Saturday, February 19, 2011

Black History Month and the NCC

Established in 1925, “Negro History Week” was placed in the first week of February in between the birthday celebrations of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Over the years Americans have expanded the communal opportunity to reflect upon, embrace and learn more about the nation’s African heritage - both painful and beautiful. Now we observe Black History Month.  Free Methodists join in!

The first Free Methodists were “thrust out” of the larger Methodist body over their unshakable commitment to a holiness that was not merely private but insistently public. Abolition - fighting to end slavery - was a core issue for our denominational forefathers and mothers.  Underground railroad depots were part of the fabric of the this group of radical Christ-followers.  Our churches intentionally stripped barriers that kept black and white worshipers separate and embraced new ministries that invested in equipping and partnering with the poor, disenfranchised and oppressed.

Not surprisingly, most early Free Methodist churches formed in the North . . . an abolitionist church did not take easy root in the Southern United States. Nonetheless, the first Free Methodist Church organized in Missouri, a slave state at the time. This boldly testified that the church’s foundation would not be compromised by accepting injustice or the disunity of believers based upon skin color or social status. In Christ’s family there are only brothers and sisters loved by their heavenly Father.

Today, the largest NCC church is a black congregation – the Chapel. 500 worshipers gather weekly at the Chapel to praise God and testify of new hope and transformation in Christ. Connected to Olive Branch Mission, the Chapel serves Chicago’s Englewood community and the world.

Black pastors in the NCC are currently leading in churches in Chicago (Joel Smith with the Chapel), Madison (Larry Jackson with True Believers), Iowa City (Tommy Roberts with LifePointe Church), and Elliot Renfroe (Winfield, IL) provides consistent leadership to the Free Methodist Continental Urban Exchange.  Despite a history grounded in actively seeking equality and cross-cultural ministry, North American Free Methodists are a largely white group. Be bold, North Central Conference, in taking continued action today as a movement of embrace for all, seeking justice and engaging in partnership across all the divides which threaten to diminish the united Body of Christ.