From its inception in the AME Church in 1912, the Lay Organization has had to forge its way through the seas of resistance and discouragement. Buffered by sheer determination, it was in 1945, at the seat of the south Florida Annual Conference, that the Eleventh Episcopal District Lay Organization had its beginning.
During the 1944 General Conference convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Delegate E. M. Blocker, a steward of Greater Bethel AME Church in Miami, Florida, attended the Laymen’s Connectional meeting. It was this meeting that infused him with ideas and principles regarding the laity, and he was inspired to organize the Lay League in the Eleventh Episcopal District.
Under Brother Blocker’s leadership the Laymen met and organized the Miami District Laymen League at Greater Bethel AME Church. Other laymen were encouraged to participate, and the Lay movement began to gain momentum as Brother Blocker was invited to hold organizational meetings throughout the South Florida area.
The Lay movement continued to grow and finally, the message was received in other parts of the state. In the East Florida Conference Brother J. L. Williams, Sr. (father of future Connectional Lay President J. L. Williams, Jr.) of St. Paul AME Church, Jacksonville, called together Laymen who organized the Laymen Alliance Incorporation of the AME Church.
On November 2, 1948, the Laymen’s League met at St. Mark AME Church in Orlando. At this meeting Professor E. M. Blocker became the first elected Lay president of the Laymen League of the Eleventh Episcopal District and remained as such until 1953, when he received the Divine Call to the Holy ministry.
In 2000, the dawn of a new century and new millennium, the laity elected Marian Bacon White of West Palm Beach, the first woman to lead the Episcopal Lay Organization. She presided from 2000-2008. In 2008, president number 7, Charlie Nichols was elected. Under President Charlie Nichols’ administration the Episcopal Lay Organization utilized the SMART goal format in presenting timely and accountable reports. The training retreat was re-established and a dedicated effort to engage young adults was enacted. Nichols served 8 years and was succeeded on June 24, 2016, by the second woman and the eighth person elected to the office of EEDLO President — Patricia H. Wright.
The Eleventh Episcopal District enjoys a rich history of involvement, activism and leadership. It holds a seat at the table of the AME church across the connection. The influence of the Eleventh District spreads throughout the Connection. Constituents serve on connectional committees, lead special causes, and present training during biennial sessions. Of the eleven presidents of the Connectional Lay Organization, three of them have come from the Eleventh…namely, Dr. R. R. Williams of Tampa Florida elected in 1924, Mr. J. L. Williams of Jacksonville Florida elected in 1993 and Mr. Jesse L. Burns of Bradenton, Florida, elected in 2005.
We are ever focused on growing our Zion and preparing the next generation to lift the AME banner high for the cause of Christ.