The Right Rev. William H. Graves, the 42nd Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was a national religious leader who served for 18 years.
He was also a past president of the National Congress of Black Churches’ board of directors and served as a board of trustees member at his alma mater, Lane College, in Jackson, Tennessee.
Graves also served as a national board member of the NAACP. In 2006, he became the first African-American board member of the Tennessee Valley Authority nominated for the TVA board by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee.
In a Sunday news release, Sen. Alexander praised Graves’ “quiet, strong” leadership. “William Graves was one of our nation’s most consequential religious and civic leaders,” Alexander said. “With his quiet, strong leadership, he made our lives better and made us proud to claim him as a native son. Over the years, Bishop Graves became a treasured friend of our family. We will miss him and offer to his family our great respect for his life of service.”
“He was an amazing man who, I think, was also a tremendous visionary,” said Ken Bentley, Graves’ brother in law and a former Nestle executive who lives in Los Angeles. “He never saw the church in our community as it was at the present time, but he always saw it as what it could be.”
Graves was well known to the Southern California community as an outstanding pastor of Phillips Temple CME Church in L.A. Under his leadership, Phillips Temple completed a total renovation and restoration of its worship facility and Graves earned a reputation as an unusual leader in stewardship motivation of local congregations.
In addition, Graves was an acclaimed representative of Christian Methodism as a youth and he remained committed throughout his long ministry and even beyond his retirement as bishop in 2010. Also, he has been actively involved in the social and political issues of the community.
As a young adult, he was elected president of the National Youth Conference, and represented the denomination in the World Council of Churches in India as well as in the World Methodist Conference. For two CME General Conferences, he served as the chair of the Committee on Episcopacy of the CME Church.
Born June 19, 1936 in Brownsville, Tennessee, Graves was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Upon receiving the BA degree from Lane College, he matriculated at Phillips School of Theology of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He pursued his Doctor of Ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology in California.
After being licensed to preach, Bishop graves served as the assistant pastor of his home church, the St. John’s CME Church of Detroit, under the pastorate of Walter H. Amos, (who later became the 32nd Bishop of the church). Prior to his election in 1982, he served pastorates in Georgia, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
During his pastorate at Phillips Temple CME Church of Los Angeles, he was recognized for leading a congregation in a restoration project of its worship facility.
Graves was elevated to senior bishop and CEO of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at a 2006 general conference in Memphis. In 2010, he was honorably retired at the general conference in Mobile, Alabama.
Graves was married to Donna Bentley-Graves. He is survived by his three adult children, Jacquelyn Graves Thomas, Ameera Graves and William Graves ll.
Funeral arrangements will take place on Dec. 9 at Greenwood CME Church, 3311 Kimball Avenue in Memphis. Visitation is scheduled for 10 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. funeral.