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From the Columbus Dispatc AME CHURCH PLANS TO ELECT NEW BISHOPS Published: Friday, June 25, 2004 NEWS - FAITH & VALUES 03E By Felix Hoover THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Election of national officers, including one of the largest classes of bishops, is expected to dominate business at the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church when it opens on Wednesday.

The quadrennial event will continue through July 7 in Indianapolis.

In the 2.5 million-member denomination, bishops serve until their 75th birthdays, but they can be reassigned after four-year terms. Retirements will necessitate election of seven or eight bishops this year, the most since 1972, said the Rev. Clement Fugh, general secretary and chief information officer.

Bishop Richard Vaughn Webster, spiritual leader of the Third Episcopal District based on Columbus' East Side, can serve one more term before retirement.

The 217-year-old denomination broke the stained-glass ceiling in 2000 in Cincinnati when it elected the Rev. Vashti M. McKenzie of Baltimore as its first woman bishop. She was assigned to the 18th District, which covers the southern African nations of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

The church's tradition of assigning newly elected bishops to one of the six foreign districts may change.

"One of the big things that has been under discussion has been African bishops for Africa,'' said the Rev. Thomas E. Liggins, presiding elder of the Ohio Conference.

It's possible that three episcopal slots will be designated for Africans, partly because the church's greatest growth is in Africa, Liggins said.

fhoover@dispatch.com All content herein is Copyright 2004, The Columbus Dispatch and may not be republished without permission. Copyright 2004, The Columbus Dispatch

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