200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
Sunday February 7, 2016
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain MA
Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches
Note: This Response was given at a Bicentennial Service commemorating the 200th anniversary of the AME Church. Throughout this year, you can join celebrations, including the release of the Bishop Richard Allen USPS Stamp & celebrations in Philadelphia. More info at: http://www.firstdistrictame.org/index.html
Giving Glory to God, and honor to:
- Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram & Episcopal Supervisor Jessica Ingram;
- Former President of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, Presiding Elder Herbert Eddy
- Our gracious Host Pastors Revs. Ray & Gloria White Hammond
- Reverend Clergy
- Sisters and Brothers in Christ
- Neighbors in the City of God
- And with thanks for every AME Christian who taught me to establish protocol…
I bring you blessings and greetings on behalf of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a network of individuals, congregations and denominations, including the New England Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us. Let me say that again: convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us.
You know well all those things that might divide us. The necessity of establishing the African Methodist Church is our uniquely American contribution to the history of Church division, one of the rare divisions in the Church when the body of Christ was divided not by doctrine but by racism. 200 years ago, the AME came into being in part because of the racism of white Christians who could not, who would not see the equal dignity of Black Christians. We did not did not divide because of doctrine but because of the sin of racism. I grieve our inherited legacy of division.
In many parts of the Christian church we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration today, a day when we remember Jesus climbing up the mountain to pray, being reunited with the ancestors Moses and Elijah, and basking in the splendor of the Spirit, radiant with the light of God.
For many parts of the Church, it wasn’t just Jesus’s clothes that became white, but Jesus himself became white. For centuries, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness.
When White Christians pulled Richard Allen & Absalom Jones off their knees in prayer, the Church confused radiance with whiteness.
When even after black Christians were relegated to the back pews, the choir loft, the balconies, when even that was too much and a white Boston church would rather remove every pew in the sanctuary than to have accidentally sold a pew to a black family, even here in the progressive, genteel city of Boston, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.
When we save the hymns of the black church tradition for MLK Sunday and nowhere else in the year, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.
And when, somewhere along the way, a young man who had been raised in a primarily white Protestant Church, gets it in his head to destroy black bodies, and brings a gun to a bible study, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness. And our nation confuses the second amendment with idolatry.
Even in that oppression, compression, depression and confusion, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has faithfully modeled the transforming love of God, lo these two hundred years.
For two hundred years, through every danger, toil, and snare, you have been faithful to Christ with a faith stronger than slavery, a faith stronger than a civil war, stronger than a national depression, a faith stronger than segregated schools, a faith stronger than the redlines that would divide us. In you, I see the Resurrection.
I want to tell you why I love the AME, and why the rest of the Church needs your particular witness to the way God continues to transfigure us. May I tell you why I love the AME?
I love the dignity of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Every time I enter an AME Church to worship, I see the dignity of entering God’s courts with praise. I see the presumption of Kings and Queens, royalty in the household of God. I see bodies beautiful and adoring of the Lord of Lords.
I love the unabashed African-ness of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I honor your deep history that is more than just the theologians of books, but the unnamed women and men who shaped and sustained and passed on the faith.
I love your Methodist-ness, your Wesleyan fire stored up in your bones.
I love your Episcopacy, your defiant, true conviction that you are heirs of our apostolic faith.
I love your Church, your widest part of the body of Christ- not just an American church, but a global Church.
I love your core conviction that the Gospel of Christ is in fact Good news, and even in snowy New England it might be ok to show some joy.
I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s sense that the Gospel still liberates, still releases from bondage, still heals up the broken-hearted. I love your conviction that the Gospel heals not just in some metaphoric sense but heals and liberates flesh and blood, real bodies, real brokenness.
I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s unwillingness to divided worship from work, Sunday from Monday.
I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ability to move with the Spirit, maybe even past where you are initially comfortable- the Spirit that moved you to ordain women, and then to consecrate women Bishops. I love that you are willing to let the Spirit move you still.
Finally, I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s conviction that the doors of the church are open, not just so that others might come in, but that we might go out. I love your conviction that if our churches aren’t changing neighborhoods for the good, then we are not fully embodying the transforming Gospel.
I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am grateful for you. In the same breath, I grieve the racism by white Christians that prompted our division, and give God thanks for your faithfulness over 200 years. You have been signs of the Resurrection. May God continue to use the African Methodist Episcopal Church to transfigure the whole Body of Christ and transform the world.