Kindred in Christ,
As Methodists, our connectionally has always been one of our hallmarks. The idea that God connects us to all people and all creation is one of the reasons Methodists have sought to be anti-slavery and be inclusive across racial lines since our inception. Yet, sadly, white supremacy also been present throughout our history and worked to put out our spark of connectionism.
Richard Allen, born enslaved in Philadelphia in 1760, came to the faith at 17 years old after hearing a Methodist itinerant preacher proclaim a gospel that all where equal in Christ and that slavery was sin. He later bought his freedom and became a Methodist preacher and teacher. Allen was hired at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, a congregation that prided itself to be progressive and inclusive. Yet they only allowed Allen to preach at the 5am service that was mostly attended by Black members. And when Black membership began to grow, segregated seating was instituted at the main service. Frustrated with the white supremacy of the congregation, in 1787 Allen and the Black congregants ignored the segregated seating rule and took up space at the center of the sanctuary. They knelt down to pray and refused to stand up until the prayer was over (even though the trustees where physically trying to remove them). After the prayer they stood up in one mass and left the church never to return.
Historians suggest that this event, which later became known as “The Great Walk Out,” is the first overt protest action by African Americans against racial discrimination in Philadelphia. Allen and the Black congregants went on to start a new congregation in a blacksmith’s shop named Bethel Church. Bishop Francis Asbury (consecrated by John Wesley) consecrated Bethel church in 1794 and ordained Richard Allen as the first Black Methodist Elder in 1799. Eventually, Bethel became the start of the first ever Protestant denomination to be founded by Black people in the United States—the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.).
Join us this Sunday, as we learn more about Rev. Richard Allen and the blessing and the challenge that it is to be a connectional church that resists white supremacy and strives to live into collective liberation. See you on Facebook Live!
– Rev. Paul Ortiz