Not many people are able to say they are the worldwide leader of a major religious denomination — but a woman from Mount Airy can.
Bishop Mildred B. “Bonnie” Hines was promoted as president of the board of bishops for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (also known as A.M.E. Zion) in February during the 2018 winter meeting of the board in Norfolk, Virginia.
This means the local native holds the chief leadership position of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. “Right now it covers the whole world,” Hines explained during a telephone interview, adding that this includes thousands of churches around the globe.
Hines’ recent ascension to the top A.M.E. Zion post is the second time she has done so — in February 2013 she became the first female to head that denomination when elected president of the board of bishops.
“And I’m still the only female,” Hines said of occupying the position.
The Right Reverend Hines also is the only female to be elected to the episcopacy, or governmental level, of the A.M.E. Zion church in the 222-year history of that denomination, after having pastored multiple churches. She was the pastor of First A.M.E. Zion Church in Los Angeles before her election to the episcopacy.
Hines quickly pointed out that there is a distinction between the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) Church and the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.
Both are independent of the traditional Methodist Church that originated in England and spread to the American mainland around 1765. However, its congregations fostered racism that eventually prompted black members of the church to form offshoots, which still adhered to Methodist theology.
To avoid confusion with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) branch, one would eventually become known as the A.M.E Zion church. It accepts members of all races and is supervised by 12 elected bishops including Hines.
Along with the United States, the church has branches in Canada, England, Africa, India, South America and the Caribbean.
Before her recent promotion to president of the board of bishops, Hines served as presiding prelate of the South Atlantic Episcopal District, which includes South Carolina and Georgia.
After being elevated to the top level of church hierarchy, Bishop Hines’ first assignment was to an Episcopal district in West Africa, which included more than 450 churches in Liberia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Togo.
“I spent four years in Africa,” said Hines, who presently is based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but calls Los Angeles home.
Mount Airy roots
Long before taking the worldwide reins of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Hines was growing up in Mount Airy, the eldest of five daughters born to Roscoe and JoAnn Gwyn Hines. While her mother is deceased, Mr. Hines still lives here.
Bishop Hines credits her upbringing in Mount Airy with providing the foundation for her many church leadership roles.
“The community that I grew up in was very family and faith-oriented,” Hines said. “My family and faith were both important and impactful in my life.”
Hines considers herself fortunate to have known all four of her grandparents, with the home of two of them, Jess and Melissa Gwyn, serving as a gathering spot for community members along with the church and school.
Her elementary years were spent at Jones School in the 1960s, which then was segregated. Hines said her first-grade teacher at Jones, Virginia Galloway, made quite an impression on her, including injecting a passion for learning and a love of speaking in the youngster which later served her well in various church positions.
Hines graduated in 1973 from North Surry High School, where her favorite subjects were English, history, chemistry and home economics.
She later attended Mars Hill College on an academic and athletic scholarship, and received a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and home economics education.
Hines’ later educational career included earning a master’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
She also was awarded a master of divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, certification in clinical pastoral counseling from the Colgate Rochester School of Divinity and a doctor of ministry degree from the Atlanta institution.
The lay profession of Hines, who left Mount Airy in 1978, was as a senior buyer for the Belk department store chain. She served in a number of church and community-service functions in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County area, including as a planning commission member in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Gaston County and on YMCA and other boards.
Hines also has been chaplain of Charlotte Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital and Cleveland Memorial Hospital along with pastoring churches in the region.
In 2008, she was elected as the 98th bishop in the line of succession of the A.M.E. Zion church.
After her time in Africa, Bishop Hines in 2012 was assigned supervision of the Southwestern Delta Episcopal District that includes churches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and western Tennessee.
In 2013, the New England and Bahamas Islands conferences of the North Eastern Episcopal District were added to her supervision.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.