Bishop Mack B. Stokes, who taught thousands of preachers and helped desegregate Mississippi United Methodists, died Nov. 21 in Perdido Key, Fla. He was 100.
Before his election to the episcopacy, he taught for 31 years at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, where he was the school’s first Parker Professor of Systemic Theology, associate dean and later acting dean. As director of Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, he helped inaugurate the university’s Ph.D. programs in theological studies in 1958.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference elected Stokes to the episcopacy in 1972 and assigned him to the Jackson (Miss.) Episcopal Area, where he served until his retirement as active bishop in 1980.
In Mississippi, he took on the task of merging African-American and white annual conferences into two integrated conferences. This was four years after the newly formed United Methodist Church had voted to abolish the all-black Central Jurisdiction.
“He served in Mississippi at an important time,” said retired Bishop Kenneth Lee Carder, who was the Jackson Area bishop from 2004 to 2008. “He brought to that task not only a pastoral sensitivity but also a deep theological grounding for reconciliation.”
Stokes arrived in Mississippi less than 10 years after Ku Klux Klansmen had murdered three civil rights workers near the town of Philadelphia, and four years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Racial divisions in Mississippi, even within the United Methodist Church, still ran deep, Bishop Carder said.
However, during his first year as bishop, Stokes led the four annual conferences, two black and two white, to merge into the new Mississippi Conference and the new North Mississippi Conference (the predecessors of today’s Mississippi Conference). In all four annual conferences, the votes for merger passed with large majorities.
Stokes made a point of cultivating leaders without regard for race. He announced from the start that he would appoint an African-American district superintendent in each of the newly formed conferences.
By 1980, United Methodists in the state had changed, said retired Bishop C.P. Minnick Jr., who immediately followed Stokes as Jackson Area bishop.
“I was pleased and shocked when I got there at the racial openness that had developed,” he said.
Stokes not only bridged gaps between races but also between the academy and the pews. His published works include The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage (1981), Scriptural Holiness for the United Methodist Christian (1987) and Question and Answers about Life and Faith (2000).
In retirement, Stokes continued to teach and preach. From 1980 to 1984, he served as director of doctoral studies at the School of Theology, Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Okla. He served as senior pastor of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta in 1988.
Throughout, he maintained a commitment to United Methodist-related Emory University, serving on the university’s board of trustees from 1972 until almost the last year of his life. He and his late wife, Ada Rose, endowed a scholarship to the Candler School of Theology for international students. In 2008, shortly before her death, the couple established the Bishop Mack B. and Rose Y. Stokes Chair in Theology at Candler.
Stokes was born Dec. 21, 1911, in Wonson, Korea, where his parents were missionaries. All three of his brothers also became Methodist clergy.
The bishop received his A.B. from Asbury College, his B.D. from Duke University, and his Ph.D. from Boston University.
In June 1941, Stokes married Ada Rose Yow of Henderson, N.C. Later, when asked whether she was his first love, the bishop responded, “Oh, no, she was my only love.”
He is survived by two sons, Arch Yow Stokes of Perdido Key, Fla., and his wife, Maggie; Marion Boyd Stokes III of Atlanta; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews; his brother-in-law, Jensen Yow; and his sisters-in-law, Alda Stokes, 102, and Marilyn Stokes. He was preceded in death by his wife; his daughter, Elsie Pauline; and his three brothers Lem, Jim and Charlie Stokes.
Memorial services were being held in Pensacola, Fla.; in Atlanta, and at Lake Junaluska.