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Center will document history of African-American Methodists

 


Center will document history of African-American Methodists

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Bishop Forrest C. Stith addresses the Central Jurisdiction reunion.

Sept. 1, 2004  

By Pamela Crosby*

ATLANTA (UMNS) — African Americans from around the United States are being asked to contribute personal items to a heritage center that will preserve the history of blacks in Methodism.

The items will be placed in an African American Methodist Heritage Center, to be built in Atlanta.

During the Aug. 27-29 Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church Reunion, retired Bishop Forrest C. Stith reported on the progress of the center, which will be based at the yet-to-be-constructed Center for Religious Life at Clark Atlanta University. The United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, at Drew University in Madison, N.J., has agreed to house materials until the proposed center is built.

“This is a pivotal part of the Methodist Church history and a time of celebration,” said reunion organizer Evelyn Gibson Lowery, “with historical artifacts gathered from those involved during the Central Jurisdiction placed in the care of the historical archives of the African American Methodist Heritage Center.”

Stith asked people to contribute any items relating to the presence of African Americans in the Methodist church since its founding. The organizers of the Central Jurisdiction Reunion asked for personal journals, pictures, church records, reports, newsletters, books, periodicals, sermons, letters, and audio and videotapes that chronicled the little-known aspect of Methodist life before the creation of the current denomination in 1968.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Participants at the Central Jurisdiction reunion sing during opening worship.

Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the denomination’s African-American caucus, have worked on the heritage center for four years.

Stith reported that research had revealed many obscure facts. In the Methodist Church, he said, “bishops were not assigned to a resident area until the issue of black bishops became present. Only then did the church address the need for residential bishops.

“Before that time all bishops were bishops of the whole church,” he explained. “They met together at conference meetings and decided which bishop would preside at each conference. After 1900, since the blacks were pressing in, church leaders decided to assign bishops to residential areas so they wouldn’t have to have a black bishop.”

The Central Jurisdiction was created in 1939 as a racial compromise when the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged. The non-geographical, segregated jurisdiction existed until 1968, when it was dismantled with the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Its bishops, clergy and churches were assigned to the United Methodist Church’s five geographical jurisdictions.

The African-American presence in the denomination engendered an enthusiasm and inclusion of preachers, and informed the church’s theological education of the whole person, said Barbara Ricks Thompson, a former top staff executive with the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. It also affirmed that African Americans still believed in the concepts of Methodism, she said.

*Crosby is a freelance writer, video producer and consultant in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

 

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