." Despite the principles and precepts of Jesus Christ, however, the Christian churches of the South not only approved and advocated slavery, but even accepted it in their midst. Foremost among them was the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which in 1844 had separated from the Methodist Church over the issue of slavery. When the Civil War began in 1860, it had more enslaved members than any other religious denomination. At the end of the war, amidst its devastation, almost 100,000 members remained in the M. E. Church, South. It was of these members that in 1866 the General Conference of that church asked, “What shall be done to promote the religious interests of our colored members?”

The answer was predicated on the expressed desires and requests of those “Colored” members. For example, Isaac Lane of Tennessee, and later Founder of Lane College, said, “At once we made it known that we preferred a separate organization of our own . . . established after our own ideas and notions.” Lucius Holsey of Georgia, and later Founder of Paine College, wrote, “After emancipation a movement was at once inaugurated to give the Negroes a separate and independent organization.” Aware of these desires, James E. Evans, chair of the committee considering the issue, said, “The General Conference believed that the colored people, now that they are free, would desire a separate church organization for themselves.” Accordingly, the General Conference authorized the bishops of the church to organize their “Colored” members into their own “separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction.” Between 1866 and 1870 the bishops carried out the dictates of the General Conference. In May 1870 they reported that all necessary and legal steps had been taken to organize a separate church the following winter. So it was that those 41 former slaves gathered in Jackson in 1870 were duly elected and properly authorized to organize their own separate and independent “Colored Methodist Episcopal Church“(changed to “Christian Methodist” in 1954) they elected William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vanderhorst, the first bishops.

The CME Church is organized into eleven Episcopal Districts, nine in the Continental United States and two on the continent of Africa. Each Episcopal District consists of geographical Regions presided over by a bishop elected by the General Conference. Several connectional departments under the authority of a General Secretary carry out the ministries of the church, such as Christian Education, discipleship, evangelism, and missions. Its theological school is Phillips School of Theology, which is a part of the Interdenominational Theological Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The CME Church sponsors four liberal arts colleges: Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee; Paine College, Augusta, Georgia; Miles College, Birmingham, Alabama and Texas College, Tyler, Texas. The Connectional Headquarters and publishing operations of the CME Church are located in Memphis, Tennessee.

By Bishop Othal Hawthorne Lakey

The History of the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey, CME Publishing House, Memphis, Tennessee: 1985.
The Rise of “Colored Methodism”: A Study of the Background and Beginnings of the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey, Crescendo Press, 1972.
Is God Still at Mama’s House? The Women’s Movement in the CME Church, Othal Hawthorne Lakey and Betty Beene Stephens, CME Publishing House, Memphis, Tennessee, 1994.
A History of the Women’s Missionary Council of the CME Church, William C. Larkin: 1910.
The History of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870 – 2009): Faithful to the Vision, Ore L. Spragin, 2011.
An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the CME Church, 1870 – 1970,Raymond R. Sommerville, Jr., Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 2004.

Church Structure


Our Bishops represent the executive branch of our government structure, the General Conference represents the legislative branch, and the Judicial Council represents the judicial branch.  The Senior Bishop is the Chief Executive Officer of the denomination.

  1. Legislative - General Conference

  2. Executive - Episcopacy

  3. Judicial - Judicial Council

General Conference

The General Conference meets once every four years. The General Conference has full powers to make rules and regulations for the Church subject to the limitations of the restrictive rules. The General Conference is comprised of delegates elected by the Annual Conferences, one half of whom are ministers and one half lay members.


General Connectional Board

The General Connectional Board meets once a year in May, except during General Conference. It governs the general affairs of the Church with such powers as may be fixed and determined by the General Conference.



There is an Episcopacy. The Bishops of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church are elected by the General Conference and consecrated in the historic manner of Episcopal Methodism. There is a College of Bishops comprised of all the Bishops of the Church. The College of Bishops plan for the general oversight and promotion of the entire church. A Bishop presides over an Annual Conference.


Judicial Council

The Judicial Council of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is like a third branch of government in which bishops represent the executive branch, the General Conference represents the legislative branch and the Judicial Council represents the judicial branch.

The nine member Council, which is elected by the General Conference, guarantees "due process" for members and clergy of the Church and is the final interpreter of The Book of Discipline. Members, lay or clergy, may petition the Council for declaratory judgment (interpretation) for paragraphs of The Discipline.

The council was voted into existence by the 1946 General Conference and became operative in 1950. Prior to 1946, the bishops were the final interpreters of The Book of Discipline.


The Local Church

A local church is a congregation of faithful believers under the lordship of Jesus the Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which God's Word is preached by those whom God has called, and where the Sacraments are duly administered, according to Christ's own appointment.

The Church exists under the authority and discipline of the Holy Spirit for the maintenance of Christian worship, fellowship and discipline, the nurture and building up in the faith of believers, the conversion of sinners and the world, and for witnessing so that societal structures may become just in order that the personhood of all peoples may be more fully realized according to the image of God in human beings. The church exists in and for the world. At the local church level believers move from formal worship of God into the world where worship is witnessing through service to human beings.


The local church is a connectional society of persons who haveprofessed faith in Jesus the Christ as Savior and Lord, have been baptized, have assumed vows of membership in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, pledging to support the church by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service. It is an assembly of believers who meet for worship in response to the Word of God and go out into the world to witness to God and His Christ from the unit where there is primary encounter with the world.

The Inclusiveness of the Church. The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) cherishes its place in the universal Church which is the body of Christ and is devoted to acceptance of the Apostolic faith. Therefore, all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, or economic condition shall be eligible to attend its worship services, to participate in its programs, and when they take the appropriate vows to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Connection

All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

A member in good standing of any local Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is a member of the total CME Connection

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