By Reverend Kenneth Swann and Mr. Joseph King Davis, Jr.
It was on September 11, 1968 that family and friends filled the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Red Springs NC to witness the trial sermon of 17-year-old Brother Kenneth Monroe. That day began the adventure of an amazing journey as he accepted the call of God. From the “black bottom of Red Springs” to the country back roads of Vance County, NC to the southside of Hope Mills NC to the affluent Southern Pines NC to the Metropolitans of Kansas City MO and Hartford, CT to the Caribbean Islands, West Africa, South Carolina and Georgia, and then back home to Eastern North Carolina, the transformative gospel journey of the now - The Right Reverend Kenneth Monroe is duly noted as one of humility, holistic and holiness. For a life well-lived, a ministry worth celebrating, a legacy valued in transformation, hundreds of congregants and celebrants from across The AME Zion Church, the state of North Carolina and the United States converged on the Rush Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Raleigh NC on September 8, 2018 to extol their thanksgiving and express their gratitude as Bishop Kenneth Monroe celebrated 50 years of gospel ministry.
The celebration was blessed with the bishop’s home church, St. James Church, and his home pastor, Reverend Sharon Mitchell, leading the congregation in worship and praise. As the Monroe Family entered the worship edifice with thunderous applauses and shouts, the hymn Bishop Monroe proclaims as his consecration prayer echoed throughout the overflowing crowd - “I Am Thine, O Lord.” The Prayer of Invocation was led by Reverend Fondella Leigh, Presiding Elder of the Edenton District, the Albemarle Conference. The musical tribute sang by Sister Lorean Gatling Wilson of the New Bern District, the North Carolina Conference, highlighted the bishop’s gospel journey – “I’m Still Holding On.” The official words of welcome and occasion were given by Dr. Gloria G. Williams, retired 1st Vice President of the Woman’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society and a member of the Laurinburg District, the Central North Carolina Conference.
The tributes were outlined according to the recent released book authored by Bishop Monroe – “The Adventures of Uncertainty: Making the Impossible Possible with God.” The “Faith Factors Personified” Section began with Bishop Monroe’s brother, Ronald Monroe, sharing the topic “Faith in the Midst of Uncertainty.” Brother Ronald Monroe foreshadowed his brother “will be remembered for helping ministers in Zion.” “The Impossible Made Possible” tribute was given by Bishop Monroe’s friend and fellow lecturer, Dr. William Turner of Duke University Divinity School, Durham NC, his alma mater. Dr. Turner said, “in heaven’s vocabulary, the word impossible does not exist. Such is the life and ministry of Bishop Kenneth Monroe.” The “Operation Transformation” tribute was given by Dr. Otha Smith, presiding elder of the York-Chester District, South Carolina Conference, South Atlantic Episcopal District. His observations included Bishop Monroe’s tenure as the presiding prelate of the South Atlantic Episcopal District by “developing a culture of change; developing transformational leadership with the publishing of ‘The Monroe Doctrine;’ and developing an expression of faith with the building of the Kenneth Monroe Transformation Center in Rock Hill, SC.” The “Festschrifts of Kenneth Monroe” Tribute was given by Dr. Maurice Harden, the pastor of Rush Metropolitan Church and the bishop’s spiritual son in the ministry. He stated Bishop Monroe was his “personal illustration as a pastor, an administrator, a Christian and faith.”
In the absence of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, the Reverend Joseph C. Brown, Sr., presiding elder of the Fayetteville District, Central North Carolina Conference, presented North Carolina State Senator, the Honorable Marvin Lucas, a member of the Dunn-Lillington District, Central North Carolina Conference. He conferred upon Bishop Monroe one of the surprises of the celebration - The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award honor given to citizens of North Carolina. Bishop Monroe now joins the ranks of other noted North Carolinians and Zionites who are named “Ambassadors of the Old North State.”
The second set of section of the celebration was entitled “The Integrity of Preaching.” The “Preparing the Preachers Report” was given by Reverend Alexander Jones, presiding elder of the Wilmington District, Cape Fear Conference. He applauded Bishop Monroe by acknowledging, “his call of faith and his call of ministry as bishop has been a trumpet of God’s Word.” The “Messages for Inspiration” was given by Brother Joseph King Davis, Jr. of the Durham District, Central North Carolina Conference; retired president of the Assembly of Christian Educators, The AME Zion Church; and a member of the Celebration Committee. He shared “how inspiring are the manuscripts of the bishop and the delight of listening to his sermons and speeches of transformation and celebration.” He duly noted the bishop’s book is “a tower of strength.” The “Episcopal Address” was given by retired bishop, The Right Reverend Warren Brown. He stated Bishop Monroe was “a master of inspiration as he provides instruction, inspiration and motivation” through his scripted addresses. Retired bishop, the Right Reverend George W.C. Walker is known as Bishop Monroe’s father in the episcopacy. He shared with the celebrants how he had the awesome task of “repairing a leak at Metropolitan AME Zion Church, Hartford CT.” He selected then-Reverend Dr. Monroe to do the repair work and appointed him as the pastor. It was from the Metropolitan pulpit, Hartford, Reverend Dr. Monroe was elevated to the office of the episcopacy as the 95th bishop in The AME Zion Church. Bishop Walker concluded by quoting the words of the text: “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Bishop Monroe’s fellow board member and colleague, Bishop Staccato Powell, Presiding Prelate of the Western Episcopal District, and “son” of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District, sent greetings via video messaging. The Board of Bishops of The AME Zion Church was represented with remarks via video by Bishop W. Darin Moore, presiding prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District and current president of the Board of Bishops. He reiterated “the courage, conviction and compassion” of Bishop Monroe. Retired Bishop Joseph Johnson, a member of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District, spoke with pride and joy about “his bishop.”
The Simon Temple Church Youth and Children Energizers animated the celebrants with their liturgical dance to “I Can’t Live Without You.”
The eldest descendent of Bishop and Mrs. Kenneth Monroe, Erica Monroe Green, brought tributes on behalf of her siblings with the rendition of “You Deserve It” as she entitled her tribute “What Do You Say to a Father.” Mrs. Shelia Monroe, wife of Bishop Monroe, was presented with a gift from long-time friend, Mrs. Saundra Brown of the Fayetteville District, Central North Carolina Conference. Mrs. Monroe gave her tribute to her husband and best friend. She noted how she was indeed “overwhelmed for the expressions of love to her husband.” She also confessed she was “ready for more adventures of uncertainty with him.”
The presentation of the honoree was given by Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., presiding prelate of the Piedmont Episcopal District and the Senior Bishop of The AME Zion Church. He “saluted the scholar, the scribe, and his colleague for 50 years of stellar ministry.” He stated he is “looking forward to the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ leading the AME Zion Church.”
As Bishop Monroe rose to the chancel, the celebrants rose to applaud and appreciate the honoree. Bishop Monroe gave the synopsis of his ministry: “2 years as a local preacher, 3 years as a Conference Evangelist, 31 years as a pastor and within those 31 years, he was a Presiding Elder for 5 years, and 14 years as a bishop.” He expressed his appreciation and acknowledged his family, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and close friends. He gave the celebrants a golden nugget as he offered the benediction: “I am God’s servant, not an employee and I am looking to improve my serve.”
After the grand celebration, the Celebration Committee led the Monroe Family and all attendees to the enclosed tent on the grounds of the Rush Metropolitan Church for the reception and the fellowship.
Behind the scenes, Bishop Monroe assigned the 50-Year Ministry Celebration Committee chaired by Dr. Maurice Harden and Presiding Elder Joseph Brown. He shared with the committee his aspirations for his 50-year celebration and the main goal was to solicit funds for preachers in seminary. Bishop Monroe partnered with the Foundations of the Carolinas and established “The Making the Impossible Possible Foundation.” Mrs. Rosalind Taylor, the vice president of Personal Philanthropy of Foundation of the Carolinas, acknowledged during the celebration that “never in the history of the foundation has someone created such an endeavor.” The presiding elders, pastors and laity of the Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District pledged a concerted effort towards Bishop Monroe’s vision. As this article is being printed, $90,000 has been received for The Making the Impossible Possible Foundation. In addition, all the proceeds from the Bishop Monroe’s book have been given to this endowment fund. The Board of Directors of The Impossible Made Possible Foundation are as follows: Erica Monroe Green; Kevin Monroe; Adria Monroe; Dr. Maurice Harden; Reverend Arionne Williams, bishop’s goddaughter; Ms. Leslie Carter; Reverend Florence Brown, presiding elder, Clarkton District, Cape Fear Conference; Dr. Julian Pridgen, pastor, St. Augustus AME Zion Church, Kinston NC, North Carolina Conference; Reverend Fondella Leigh, presiding elder, Edenton District, Albemarle Conference; and Dr. Anthony Davis, presiding elder, Raleigh District, Central North Carolina Conference.
Bishop Monroe is the third son of the late Paul and Hazel Monroe of Red Springs, NC. He was been married to the former Shelia Wells since May 24, 1975. They are the parents of three children, Erica Green (Michael) of Kansas City, MO; Kevin Monroe (Lachelle) of Kansas City, KS; and Adria Monroe of Charlotte; and eight grandchildren, Destiny, Devin, Armond, Jayden, London, Kamryn, Emaiya, and Miyauni.
Note: To purchase an autographed copy of “The Adventures of Uncertainty: Making the Impossible Possible with God,” visit the website theimpossiblemadepossible.net. Financial contributions for The Impossible Made Possible Endowment Fund may be mailed to Eastern North Carolina Episcopal District, 3050 Berks Way, Raleigh NC 27614.