The Rev. Norvel Goff, former interim pastor of Emanuel AME Church, withdrew his bid Monday to become a bishop in the AME Church after garnering fewer votes than two other candidates from South Carolina in early voting.
Sources confirmed that Goff threw his support behind the Rev. Ronnie Brailsford, pastor of Bethel AME in Columbia, who was elected bishop in a later round of voting.
The withdrawal means Goff remains presiding elder overseeing more than 30 churches in South Carolina, including Emanuel AME in Charleston. He served as interim pastor of the grief-stricken church after its pastor and eight other worshippers were gunned down in its fellowship hall last summer.
The denominations’s general conference, which meets every four years, voted Monday in Philadelphia to fill six bishop seats.
Close family members of six victims told The Post and Courier that once the high-profile funerals ended, Goff never called or visited them to pray or provide religious counseling even as he held memorials and other public events for the so-called “Emanuel Nine.” Several said they contacted Goff repeatedly but he didn’t respond. Nor did he send one of the three dozen clergy he supervised to provide pastoral care, they said.
Goff declined comment through Emanuel AME’s attorney on Friday, but in the past has strongly defended his ministry, saying he has left every church he pastored better off than when he arrived.
However, the Rev. Sharon Risher, an AME minister whose mother died in the shooting, was among those who didn’t support his candidacy.
“God is in control,” she said when she heard Goff had withdrawn. “No matter what man does, God is going to make it right.”
Bishop Richard Franklin Norris promoted Goff to presiding elder less than a year before a gunman walked into Emanuel’s Wednesday Bible study and killed nine people, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and most of the church’s ministerial staff. The bishop then assigned Goff to lead the church.
Seven months after arriving at Emanuel AME, Goff announced he was running for bishop.
Norris has reached the mandatory retirement age and strongly endorsed Goff, often applauding his leadership after the shooting. Nationwide, people have praised Goff’s preaching skills, and Gov. Nikki Haley awarded him the Order of the Palmetto.
However, questions about how he handled financial matters followed him from New York to Columbia to Charleston even before the shooting victims’ families discussed their concerns.
Meanwhile, the newly elected Brailsford has served as pastor of Bethel AME in Columbia, a historic church born a year after the Civil War’s close, since 1992.
During his tenure, Bethel has undergone considerable growth and moved to a large campus that includes a school, according to Bethel’s website. He also is a board trustee at Allen University, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC and Columbia Urban League. He narrowly missed being elected at the AME Church’s last general conference.
Another South Carolina pastor also ran for one of the six open bishop seats. The Rev. Caesar Richburg, pastor of Williams Chapel AME Church in Orangeburg, also withdrew before the voting ended.
AME bishops are elected for life by a majority vote of the church’s general conference, which is meeting through Wednesday. They can be assigned anywhere in the world, and those assignments will be announced before the conference ends.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563