Frederick Hilborn Talbot, the 90th Elected and Consecrated Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, lived a long and flourishing life in multifaceted ministries in higher education, government, in the pastorate, and in the episcopacy. The Talbot AME legacy began with his uncle, the Reverend David Patterson Talbot, ordained in 1903 and 1905 as an itinerant deacon and itinerant elder by Bishop Henry M. Turner during his matriculation at Morris Brown College and Turner Theological Seminary. Talbot returned to his native British Guiana, present-day Guyana, to serve AME congregations and launched African Methodism in Dutch Guiana, now the Republic of Suriname.
Frederick H. Talbot was born on October 13, 1927 in British Guiana. His mother, Helena Best Adrian, saw in him something special. She worked long hours so she could afford his school fees. But one day she discovered that Fred was skipping school to “hang out with the boys” and she gave him a whipping he has never forgotten and promised that if he continued to miss his classes she would “kill” him. That confrontation changed his life, Fred Talbot recalled, because at that young age he really believed she would kill him since she was so angry and so disappointed, he never skipped another class! His mother later encouraged him to spend time with his uncle, the Reverend D. P. Talbot, and that allowed him to grow into the ministry.
Her ambition for her son reached fruition when the 1948 AME General Conference assigned the newly elected Bishop William R. Wilkes to preside in the Caribbean and South America. While holding an annual conference in British Guiana in 1951, he observed the leadership role Fred Talbot played especially among teenagers. Fred had organized the Wilkes Youth Choir which was very popular with the church and in the community. Everyone was surprised but pleased to hear Bishop Wilkes announce that he had arranged, through Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr., a scholarship for him at the AME-supported Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. One of the best gifts he received at Allen was the tutoring and friendship of Dr. John Hunter, his music professor. He was able to perfect his singing and traveled with the Choir. He was ordained an itinerant deacon in 1951 and an itinerant elder in 1952 and became pastor of the Little Mountain Circuit in South Carolina. After he earned the B.A., he enrolled at Yale Divinity School as a Woodward Scholar, served as an associate minister in New Haven at the First Methodist Episcopal Church, and graduated with the M.Div. in 1957. In 2007 he received from Yale Divinity School the Alumnus Award, Lux et Veritas “in recognition of his distinguished service not only as an AME bishop but also as a pastor and teacher, in the diplomatic service of Guyana and in ecumenical relations.” After Yale, he earned the S.T.M. in 1959 from the Pacific School of Religion where he recalled the influence of his professor, Georgia Harkness, a pioneer theologian and philosopher and even had her visit his fifteen member congregation of St. James AME Church in Colusa, California and speak to a large audience in the small town. In 2008 he received the school’s Distinguished Alumnus award as well.
Fred never deviated from his commitment to the African Methodist Episcopal Church even in days of uncertainty and in spite of other lucrative offers. He served two AME academic institutions. First, at Shorter College in North Little Rock, Arkansas as College Minister and Head of the English Department and then for two years as an instructor of Practical Theology at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio.
While at Yale Divinity School, Fred Talbot met a student at the Yale University School of Public Health, Sylvia Ross of St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. She graduated in 1955 from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico. When she completed her studies at Yale on a John Hay Whitney Opportunity Fellowship and a U. S. Public Health Service Fellowship, she took a position in Sacramento, California as the Director of Health Education for the Sacramento Tuberculosis and Health Association for Sacramento County. Fred and Sylvia were married in Sacramento on July 11, 1958. After they moved to Wilberforce, Ohio and spent two years, another AME intervention charted them onto another course.
Fred Talbot’s uncle, D. P. Talbot, who died in 1960, had served for about 40 years as pastor at St. Peter’s AME Church in Georgetown, a long-standing AME congregation in British Guiana. Moreover, the 1960 AME General Conference assigned Bishop Carey A. Gibbs to the 16th Episcopal District. Fred always yearned for the opportunity to return to Guyana so he offered to fill the vacancy at St. Peter’s. Bishop Gibbs, in March 1961, declared to the congregation, “I am sending you one of your own. He is a young man, and you know that young men run fast. So, get ready for him.” Returning to Guyana was Fred’s dream and he reveled in the opportunity to teach, to challenge, to share new ideas. It also gave him the opportunity to be close to his mother in her later years. Fred and Sylvia Talbot at St. Peter’s fulfilled what Bishop Gibbs predicted. Fred Talbot led the congregation in building a steel and ferra-concrete edifice prompting some members to say in THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER in 1964 that “many of us never thought that we would see a modern concrete church in our lifetime.” Two decades earlier, D. P. Talbot envisaged “a new St. Peter’s built of brick.” Fred Talbot, “half-jokingly” and perhaps prophetically as a teenager remarked “that would be my job.”
Additionally, in 1965 Fred Talbot hosted in Georgetown Bishop G. Wayman Blakely and Bishop Joseph Gomez along with Mrs. Vera C. Blakely and Mrs. Hazel Gomez to break ground for the new Agape Community Center. Pastor Talbot reported to THE MISSIONARY MAGAZINE that the two-story building would replace the old St. Peter’s and adjoin the new edifice as a facility to house a library, a Richard Allen Self-Help Shoppe, space for a kindergarten, a Day Care Centre, and an auditorium that would seat 200 persons. The membership of St. Peter’s grew during the Talbot pastorate from 38 members in 1961 to more than 350 a decade later.
While Sylvia Talbot taught Biology, Chemistry, and Botany at the premier girl’s high school and later was invited to serve as Health Education Officer with the Ministry of Health for British Guiana, Pastor Fred broadened his ministry to community, government, and ecumenical affairs. He served on the Poor Law Commission that authorized funds for old-age pensions and public assistance. He belonged to the government appointed Three-Man-Appeals Board to adjudicate issues related to persons left homeless because of 1964 racial conflicts. He also became secretary, vice president and then president of the British Guiana Council of Evangelical Churches. A favorite son of Guyana, Frederick Talbot earned the Cacique Crown of Honor, the highest honor of the country, for his faithful and outstanding service to Guyana.
These achievements led one member of St. Peter’s in Georgetown to publish in a 1971 edition of THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER an article titled “Give Us A Native Bishop-Give Us Fred Talbot.” He noted that “it seems to us in Guyana that if the church is going to keep pace with the changes and competition in the Caribbean, it must Go Native, and for us in Guyana, THE NATIVE WAY IS THE TALBOT WAY.” When votes were tallied at the 1972 General Conference in Dallas, Texas, Fred Talbot was elected on the second ballot as the 90th Bishop in the AME Church. A conference scribe noted that “all the delegates joined in the demonstration in the Overseas areas over the election of the deserving Bishop-Elect, Frederick Talbot.” He was assigned to the 16th Episcopal District.
Just before he became a Bishop, Talbot was invited to serve in the diplomatic corps of the now independent Republic of Guyana. In 1971 he was appointed Permanent Representative to the United Nations from Guyana. Sylvia, now Minister of Health resigned her position to accompany him to the UN and serve as a delegate. Right after the 1972 General Conference he became the Ambassador to the United States and Canada, and in 1976 he was assigned as High Commissioner to Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. These government appointments permitted Bishop Talbot to use his bishop’s salary for development projects in the 16th Episcopal District including financial support to young people in school, Moreover, he was now located in Kingston, Jamaica where he had easy access to the other island countries within his jurisdiction. In 1974 at his invitation, both the Council of Bishops and the Women’s Missionary Society held their meetings on the island bringing more than 2000 AME’s to Jamaica. These were the first Connectional meetings ever held outside the United States. He was grateful that church leaders and faithful members could see the new church in Jamaica’s capital city and other improvements throughout Jamaica. Within his eight years assignment in the 16th district Bishop Talbot achieved many of the improvements he had planned especially choosing and training persons to continue to serve the District. One of Fred’s visions was to include women in every aspect of the work of the church, so he appointed the first female presiding elder of the AME Church, Rev. Dorothy Morris. More than 50 members received funds to sustain them in college, in seminary, and even in commercial and other schools.
After eight years in the 16th Episcopal District, the 1980 General Conference assigned Bishop Talbot to the Sixth Episcopal District in Georgia. There he established the Talbot Retreat Center in Columbus, Georgia, built a much-needed AME dormitory on the campus of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, gave special attention to the needs of Morris Brown College and encouraged and enabled pastors to improve their skills and many to earn degrees. He also earned on May 31, 1987 the Doctor of Ministry degree (D.Min.) from Columbia Theological Seminary.
During the 1988 General Conference Bishop Talbot was assigned to Ecumenical Affairs. He carried the AME Church into Bilateral Dialogues with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and to joint conversations between the three historic black Methodist denominations and the Protestant Episcopal Church. He also paid special attention to our pastors in the military. When the 1989 hurricane (Hugo) destroyed St. Croix soldiers were sent to help with recovery. One of those soldiers knew that “his Bishop” was living there so he found the house and discovered it was seriously damaged. He brought a group of his buddies and quickly did enough repairs to make the house livable. They also helped to repair one of our churches on the island.
From 1992 to 1996 Bishop Talbot presided in the 12th Episcopal District in Arkansas and Oklahoma where he worked to upgrade Shorter College and Jackson Theological Seminary and required all those who sought ordination to attend Jackson Theological Seminary at Shorter College and as in other districts encouraged not only studying but teaching as well. During the 1996 General Conference, Bishop Talbot presented in Concert two Episcopal Supervisors who are outstanding musicians, Mrs. Beverly Thomas and Mrs. Edith Ming. He once presented songs by Bishops Choir.
From 2000 to 2004 Bishop Talbot presided in the 13th Episcopal District in Kentucky and Tennessee, the last district before retirement. As usual, he continued to encourage pastors to improve their skills, to provide educational opportunities for both pastor and member and to encourage involvement in community affairs.
His retirement from the episcopacy at the 2004 General Conference opened a new phase of ministry. Besides an active membership in Greater Bethel AME Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Bishop Talbot continued his productivity as an author and hymnologist. His books published both as an active and retired Bishop included GOD’S FEARLESS PROPHET: THE STORY OF RICHARD ALLEN, AFRICAN AMERICAN WORSHIP: NEW EYES FOR SEEING, SACRED POEMS AND TUNES, and numerous pamphlets. His CDS in two volumes are A BISHOP SINGS OF HIS FAITH are still favorites of scores of people.
With his transition to heaven on April 11, 2019, Bishop Talbot leaves Dr. Sylvia Ross Talbot to mourn him. There are countless persons touched by his telephone ministry whom he baptized, men and women whom he has taught, and those who have been the recipients of his generous philanthropy and encouragement as they matriculated and earned college, graduate, and professional degrees.