February is Black History month, a time in this nation when we honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans. It is a time to recognize that Black History is American History with its varied and rich history, yet often overlooked.
In honor of Black History month, we would like to take this time to recognize a timeline of Blacks in the Methodist Church. Here are some key highlights:
1758 – John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, baptizes two “Negro slaves,” thus setting the pattern for receiving people of color into the church. These two return to Anitigua to start a Methodist church in the “new world.”
1760 – Anne Schweitzer, a black woman, becomes a founding member of the first Methodist society (a small disciple group) in Maryland. Two years later, another black woman, “Bettye” is one of the five persons to attend newly inaugurated Methodist service in New York City. When the John Street Church is built in 1768 in NYC, the names of several black subscribers appear on its roster.
1784 – The Christmas Conference in Baltimore founds the Methodist Episcopal Church, the forerunner to the United Methodist Church. Among those riding out to issue a call for the conference is “Black Harry” Hosier. Born a slave about 1750, Hosier receives a license to preach in 1785 and becomes one of the best preachers and most effective early circuit riders.
1790 – Drawn by the Methodist Episcopal Church’s anti-slavery stand, blacks (slave and free) make up 20 percent of the 57,631 American Methodists.
1791 – John Wesley dies. His last letter is one written to anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce, urging him to “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”
1816 – Due to increasing segregation within churches, many blacks leave the Methodist Episcopal church to eventually form the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Philadelphia. The AME church is still in existence throughout the nation.
1845 – Bishop James O. Andrew of Georgia is told to desist from the exercise of his office until he frees slaves passed down from his wife’s estate. He refuses, which causes a split in the church along regional lines on the issue of slavery: the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and the Methodist Episcopal Church (South).
1902 – Susan Collins becomes the first black missionary sent out and serves 29 years in Angola.
1920 – The Methodist Episcopal Church elects their first two black bishops, Robert E. Jones and Matthew W. Clair Sr.
1939 – The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South are reunited to form the Methodist Church.
1984 – Leontine T.C. Kelly becomes the first African-American woman to be elected bishop.
2000 – General Conference delegates participate in a service of repentance for racism within the denomination.