AME official Jerome V. Harris dies under a cloud of alleged corruption

Religion News Service | 5/23/2024, 6 p.m.
The Rev. Jerome V. Harris, a retired general officer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died in Memphis, Tenn,, on …
The Rev. Jerome V. Harris, an important figure of the AME Church, died suddenly, according to a press release from the Christian Recorder, the church’s official publication.

The Rev. Jerome V. Harris, a retired general officer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died in Memphis, Tenn,, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. At his death, Rev. Harris was involved in a lawsuit with the denomination over alleged mishandling of the church’s retirement pension funds.

John Thomas III, a general officer of the church and the editor of The Christian Recorder, the AME’s official publication, said Rev. Harris died of a heart attack.

Rev. Harris, who was ordained itinerant elder of the AME Church in 1981, served as senior pastor and presiding elder of various churches in Alabama. In 1990, he was appointed lead pastor of St. Paul AME Church, where the civil rights figure Rosa Parks attended. His most recent post as senior pastor was at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Ala. While at the chapel he secured National Historic Landmark status for the now-116-year-old building.

In July 2000, he was made a general officer of the AME Church and appointed the seventh executive director of the church’s retirement services department.

For 21 years, Rev. Harris managed the retirement pensions sponsored by the worldwide church.

Upon his resignation in 2021, AME Church officials accused Rev. Harris of embezzling nearly $100 million from the church’s pension funds after being alerted of discrepancies in the retirement plan’s accounting.

As a result of the accounting anomalies, the AME Church faced three federal class action lawsuits filed by retired AME pastors, accusing the church of mishandling the pension funds.

According to the church, an independent investigation in 2021 revealed Rev. Harris and other defendants had used the retirement plan funds for personal purposes. The church alleged that the defendants used the money for personal loans and high-risk

investments, among other things. They were also accused of creating third-party entities into which they funneled the money.

The AME Church wrote in its court filing that Rev. Harris “engaged in a conspiracy with several individuals and/or entities to embezzle funds and defraud AMEC by, among other things, providing AMEC with deceptive, false, and grossly inflated financial statements for the African Methodist Episcopal Church Ministerial Retirement Annuity Plan.”

When the fund opened in 2001, it was valued at $49.5 million. According to a final report issued by Harris, the plan was worth $128 million at the end of his tenure, a baseless estimation according to the AME Church.

Born in Montgomery, Ala., Rev. Harris graduated from Alabama State University and Louisiana State University. He had a three-decade career in banking at the First National Bank of Montgomery. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving during the Vietnam War. In 1969, he received a Medal of Commendation for his service.

Rev. Harris’ funeral was held May 15 at the St. John AME Church in Montgomery. He is survived by his wife, Sandra Elaine Anderson, a son and three grandchildren.