Learning from History and Including All as Jesus

I choose to remain a United Methodist because we know our denomination is more than a "fad" or a "short-lived movement." We can learn from our rich history, and we can be sparred some of the same mistakes of history. Our history goes back 237 years, and this is simultaneous with the birth of our Nation. As a result, Methodism and American history have much in common.

Methodism has been refined and survived the challenges of early colonialism, civil war and remains a strong religious anchor in the midst of adverse winds of great division today. One of the ways we can help is to live out our discipleship as Jesus teaches us. We must get out of our vacuum and love people different from us. Our sermon this Sunday will be from the Gospel of John (chapter 4), with Jesus breaking through barriers to love the "woman at the well." As we better understand Jesus invites all into His Kingdom - our better understanding of persons with different backgrounds becomes even more crucial.

We can help bring our country together when we better understand one another. This is true, especially in the church. After all, the church seems to continue to mirror our society more than the teachings of Jesus. We need to change this!

One way we change is better appreciate all people through history. A couple of years ago, one of our members asked if I would raise awareness that February is Black History Month. I have decided with all the racial unrest in our country; this is a good year to do just that!

Did you know the Methodist history tree also includes significant both significant European and African American leaders? We are indebted to Bishop Richard Allen, the first African American Bishop. He was the first ordained black pastor in America in 1794. My good friend and historian Dr. John Veasley of Pensacola, Florida, shares this concise history of Bishop Allen's significance.

My African American-Heritage Note (FEB 7)

BISHOP RICHARD ALLEN (1760-1831) was born into slavery in Philadelphia, PA, on February 14, 1760. His family were sold intact to Delaware farmer Stokeley Sturgis in 1767. He converted to Methodism at the age of 17 after hearing a white itinerant Methodist preacher rail against slavery. Sturgis, who had already sold Richard's mother and three siblings, also converted and eventually allowed Richard and his brother to purchase their freedom for $2,000 each. Richard took the last name "Allen" and returned to Philadelphia, working odd jobs and as a shoemaker and manager of a chimney-sweeping company.

He soon joined St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, where blacks and whites worshiped together. He became an assistant minister and conducted prayer meetings for blacks. In 1787, Rev. Absalom Jones and Allen had helped found the Free African Society (FAS), a non-denominational religious mutual-aid society dedicated to helping the black community. When officials at St. George's pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members realized how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against blacks. Allen, frustrated by limitations placed on him and black parishioners, left St. George, intending to create an independent Methodist church.

In 1794, Allen and 10 FAS members founded the Bethel Church in an old blacksmith's shop with Allen as their pastor. In 1799, Allen became the first black to be ordained in ministry in the Methodist Episcopal Church. To establish Bethel's independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for his congregation's right to exist as an independent institution. Bethel became known as "Mother Bethel" in 1816 when Allen called black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities facing racial and religious restrictions to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination. And the first national black church in America - the African Methodist Episcopal Church. At this establishing of the first national black church in the US, Allen became its first bishop. Today, the AME church boasts over 2.5 million members over five continents.

As we encounter the stability of great history in our church, let us be more aware God has broadened the church through diversity in leadership. Our inclusiveness of all will be our focus this Sunday. We still have much work to do to make the church inclusive of all of God's children. We can learn from history, be transformed in Christ as his disciple in the present, and become the Church God seeks in the future!

Shalom,
Philip    

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