Methodism, in all its roots, has a long history celebrating and recognizing the ministry of the laity.
In the early days of American Methodism, the laity served and maintained congregations between visits of the circuit riders. Today, lay people are the front line of daily ministry at the workplace, in the home and within the community.
The Early Days
Archives suggest the earliest plans for a Laity Sunday beginning in 1928. The first recorded observance of "Laymen's Day" was in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1929. By 1930 the Evangelical Church had begun celebrating the work of laity at the culmination of each annual men’s retreat. (Reflecting the times, these early celebrations focused only on the ministry of men.)
The September 1928 issue of The Methodist Layman reports
...the third Sunday in May [is] Anniversary Day, commemorating the constitution of the Board of Lay Activities by the General Conference, the same to be designated as "Laymen's Day," and strict observance of this day by a lay program in every church, which shall set forth adequately the place of lay activities in the Church and be of inspirational value to the laymen for larger service in the kingdom.
Within two years, the success of the celebration hastened to make Laymen's Day an annual observance. Once the factions of the Methodist Episcopal Church merged in 1939, the joint General Board of Lay Activities approved Laymen's Day and designated February 23, 1941, as the first United Methodist Church observance. The January issue of The Methodist Layman enthusiastically reports the aim of Laymen's Day as "...to emphasize the place that lay members have in the total life and work of the church."
Laity Sunday is a time to recognize the work and mission of all laity — not only within the walls of the church but in everyday lives. The excitement about this day of recognition grew. The January 1942 issue of The Methodist Layman includes this entreaty:
Think what this could mean to the church! Forty thousand laymen — lawyers, physicians, teachers, bankers, businessmen, mechanics, farmers and others — speaking on The World Mission of the Church! The whole Methodist Church will be moved and stirred to action by such a message. ...There are vast possibilities for good in Laymen's Day. It is the prayer of the General Board that every Conference, District, Associate District, Charge and Church Lay Leader and every District Superintendent and Pastor will give wholehearted cooperation to make the day significant in the life of The Methodist Church. In October 1942 The Methodist Layman recommends the last Sunday of February "be fixed as Laymen's Day throughout the Church" and calls for "serious preparation for this day and...[for] Pastors to give active cooperation."
Mid-20th Century to Today
Laymen's Day is first mentioned in the 1944 Book of Discipline (¶ 1483), where its direction is placed under the auspices of the General Board of Lay Activities. In the 1964 edition of the Book of Discipline, Laymen's Day is designated as the second Sunday of October. (¶ 1499.3)
The 1968 Book of Discipline (¶ 1202) expounds on the day's larger purpose:
…shall be to interpret the role of the laity in the world and to provide laymen with opportunity to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to his mission in the world. By the 1972 edition of the Book of Discipline, Laymen's Day was renamed the gender-neutral Laity Sunday (¶ 163) but was often referred to as Laity Day until 1977.
See the Laity Sunday themes through history.
Today, Laity Sunday is celebrated the third Sunday of October. Quadrennial themes are set by the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders and approved by the board of directors of Discipleship Ministries. We need the whole Body of Christ as we seek to become more vital congregations who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
Second Episcopal District Lay Witness Sunday
In 1969 at the Eleventh Biennial Session, it was approved that the second Sunday in October is the officially designated Connectional Lay Day to be observed by all AME Churches. Bishop Anderson, President of the World Council of Churches from 1991-1998, instituted Lay Witness Sunday for the Second Episcopal District of African Methodist Episcopal Church. The purpose of Lay Witness Sunday under Bishop Anderson created a venue for the pastors to worship together at a Minister Retreat in Virginia, allowing the laity to carry out the morning worship service at their local church. Lay Witness Sunday is not new, it has been around since 1924 under a different name and held in the month.
History of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization
The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization (NCCLO) is one of the five Annual Conference Lay Organization that tiers up to the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Our territory extends North/South from the Virginia/North Carolina Stateline to the North Carolina /South Carolina Stateline and East/West from the Clayton to the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization was a body that met once or twice a year. The North Carolina Conference Presiding Elder District Lay Organizations met more frequently. The Presidents of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organizations during a time period where we have both a Conference Lay Organization and Presiding Elder District Lay Organizations, our Conference Lay Organizations included Celia Trent, Myrtle Knox, who served for 16 years and Mitchell Gadsden.
Early Pioneers of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization include Celia Trent, Myrtle Knox, Maggie Jenkins, Lucille Wiggins, Katy Foreman, Mary Lennon, Louis Warren, Rometta Mills, Dorothy Nichols, Leroy Vaught, Sr., Alvin Hankins, Heziah Maesh, Steve Moore, Harry Gore, Barnabus Parker, Robert Boddie, Coley Ashe, Mitchell Gadsden, W. E. Davis and Malcoln Lea.
The current North Carolina Annual Conference Lay Organization came about as a result of the merger of the separate Presiding Elder District Lay Organizations into the Conference Lay Organization. This occurred in approximately 1988. Our first conference president under the newly merged NCCLO was Sister Florence Warren. Sis Florence Warren was succeeded by Sister Bernice Gadsden and then Brother William E. Davis. Mr. W. E. Davis was succeeded by Ms. Gwen Smith, and our current President Ms. Edna Watson followed Ms. Gwen Smith.
The NCLO has initiated: monthly meetings, an annual picnic in August, Annual Lay Day Extravaganza in March, Participation in Lay Night at the Annual Conference, an Annual Lay Prayer Breakfast during the Annual Conference, and an Annual Lay Ball.
History 1988 - 2011 Timeline
1988 Florence Warren was elected the 1st President of the newly merged North Carolina Conference Lay Organization; since the elimination of the Presiding Elder District Lay Organizations in the North Carolina Conference.
1994 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization hosted the 5th Second Episcopal District Lay Convention at the Four Points Sheraton in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
1996 Bernice Gadsden elected President of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization
1997 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization has its first One Day with the Lay with a Queens/Kings/Prince/Princess Pageant as suggested by President Bernice Gadsden.
1998 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization the One Day with the Lay was renamed to the Lay Extravaganza, and the Lay Pageant was changed to the Lay Advocate Contest by the Director of Lay Activities Bernetta Ghist.
2001 President Bernice Gadsden passes, and Mr. W. E. Davis becomes the president of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization.
2001 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization hosted Second Episcopal District (SED) Lay Organization District Meeting at the Four Points Sheraton in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
2004 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization held its 1st Everybody’s Birthday Tea.
2004 The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization hosted the 10th Second Episcopal District Lay Convention at the Sheraton Ocean Front Hotel at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
2005 The North Carolina Conference held its first Annual Lay Night of Elegance Ball Organized by Edna Watson.
2006 Gwen Smith elected President of North Carolina Conference Lay Organization.
2011 The North Carolina Conference held its first Mr.& Mrs. North Carolina Conference at the Annual Lay Night of Elegance Ball.
2011 Edna Watson elected President of NCCLO.
North Carolina Conference Lay Organization History Section by W.E. Davis
The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization is the culmination of separate lay organizations in the geographical area of the Second Episcopal District’s North Carolina Conference. Each Presiding Elder’s District within the North Carolina Conference had its lay organization with its compliment of officers and functions and bore the perspective Presiding Elder District. Example: In 1966, during the reign of Dr. George Larkin as Presiding Elder of the New Bern District of the North Carolina Conference. During this era, William E. Davis was the president and was elected outstanding lay person, and he has presented a plaque. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. His convention was held in Washington, DC. In the growth and solidarity, Mr. Cowan of Ashville, NC, a stanch Lay person called all the various presiding elder district lay organizations to a combined session at Kittrell College in Kittrell North Carolina.
The individual lay “groups” continued to progress thru the years. Dr. Joseph McKinney was a strong advocate of the “unified through strength” and eventually as presiding elder districts changed names and reduced in numbers. So did the lay organizations until during the reign of Dr. L. O. Saunders, Northern District and Dr. L. E. Humphrey, Southern District, the two separate Lay Organizations looked fully at merger into one said body. The two combined their finances and treasurer, the presidents including Bro W. E. Davis relinquished office, and Sister Florence Warren was elected president of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization with the march of time. Sis Florence Warren was succeeded by Brother Mitchell Gadsden as President, Brother Gadsden, followed by Sister Gadsden, then Mr. W. E. Davis, Ms. Gwen Smith, and presently Ms. Edna Watson.
North Carolina Conference Lay Organization History Section by Jackie Bellamy
The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization first consisted of three presiding elder districts; the Southeastern, Central and the Northeastern. Records were not kept accurately, but years later the three presiding elder districts became two. Pillars of the North Carolina Conference Lay Organization were sisters Celia Trent, who wrote the North Carolina Lay Creed, Myrtle Knox, Maggie Jenkins, Lucille Wiggins, Katy Foreman, Mary Lennon, Louis Warren, Rometta Mills, Dorothy Nichols and brothers Leroy Vaught, Sr., Alvin Hankins, Heziah Maesh, Steve Moore, Harry Gore, Barnabus Parker. Robert Boddie, Coley Ashe, Mitchell Gadsden, W. Malcoln Lea and many others.
The North Carolina Conference Lay Organization has moved to higher heights and deeper depths. The following people has served on the District Level Sisters Dorothy Nichols, Florence Warren, Paulette Bryant, Bernetta Ghist, Edna Watson, Annie Smith and Brother Malcoln Lea. The Connectional Level Sis Florence Warren, Director of Lay Activities.
The North Carolina Conference Lay has initiated the following
Monthly meetings (keeping unity)
Annual Picnic (4th Saturday in August)
Annual Day with the Lay (4th Saturday in March)
Annual Prayer Breakfast and Lay Night at the Annual Conference
Annual ABC Donations from the Local Churches
Assist a Minister in College
Fulfilled all financial obligations to the 2nd District Lay Organization
Tithing initiative – funds support two churches (Northern/Southern District
The North Carolina Conference Lay has traveled as delegates and alternates to all the Lay Biennials, Lay Leadership Retreats, General Conference, helped to elect the first woman bishop of the AME Church in 2000 and two in 2004. We had the pleasure of hosting two Second Episcopal District Lay Conventions at Fayetteville under the Leadership of Bishop James and Atlantic Beach, North Carolina under the Leadership of Bishop Richardson.