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Bishop Meadors remembered as ‘giant of justice’ (UM News)

June 1, 2023

Bishop Marshall L. “Jack” Meadors Jr. is being remembered for his compassion and activism, including helping the Rev. Jesse Jackson free three prisoners of war. The former bishop of the Mississippi Conference died May 25 at 90 in his native South Carolina.

“We are grateful to God for allowing Bishop Meadors to serve with us,” said Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, president of the Council of Bishops. “We are especially grateful for his advocacy and quest for justice.”

Bickerton noted Meadors’ work on issues including the rights of women and children, diversity and poverty, saying he worked “to make sure God’s children did not live in scarcity and without the basic needs of life.

“We will surely miss our friend and this giant of justice.”

Meadors, ordained as an elder in 1958, served churches and the conference in South Carolina before being elected bishop in 1992. He led the Mississippi Conference from 1993 to 2000. He remained active for years after retirement, serving as the bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta; a trustee of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina; and a trustee emeritus of Emory. 

“Bishop Meadors was a great gift to the Mississippi Conference,” said Bishop William T. McAlilly, who leads the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. McAlilly worked with Meadors while serving in Mississippi.

“He was a mentor who modeled grace and generosity to all persons, especially children and those on the margins,” McAlilly said. “With his (late) wife, Hannah, he led Mississippi to engage in mission and ministry with humility. 

“The world is a better place because Jack walked this way. I rarely make a decision of consequence without asking the question, ‘What would Bishop Meadors do?’”

Meadors was part of a delegation of religious leaders led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson that secured the release of three captured U.S. Army soldiers from Yugoslavia in 1999, according to the Los Angeles Times. The soldiers were captured during a peacekeeping patrol along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.

“He lived justice and compassion, not only in in the bounds of the denomination, but out in the community around him,” said the Rev. Joe Ranager, who served under Meadors in Mississippi. “That was his life spark.”

Meadors was born on New Year’s Day 1933 in Kingstree, South Carolina, and grew up an hour away in Florence, South Carolina. 

He was an accomplished athlete during his school days, said the Rev. Jim Patterson, a longtime friend. (Editor’s note: The Rev. Jim Patterson is not related to the author of this obituary).

“He … could have played college football,” Patterson said. “At one time, he held the state track record for the high hurdle.”

At Wofford College, Meadors opted not to play football. “He said he was there to be a student,” Patterson said. 

After Wofford, Meadors graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He served as a pastor and district superintendent in South Carolina for more than three decades before becoming a bishop.

“His sermons were excellent. (He was) one of the best preachers that I’ve ever come across,” Patterson said.

Meadors also was a community activist and official. He was elected twice to the Anderson County District 5 School Board and was appointed by South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley to two state bodies regarding aging. He also was president of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, a group of religious leaders who promoted tolerance and understanding.

For the denomination, he was a director for both the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and Board of Church and Society and chaired the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty from 1995 to 2000. 

Linda Bales Todd, a retired staffer at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, remembered Meadors as “a gentle giant” in a Facebook post.

“(Meadors had) such a strong faith and compassionate heart for those living on the margins,” she added. “One of God’s most amazing servants.”

Meadors was twice arrested while practicing civil disobedience, the first time for protesting the Iraq War and the second during a rally to demand more humane immigration deportation policies.

“I can almost repeat his sermon that he preached when Dr. (Martin Luther) King was killed,” Patterson said. “It was the first time I heard him say an ugly word.”

memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 9 at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anderson, South Carolina. A graveside service will follow at 3 p.m. at Mount Hope Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina.

Meadors’ wife, Hannah, preceded him in death. Survivors include daughter Jane M. Cromley; sons Marshall Meadors III and James Meadors; sister Sarah M. Stokes; niece Sarah L. Stokes; 10 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Meadors Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wofford College, 429 N. Church St., Spartanburg, SC 29303-3663; or the Meadors Endowment Fund for Children at the South Carolina United Methodist Foundation, P.O. Box 5087, Columbia, SC 29250.