L.A. Times Story on Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry

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July 17, 2004 E-mail story Print

BELIEFS New A.M.E. Bishop Will Take International Post The Rev. Carolyn Tyler Guidry, who is used to achieving firsts, is tapped to lead 94 churches in Europe and the Caribbean.

The Rev. Carolyn Tyler Guidry is used to setting precedent as the first woman to hold several high-ranking West Coast positions in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After her election last week as the second female bishop in the history of the worldwide denomination, the 66-year-old Los Angeles resident is about to go further afield.

Tyler Guidry will be one of 20 presiding bishops who hold the highest positions in the A.M.E. Church. She will oversee 94 churches with about 10,000 members in a Caribbean and European region that includes Jamaica, Haiti and England. "That's a great step for a church who in over 200 years didn't have one single woman on the bench," Tyler Guidry said, referring to the election of the first woman bishop four years ago and the similar elevation of her and another woman last week. "I think the mind-set of the people now is that we will elect people to represent us."

Because the retirement age for presiding bishops is 75, Tyler Guidry will serve an eight-year term. She will leave Los Angeles with her husband, Don Guidry, for Kingston, Jamaica, in about three months for her new post at the denomination's 16th District. Several countries in the district struggle with poverty, and some churches face low membership and weak finances.

"She's up for the challenges," said the Rev. Kelvin Calloway, pastor of the Second African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, who served as Tyler Guidry's campaign manager in the recent elections by the church's general conference in Indianapolis. "These will be minute compared to the challenges she's already faced."

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was started in 1787 by Richard Allen in response to the segregation blacks encountered at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. More than 200 years later, the denomination has spread across the world, encompassing more than 2 million members.

With last week's election of Tyler Guidry and then the Rev. Sarah Frances Davis of San Antonio, the A.M.E. Church now has three women bishops.

Back from Indianapolis, Tyler Guidry was sitting in her Los Angeles office in the First A.M.E. Church's Renaissance building. She could hardly finish a sentence without her cellphone ringing, her computer chiming with a new instant message or someone stopping by. All wanted to offer their congratulations.

The office walls are filled with paintings, photos and drawings of black women: In one painting, a woman is hard at work sewing; in a drawing, three black women stand picturesquely as a dove flies above them; a photo of an indignant Winnie Mandela faces Tyler Guidry's desk.

A self-proclaimed "womanist," Tyler Guidry has pushed for women in the ministry and church leadership. She always addresses girls in the A.M.E. Church as "future bishops."

"She wants little girls to see the possibilities they have within the church," said Makungu Akinyela, Tyler Guidry's oldest son, now an ordained elder in the A.M.E. Church.

"For her, the importance of being placed in this position by the church is not just an individual thing but something she sees as an example to children, to women and to men of God's image of the church."

Raised in Jackson, Miss., by her mother and grandmother, Tyler Guidry attended the Bonner Institutional A.M.E. Church in Jackson, of which her grandmother was a co-founder. Tyler Guidry announced her dreams of becoming a missionary at age 8 and started teaching Sunday school at 13. She met her first husband, Cary Tyler, at that church.

But the prospect of year-round work for her husband, a cement mason, brought the couple and their six children to Los Angeles in 1964. The family joined the Second African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, and a few years later Tyler Guidry began studying for the ministry.

In 1977, she became the first woman to be ordained an itinerant elder in the Southern California Conference, a position that assigned her as a pastor of various churches.

She was sent to the First A.M.E. Church in Indio, a struggling congregation where she established a day care center and boosted attendance.

"Before Carolyn came, [First A.M.E. Church in Indio] was kind of run-down and the congregation was small," said Bishop Charlie E. Simmons, pastor of Mt. Calvary Holy Church, a Pentacostal church in Indio. "She remodeled everything around First A.M.E. and gave it a 'faith lift.' That church is still reaping some benefits today that Carolyn left for them."

Tyler Guidry's next stop: Cain Memorial A.M.E. Church in Bakersfield. There, she led the church in buying its surrounding property, establishing a day care center and developing community service programs.

"The whole community knew Rev. Tyler," said Bakersfield Councilwoman Irma Carson, a member of Cain Memorial. "She was a community activist and involved in all community affairs from political to nonpolitical."

Her first husband died in 1988, and the following year Tyler Guidry moved back to Los Angeles to pastor Walker Temple A.M.E. Church on East Adams Boulevard. (In 1996, she married Guidry, now a retired Army officer.)

In 1994, she became the first female presiding elder in the Fifth Episcopal District, a territory in the West that includes California and 13 other states. As one of the presiding elders, Tyler Guidry was a liaison between the presiding bishop and pastors of 22 churches in the Los Angeles and Pasadena areas.

"She had a real heart for the pastors in her district," said Bishop John Richard Bryant, presiding bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District.

"She had a wonderful way of letting them know that if there was a problem, either personal or ministerial, they were not in it by themselves, but she was available to help."

Soon after her election as bishop, Tyler Guidry started putting in calls to church leaders in Jamaica to talk about the daunting issues ahead.

"I'm not sure yet how God is going to use me over these next eight years," she said. "But I'm excited about it, and I'm available. I'm waiting to see what God is going to do."

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2004


I am so very, very proud of Bishop Guidry, my daughter and I are receipients of her generosity and guidance. 3 and a half years ago, when i was thinking about becoming ame, I did a search under ame clergywomen and Bishop Guidry's name came up and an email address.

I did not know who she was and she did not know me, but she listened to my call and told me I should be ame. She always signed her name sister carolyn, I had no idea of how famous she was in the denomination, she is so humble and focuses on helping clergywomen survive in the church. She has opened many doors for so many of us. She took a chance on me and my daughter and continues to guide us and others. Episcopal supervisor Guidry is equally as wonderful and has worked for many years with the red cross on the national disaster team. His training in disasters will be invaluable in the area where he and the Bishop will serve.

There are so many of us in ministry because of Bishop Guidry! And we call her in the middle of the night and she has helped so many. I am calling all clergy women to help Bishop Guidry in the next few months with love offerings for the churches in her district.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2004

I also want to offer congratulations to Bishop Guidry. I first met her when she was campaigning for Bishop in 1996. Since that initial meeting, not only has she displayed warmth and care whenever and where ever I've had an opportunity to encounter her, she remembers me by name, and refers to me as "Freeman from Texas." I think that says a lot about the person.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2004

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