Pastor Francine A. Brookins Elected 141st Bishop of AME Church
By Dianne Anderson
With plans on pause for now through COVID-19 until parts of Africa reopen their borders, Bishop Francine Brookins is watching from afar, waiting and praying.
Trying to make her way to take over leadership without being able to step foot in the four countries that she has been tasked with overseeing is the first challenge.
“Getting to know the work, to know the people, to know the needs – all of that is forming,” said Bishop Brookins, recently elected as 141st Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Brookins, who was the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Fontana for 12 years, was elected Bishop in July with her assignment to the 18th Episcopal District responsibilities covering the four African countries of Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini (Swaziland), Botswana.
Just managing the stress of what they are facing daily in Eswatini and Mozambique is more heartbreaking than anyone can imagine, she said. Children are dying and the population doesn’t have access to the most meager basics to sustain them.
“You have civil unrest going on. You have literally dead bodies in the streets, and we don’t know if they’re dead because someone shot them or because of COVID. You have a great need,” she said. “Just the infrastructure in many places are challenged.”
In those countries, she will oversee the work of the AME church, assigning pastors and the presiding elders.
Realizing the level of extreme devastation there, she said it is hard to watch how people in the U.S. so easily throw away resources, like access to the COVID vaccine. In Africa, death and dying are everywhere because of its limited supply.
Even internet access to church services would be a great blessing, but they can’t attend church via Zoom.
At the same time, she said they are some of the most faith-filled people on the planet. She plans to do everything she can to get vaccines, increased internet access, and whatever kind of mental health care she can provide through monthly Zoom meetings for those that can get online.
“It’s less than 1% of the people that I’m serving [in Africa] are vaccinated. They talk about being shut down. My building in Fontana was shut down for a year and a half, and we were solely on Zoom with no gatherings,” she said.
They can’t do that in Mozambique because there is no internet access, she said.
AME is a worldwide denomination with the Bishops in charge of episcopal districts, of which there are 20. Within the Episcopal districts, they have presiding elders and pastors of the churches, and Bishops are responsible for assigning all pastors and presiding elders each year to the places where they will go.
The process is tightly and highly structured. She ran for nine years to be elected to her position.
“Jimmy Carter said that he learned about politics in the AME church. It’s very political,” she said.
Probably one of the most interesting aspects of her journey is that she is one of only five women ever elected Bishop in the AME Church. As the oldest Black denomination, she said AME has been a model of equity on the front lines of justice, but there are only one or two women bishops at any given time.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie was the first woman elected in 2000, but retired at the denomination’s General Conference in July.
“I’m only the fifth woman ever elected as a Bishop in the AME church, and the first Bishop’s daughter. I think I may be the first licensed attorney in any denomination that is a Bishop,” she said. “Out of 142 Bishops, there are only five of us.”
However, she feels if women engaged in the political process more for their advancement, there would be a more equitable representation.
“Had I not been elected, there would be only one woman left on the bench, and she only has three years before she retires. And there were some people okay with that,” she said. “We had to fight quite a bit to win this race.”
Among her many accomplishments, Bishop Brookins holds degrees from Georgetown, George Washington National Law Center and Pacific School of Religion. She was licensed to practice law in 1996 and received her Master of Divinity in 2002. She continues as a misconduct policy trainer and as a clerk to the court.
Bishop Brookins said that while her new assignment does not impact community services at the local level, just like so many other advocates in the church and out into the general community, she remains very concerned about American policy and social justice.
“Voting rights are disappearing, cops are killing us, healthcare is terrible for Black people,” she said.
Both of her parents were strong social activists, engaged in politics, she said, with Jesus as their base for helping the community, whether food, clothes or shelter.
Through her own journey, she has found her passion is also for helping the people, that they have their needs met.
“My drive comes from my love of God and my firm belief that God desires that God’s children have shoes, and housing and food and families,” she said.