She had a degree in fashion merchandising and was a senior buyer for Belk, then the largest privately owned department store in America. But when an illness compelled her to leave the fashion world in her youth, she “bargained with God,” as she put it, promising to always follow divine guidance if she survived.
The hand of God led Rev. Mildred “Bonnie” Hines much farther than she might have imagined: In 2008, she was the first woman to become a bishop in the 226-year history of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. And in 2013 she was also the first woman to lead the board of AME Zion Church bishops.
Bishop Hines died May 23 at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 67.
A North Carolina native, she once told a newspaper in Massachusetts, where she supervised congregations following the death of another bishop, that she awakened to her religious calling when she was 16.
Hines added that she hoped her path-breaking accomplishment would inspire others in her largely African American denomination. “For myself, I’m honored and very humbled to be the first female to be elected,” she said.
“We are sad because we will miss her powerful preaching, her electrifying teaching, her dynamic leadership, and her loving spirit,” the board of AME Zion Church bishops said in a statement. “We are glad because she is free from her infirmities and is in the presence of her Lord, whom she served so faithfully.”
Rev. George McKain, director of public affairs for the church, described her as an “unbelievable teacher” and a persuasive preacher. “She was our first female bishop, so against all the odds of the old system, she rose with a freshness and with a power single to none,” he said. “For her to be such a quiet yet powerful individual, it was amazing that she was the one God chose to raise up as the example and the pioneer for women in ministry.”
Hines was a pastor at the Los Angeles First AME Zion Church before she became the first female bishop of her denomination. After serving as the presiding prelate of a predominantly West African district of her church, she was assigned to a host of churches in states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and West Tennessee.
Hines served most recently in her denomination’s churches in South Carolina and Georgia. She was also the chair of the board of trustees of Clinton College, a historically Black institution in Rock Hill, South Carolina, incorporated in 1909.
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