Bishop Julius H. McAllister Sr., presiding prelate of the 8th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, began preaching at the age of 5 — before he could even read.
As bishop of 275 AME churches in Louisiana and Mississippi, his flock numbers in the thousands. But then his congregation was his 14 brothers and sisters.
He is the middle son, child number eight, of a United Methodist pastor, the late Rev. Joseph McAllister Sr., in Darlington, S.C.
“I would get up on a box, as a very young child, and … would always recite St. John, the third chapter, and the first three verses,” McAllister said. “My sister said how amazing it was that I was reading the Bible — until she discovered I was holding it upside down.”
McAllister, 63, comes from a preaching family. A sister and a brother are United Methodist pastors, another brother is a Baptist pastor and another brother and sister are Church of God pastors. His son, Julius Jr., is pastor of an AME church in Tallahassee, Fla.
Julius McAllister Sr. accepted Jesus Christ into his life at the age of 9 on a Sunday night when he was home with his siblings while his parents were at church. On that night, another sibling was preaching.
“Some people call it playing church,” McAllister said, “and I, along with my older brother, who was 13 months older than I, gave our lives to the Lord.”
In the Air Force, he served four years in Omaha, Neb., married his wife, Joan, and started a family. They have three children: Julius Jr., 42; Juanita, 40; and Jocelyn, 30; and a total of five grandchildren.
He attributes his switch from United Methodist to AME to his wife, who grew up in the AME tradition. He was licensed to preach in 1972 at Allen Chapel AME in Omaha.
They moved back to New Jersey, where Joan was from, and he was ordained as an elder and felt a calling to go South.
“She is a modern-day Ruth because she was willing to follow me,” he said.
In Atlanta, he worked full time and attended school full time, earning a bachelor’s degree from Morris Brown College and a master of divinity from Turner Theological Seminary.
He’s served five churches from Allen Chapel in Omaha to Mount Zion AME in Florence, S.C., where the congregation built a $1 million building and distributed a $500,000 to needy families and charities. He was elected bishop at the 2008 General Conference in St. Louis and assigned to the 20th District of Central-South Africa — Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania — where he served four years.
In December 2010, a series of 25 earthquakes shook Malawi.
“A lot of lives were lost, lot of people were displaced, homes and churches were destroyed,” McAllister said.
Donations from American AME churches provided funding to replace 10 destroyed churches. The new buildings included windows, electricity, water and indoor plumbing.
“We had about 100 churches in Malawi and not a single pastor had a motor vehicle — they all walked or rode a bicycle,” he said. “Now, through friends in the U.S. we were able to purchase bicycles for all the pastors and motorcycles for the presiding elders.”
At the 2012 General Conference at Nashville, Tenn., he was assigned to the 8th District and on Friday, he’ll have served one year of a four-year term.
The 8th District is “growing, people are energized and we have outstanding preachers,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the center of God’s will and I’m doing what God has called me to do.”