Boyd Leaves Bethel AME for FAME; Bethel Rejects New Pastor

The Rev. J. Edgar Boyd delivered his inaugural sermon Sunday as the new pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in L.A., seeking to unite and heal a congregation that had become fractured over the troubles of its former leader. Photo by Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles Times.

By Lee Hubbard Pastor J. Edgar Boyd, the longstanding pastor at Bethel AME Church in San Francisco, has been reassigned to First AME Church in Los Angeles, where he has been pastor at the historic church for the last two weeks. Boyd led Bethel AME over the past 20 years, leading the church through the new millennium as the church just celebrated 160 years of existence. As pastor at the largest AME church in San Francisco, he helped increase church assets from $12 million to more than $80 million. He also helped to expand membership to 1,000 congregants at a time when the African American population in the Western Addition has been dwindling. “My time at Bethel was one of enlightenment and enhancement,” said Pastor Boyd in a phone interview.  “The church … helped me to see what life was like for the African American community in San Francisco.  Bethel has been a leading religious institution, and the church has been able to focus and adjust to the changes taking place in San Francisco.” Boyd said Bethel has had a deep cultural impact on San Francisco and the African American community. Now at First AME in Los Angeles, Boyd is the pastor of a church that is 142 years old and one of the more influential Black churches in Los Angeles. “At FAME, it’s a huge challenge,” said Pastor Boyd.  “There is so much to be done in the community around the church in South Central Los Angeles.” Boyd is no stranger to Los Angeles. He led Bethel AME Los Angeles in the early 1990s before moving to San Francisco. FAME’s former Pastor John J. Hunter has been assigned to pastor at Bethel AME in San Francisco, but his assignment is on hold. Rev. Boyd declined to comment on the shuffling of the pastors. Steward Board members of Bethel AME San Francisco have rejected Hunter’s assignment, based on news of his past actions at FAME L.A. Hunter was appointed pastor at FAME in Los Angeles in 2004, which was the Los Angeles epicenter of African American political and social activism under the Rev. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray. Hunter had big shoes to fill, but over time he became embroiled in a sexual harassment lawsuit, a federal tax investigation and allegations of questionable use of church credit cards. News of Hunter’s arrival into San Francisco caused the Board of Stewards, which oversees some of the churches finances, to send a letter to AME Fifth District Bishop Kirkland questioning Hunter’s assignment to Bethel AME. Some church members met Hunter on a Saturday night when he came to San Francisco, presenting him with a letter questioning his assignment. He stated he was going “back to L.A.” But the next day, Sunday morning, he showed up at Bethel and tried to walk through the church: He was met by church members who demanded he show his assignment papers. Hunter did not have his papers, and he left the church. As a result of  the Board of Stewards letter sent to Bishop Kirkland, he flew to San Francisco to address the board and members of the church congregation. “(Rev. Hunter) is a pastor in good standing,” said Bishop Kirkland. “The will of the Bishops has to be followed, or this will set precedent for other churches in the AME church to reject our assignments.” Bishop Kirkland called for skeptical members in the church to be open to greeting Rev. Hunter, who he called a charismatic leader, and open up a dialogue with him. For now, Bethel AME is being led by Elder Dr. Bartalette Finney until the disagreement is resolved among Hunter, the Fifth District Bishop and members of Bethel AME church. A resolution passed by Bethel’s Board of Stewards and Trustees “Demanded that Bishop Kirkland convene and chair a Conciliation Committee, as is set forth and allowed under the A.M.E. Church Discipline, to review Bethel’s concerns regarding Rev. Dr. Hunter’s alleged maladministration, and other improper activities as the pastor of First AME Church in Los Angeles. “The Bishop, to this date has not indicated whether or not he plans to respond to this specific demand of Bethel’s Stewards and Trustees.”
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