When I started covering religion, way back when, one of the first stories I wrote was a profile of Bishop Ernest Lyght, then the head of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The truth is that I was trying to get the lay of the land—to figure out who was who—and Lyght’s office was right up the road from my office. So I made an appointment to stop by and chat (probably after reading up a bit on Methodists). I don’t believe that Lyght had ever been mentioned in my paper.
We had a long and often fascinating interview. Bishop Lyght was at the time one of only 10 African-American bishops in the United Methodist Church. His father, he told me, had been a Methodist minister during the years when the Methodist church was, well, officially racist. The denomination had had a special diocese for its black members. This segregated diocese wasn’t dissolved until 1968.
I remember asking Lyght why his father hadn’t left the Methodist church for the AME or AME Zion denominations, which were formed by black Methodists who had broken away. He told me that his father was committed to staying put and seeing change.
And I was sitting across from the result. His son was the United Methodist Bishop of New York.
Bishop Lyght was a gracious and fine man, tall and soft-spoken. When his second, four-year term in New York was over in 2004, he was elected bishop of West Virginia.
I mention this now because I received an email blast today from the current United Methodist bishop of New York, Jeremiah Park, announcing that Bishop Lyght is retiring next month because of health problems.
I’m sure that a lot of Methodists around here—and others—miss him and wish him well.