Garrett Biblical Institute 1957
Former Bishop; President, Board of Discipleship, The United Methodist Church; Former Professor and Director of Student Life, and Founder, Center for the Church and the Black Experience (CBE), Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois
Bishop Edsel A. Ammons helped build unity in The United Methodist Church. A pastor, urban missionary, and Garrett-Evangelical professor, he became the first African-American bishop in the church’s nine-state North Central Jurisdiction. He is remembered as a church leader, trailblazer, guiding star, standard-bearer, and bridge builder.
He was especially influential during the tumultuous 1960s Civil Rights Movement and witnessed significant changes in the Methodist Church. In 1968, after almost a decade of debate and only weeks after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, church delegates, including Bishop Ammons, voted to become The United Methodist Church and end the church’s racially-segregated governance by doing away with its long-standing, all-Black Central Jurisdiction.
That same year, as an assistant professor of church and urban society at Garrett-Evangelical, Bishop Ammons became founding director of CBE. Through the Center, he introduced programs fostering racial justice and understanding, and worked to bring more minority students and faculty members to Garrett. In 2010, the seminary created an annual award—the Bishop Edsel A. Ammons Award for Leadership in Racial Justice and Understanding. He also helped found Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the influential Black caucus working for change within the Church. In 1976, he was elected bishop, serving eight years in Michigan and eight years in Ohio. His retirement in 1992 brought him back to Garrett-Evangelical, where he met his wife, Helen Fannings. In 2009, the Seminary honored each of them with an Eliza Garrett Distinguished Service Award.
Longtime friend and retired Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan knew Bishop Ammons since their student days at Garrett-Evangelical. Bishop Jordan said his friend brought a sense of clarity and vision to his trailblazing role in the church’s work of racial integration. He also was an articulate advocate for those living in poverty. “He provided a theological conscience for the Council (of Bishops) and a quiet resolve,” Jordan said. “He was always speaking in the context of the gospel.”