Feb. 16, 2005
|Courtesy of Archives and History
The heritage center will gather old photos and artifacts from black Methodist history
A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*
people are unaware that African Americans’ involvement in Methodism
dates back to the beginnings of the church in America, a United
Methodist bishop says.
lot of whites don’t know that African Americans were a crucial part of
Methodism before the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was
created in 1939, says Bishop Forrest Stith.
some African Americans have been so "obsessed with the injustices of
the Central Jurisdiction," he said, that they seldom share or remember
the stories of black involvement in the church as far back as the
Christmas Conference of 1784, when the church in America was organized,
and of African Americans’ presence at such historical sites as Epworth
Chapel and Strawbridge Meeting House.
Americans were present in all those settings and made a difference,"
Stith said. "To know one’s history determines how one lives in the
present and the future."
is leading a project that will help people understand the contributions
that blacks have made to Methodism. The new African American Methodist
Heritage Center will gather the stories, artifacts and other historical
items of black Methodists from the mid-18th century to today.
The 2004 General
Conference approved creating the heritage center, which was proposed two
years ago at a national meeting of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Before General Conference approved it, the church had "no one single
place that was exclusively dedicated to the restoration and preservation
of the African Americans who contributed so significantly to and
through Methodism," Stith said.
| Credit: The General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church.
Newberry Avenue Center Nursery School.
books have been written and churches have separate museums and
exhibits, "no one entity had the capacity to exhibit or portray through
various modes, and capture our story," he said. "Only a heritage center
United Methodist have longed for "our place," Stith said. "Like Joshua
paused at the Jordan River and demanded that each tribe pick up a stone
and carry it across so that the children’s children will know ‘how we
passed over,’ so too, the heritage center will be our stones, so that
our children’s children will know our story."
Americans have had a significant impact on Methodism during the past
266 years, he said. "Unfortunately, the vibrant history of African
Americans’ impacts on Methodism remains largely undocumented, untold and
unappreciated by Methodists and by the general society." The African
American Methodist Heritage Center will "rectify this deplorable
historical oversight," he said.
a permanent home is built at one of the denomination’s historically
black colleges or universities, the center is housed at the United
Methodist Commission on Archives and History at Drew University in
Madison, N.J. The center is also using Asbury United Methodist Church in
Washington as an office and transition depository. Stith is bishop in
residence at the church.
Web site is being created to provide regular updates on the center’s
progress. The 2004 General Conference established an endowment fund for
the center through the United Methodist Church Foundation.
heritage center’s board of directors is talking with Clark Atlanta
University and Gammon Theological Seminary, also in Atlanta, about
housing the center at one of the campuses and supporting it through
programs. The historically black university is creating a Center for
Religious Life where a heritage center might flourish.
last year, the churchwide Commission on Archives and History and the
Asbury church have received large quantities of artifacts, memorabilia,
pictures, journals, letters, exhibits and other items for the heritage
center. Donations include an exhibit on the history of black colleges,
minutes of the Washington Conference since 1912, and materials from the
late Bishop W.T. Handy’s family and other bishops. The commission is
housing all the items.
Web sites and programs, the center will link with historic institutions
such as Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss., and churches such as
Mother African Zoar United Methodist in Philadelphia.
For more information, call Stith at (202) 628-0009 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.