MIAMI — Since his 2008 election as the 130th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, John F. White has joined the National Council of Churches’ governing board, has chaired a steering committee for the Pan Methodist Commission, has frequently engaged in dialogue with other Christians around the world, and is anticipating a trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
“Sometimes I live out of a suitcase,” said White, 62, a Boynton Beach native, of his travels. “I can come home, change, pick up a suitcase and be off again. It’s the nature of the job.”
His job, he said, also entails communicating with the World Council of Churches, the World Methodist Conference and Churches United in Christ. He also serves as the endorsing agent for all chaplains in the AME church denomination.
“All chaplains,” he explained, “including armed forces and federal bureau of prisons must have an endorsement from my office.”
On Sunday, Feb. 21, White, who now lives in Miramar, will come to Liberty City to deliver a guest sermon at the Church of the Open Door, which is part of the United Church of Christ denomination.
The Rev. Dr. Joaquin Willis, pastor of the Church of the Open Door, commended the men’s fellowship for inviting Bishop White.
“I’m excited about his coming because he is a well-known pastor and bishop in this area,’’ Willis said, noting that many leaders in his church have an AME background.
“I think his being an AME bishop will bring a perspective that is slightly different from our traditional church,’’ Willis said. “I think our denomination and our church is enriched by the diversity of messages that we can get from people like him.’’
White said of his days in the pulpit as the former pastor of Greater Bethel AME in Overtown and, later, as pastor of Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale that, “I won’t say that I don’t miss it at times. I particularly miss it during special seasons like Lent, Easter and Christmas.”
But, he said, “If I am invited, I will preach. And it does not have to be AME.”
White said he will not make Haiti the focus of his sermon on Feb. 21, even though much of his attention is now turned toward the struggling island nation. An estimated 200,000 people died as the result of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.
The AME denomination, White said, has about 10 churches, several schools and seven clinics in Haiti, and all of them suffered severe damage.
White said he anticipates traveling to Haiti with a group. But so far, he said, “the State Department has told us that it is not safe to come. But we will be going as soon as possible.”
The AME church, he said, has put a “clarion call” out to all of its churches and members to contribute to the rebuilding of Haiti as well as its churches, clinics and schools.
“Our large church was in the same vicinity in Port-au-Prince as the presidential compound that was totally destroyed,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in terms of repairing and rebuilding. It will be a long, tedious process, but we are committed to do all we can to rebuild and be supportive of the Haitian people.”
In addition to his many other accomplishments, White has inspired the next generation to preach the word of God.
His son, the Rev. John F. White II, pastor of Mount Hermon AME Church in Miami Gardens, described his father as “passionate about what he does,” adding that he is “committed to his ministry.”
Because of the bishop’s passion and drive, the 40-year-old younger Rev. White said, “I can see him helping to move the AME church forward. The church will be blessed because of him.”
Although the younger Rev. White has always supported and respected his father’s dedication to the church, he said, his father’s pastoral ministry “influenced me to not want to preach.”
He said that he did not want to enter the ministry “because of the stress of feeling underappreciated and undervalued. I witnessed my father experience all of these things and more; the same things I am going through now.”
But at the same time, Rev. White said, “I learned a lot. I would dare say that pastors whose parents are in ministry have a leg up on other pastors whose parents were not. You get to see things that others don’t, up close and personal.”
Rev. White, who entered the ministry at age 26, admitted that his father is “not the reason I started, but is one of my greatest influences. He has had an influence on my ministry as well as my work ethic.’’
The younger Rev. White continued, saying of his father, “Like him, I am a workaholic, have passion for people and constantly push my congregation to care for those in the community; those outside of our four walls.”
As a parent, Rev. White said, his father, the bishop, was not strict: “I did everything every other kid did growing up in the late 80s like dating, parties, listening to rap music. He allowed me to make some of my own decisions and never pushed me about going into the ministry.”
But, he said, “he did punish me like a regular father.”
Bishop White described his service as “an opportunity to share common causes and common concerns about humankind and the faith around the world.
“It’s refreshing and intellectually stimulating,’’ Bishop White said. “I am pleased with what we are doing and all the dialogue with other Christians throughout the world.”
The bishop is married to Penny White, who is the assistant administrator of community development for the city of Miami. The couple has five adult children and seven grandchildren.
“You are a bishop in the AME church until you are 75 years of age,” Bishop White said. “So I guess I’ll have to retire then.”
Photo: Bishop John F. White
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Bishop John F. White sermon during Men’s Fellowship Worship Service.
WHERE: Church of the Open Door, 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami.
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 21, 10:30 a.m.
COST: Free and open to the public
CONTACT: For more information, please contact the church office at 305-759-0373.