The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was organized as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, December 16, 1870, in Jackson, Tennessee, by former slaves who had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South during slavery but who, after their emancipation, realized that continued membership in the church of their former masters was neither desirable nor practical and requested their own separate and independent church “regularly established,” said Isaac Lane, “after our own ideas and notions.”
In accordance with disciplinary procedures of the times, and with careful attention to what was pointed to as the “desires of our colored members,” the 1860 and 1870 General Conference of the M.E. Church, South, provided the basic ecclesiastical, legal and practical means that enabled the colored members to, in the word of Lucius H. Holsey, establish our “own separate and distinct ecclesiasticism.” Several hundred black preachers were ordained deacons and elders; an official periodical, “The Christian Index,” began publication; five black annual conferences were established; delegates to a special General Conference empowered to set up a “separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction” were elected; the ordination of black bishops was authorized; and transfer to the new church of all properties that had been sued by slave congregations was sanctioned. On December 21, 1870, William H. Miles of the Kentucky Colored Conference and Richard H. Vanderhorst of the Georgia Colored Conference-the two black preachers elected by the delegates-were ordained bishops by Robert Paine, Senior Bishop of the M.E. Church, South. At the close of the Organizing General Conference Bishop Paine transferred Episcopal supervision to Bishop Miles with these words: “The time has come for us to resign into your hands the presidency of this body, and the Episcopal oversight of your people. And we now do it. Take this chair…. henceforth you are their guides and governs.
The CME Church rapidly emerged as one of the more influential churches in African American communities throughout the South. Beginning with approximately 78,000 members, competent leaders, several hundred congregations, and title to hundreds of pieces of church property, it had, by the turn of the century, expanded beyond the Mason-Dixon Line following black migrations to the North, Midwest and the Pacific Coast. After World War I, the CME Church was established wherever significant numbers of African Americans were located.
After World War II, as CMEs found themselves in more racially inclusive communities and the civil rights struggle intensified, the term “colored” took on the stigma of discrimination and Jim Crowism. Consequently, in 1954 the name was changed to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
The CME Church now has 886,000 communicant members and 3,000 congregations throughout the United States, and conferences in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Haiti and Jamaica. It is divided into ten Episcopal districts, has 34 annual conferences and ten active bishops. It sponsors four colleges and a Theological Seminary.