Bishop Clement W. Fugh (Courtesy photo)

After more than 40 years of ministerial service, the Right Rev. Clement W. Fugh will retire at the AME General Conference in August 2024.

As the presiding prelate of the denomination’s 5th Episcopal District for the past eight years, Fugh and his wife, Episcopal Supervisor Alexis Butler Fugh, are beloved by congregants for their brilliant minds, yet humble demeanor. While AME members are happy the couple can retire, many admitted that the Fughs welcoming personalities and exceptional administrative skills will be missed.

During his tenure as the 5th District spiritual leader, the bishop oversaw all AME churches in 15 states west of the Mississippi River.  As his spouse, Mrs. Fugh supervised the Women’s Missionary Society auxiliaries operating in each congregation.

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Reflecting on his time in the 5th, Fugh used a series of “e” words to describe the appointment – exhilarating, enlightening, engaging, and endearing.  He explained that each word referred to unique aspects of the district, especially compared to his previous assignment as presiding prelate of the 14th Episcopal District which includes the countries of Liberia, Central Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire and Togo-Benin.

“The 14th District was comprised of many West African countries and that involved a great deal of travel. And to come here and have 15 states with each with his own carrot and tradition. It was exhilarating,” insisted the bishop, who served 30+ years as a pastor and served as general secretary and chief information officer of the AME Church prior to his election to the episcopacy.

“The next ‘e’ word is enlightening. Coming again to this area from Africa, [I saw that] everybody wants to be feel valued and people are looking for the opportunity to serve,” he noted.

“The third ‘e’ would be engaging. It is very difficult to serve in any community without being involved with the plight in the local churches, dispatching persons to address some of those needs, and letting them know that the Episcopal District leadership is a part of where they are,” said Fugh,

Bishop Clement W. Fugh and Episcopal Supervisor Alexis Butler Fugh (Courtesy photo)

“The fourth ‘e’ would be endearing. You don’t serve eight years among people without building relationships, people that you hope to keep in touch with the rest of your life. And then finally, I would describe my tenure as empowering.”

Expounding on the last “e” word, he explained that the AME Church’s itinerant ministry means that preachers “move from place to place.” A bishop strives to match “ministers to congregations” and always seeking opportunities for a minister’s “gifts to be utilized.”

Based on the descriptive “e” words that Fugh shared, his tenure in the 5th Episcopal District was positive and memorable.  However, like all good things, he faced significant challenges – the biggest being the COVID-19 pandemic occurring in March 2020, which shut down the world for nearly three years and led to churches doing ministry differently.

“Yes, COVID was real and challenging, but it was also a godsend. That is where we learned about Zoom.  Our young people in the RAYAC – Richard Allen Young Adult Council – stepped up to the plate and showed us how to continue to do ministry and be together while apart,” recalled Fugh.

It’s not surprising that young people played a defining role considering the high level of involvement of youth and young adults during Fugh’s two terms.  Every meeting, symposium, or conference that he held contained a component to attract that demographic. Youth were visible and made meaningful contributions.

Offering strategies churches should consider to attract and retain young people, the bishop recommended, “First and foremost is to assure them that you see them, that you hear them, and when they talk about their dreams and hopes, you do all you can to facilitate them achieving some of those things.

“Give encouragement, don’t be overly strict, and yet set some parameters. Listen and let them know that you know they’re in the room and that you know that they are a thinking human being who can add something to the conversation,” he said.

“If they find out you’re for real and not perpetrating, they usually come around,” added Bishop Fugh, who will be available to share more advice and guidance even after he retires. The couple plan to reside in Nashville where he will maintain an office and offer the benefit of his wisdom to the AME Connectional Church.

As for the future, the bishop plans to approach each day by making full proof of his ministry, a philosophy he defines as “more than a mantra, but kind of a way of life.”

Outlining the viewpoint, he said, “You move and talk and interact with people with a sense of God presence. You know that you not only represent Him, but He’s looking how you really represent Him, and you want to be faithful to that. That’s the challenge I give to every minister that I send out and it’s the rule I live by.”

To the people of God, Fugh shared three words from a speech by the late Adam Clayton Powell, a pastor and U.S. Congressman from New York – keep the faith.

“In that same speech where he said, ‘keep the faith,’ Powell says that God’s realities far exceed man’s desires or imaginings,” the bishop said.

“I trust that, so I’ll keep the faith and charge everyone around me to do the same.”