Richard Allen was born as a slave in Delaware in 1760. Richard’s mother and three brothers and a sister were sold to another slave holder in Delaware. Richard taught himself how to read and write. He and his brother stayed together and eventually they both started attending a local Methodist Society church that welcomed slaves and free blacks. Richard and his brother later were allowed to buy out their slavery. Richard moved to Philadelphia and became a vocal abolitionist.
Richard was not only an abolitionist, but he was also an entrepreneur… His first wife died after a long illness. His second wife Sarah Allen had six children and is called the “Founding Mother” of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the AME. In 1786 Richard Allen began preaching at St. Georges Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However he was restricted to only early morning services before the white congregation gathered and when the group began to grow they were assigned to have services in the back entrance of the church so nobody could see them entering the church from the main street.
Allen and Absalom Jones, who also was a Methodist preacher, resented the white congregants segregating the blacks for worship and prayer. Allen bought and sold property in Philadelphia and donated property to the Free African Society, a non-denominational society that assisted fugitive slaves and new migrants to the city, a society that he and his good friend Absalom Jones founded. However, most of the congregants of the Free African Society considered themselves Episcopal or Anglican. Over time most of the Society members chose to affiliate with the Episcopal Church, as most of the Free Society members in Philadelphia had been Anglicans since the 1740’s.
They started the first African Episcopal Church and began worshipping as the Church of St. Thomas in 1795. Absalom Jones was ordained as a deacon and in 1804 as a priest, becoming the first black ordained in the United States as an Episcopal priest.
Allen and others chose to stay in the Methodist practice. Allen started the first African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened the doors of Bethel AME Church in 1794. At first they were affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, but in 1816, Allen united with other African-American congregations of the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. They founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first fully black denomination in the United States. In 1816, Richard Allen was elected as their first bishop.
Did you know that the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a denomination that we as Episcopalians have full communion with and our priests are accepted to celebrate communion at their church altars and vice versa is voting this year to accept that same relationship with the AME Church? The Evangelical Lutheran Church already has full communion with the United Methodist Church. And, did you know that in July of this year the Episcopal Church will be voting on a resolution that was passed in 2012 to also have full communion with the United Methodist Church? If and when this vote carries, I will have full access and permission to celebrate Eucharist with any United Methodist Church. I pray this will happen. We all have similar roots.
I think that it is important that St. Alban’s be connected closely with the Diocese of San Diego, the programs, ministries, and the resources of the Diocese, and I think we have a lot of resources to share with this diocese. I think that it’s very important for us to be closely linked to the national, Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) I think that it’s very essential for the Episcopal Church to be more closely related to the Lutheran Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Churches, Reformed Churches, United Church of Christ (UCC), etc…
I think we are doing our best to be connected to other faith traditions in our area. We are doing our best to do that. Pastor Sharon Loraine and I meet each month with a group of church leaders that is made up of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and United Churches of Christ. I am meeting with another group of clergy that include Greek Orthodox, Moravian, and Evangelical Churches. Our Welcome Church Clergy Advisory Board is made up of Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal clergy. At our Welcome Church service this afternoon at Wells Park, Pastor Andy Welch (UMC) will be the facilitator, Pastor Richard Vivia (ELCA) will be the Celebrant for Eucharist, I will preach and the Rev. Dr. Rev. Alex Nagy, Field Placement Director for the School of Ministry for our Diocese will also join us. We will also have members of the First Presbyterian Church assisting us.
We are one of many of the local pictures of the Body of Christ, but we are also the universal Body of Christ. It’s not always wise or prudent, or expedient to recreate the wheel. Two weeks ago I shared a few minutes with the First Presbyterian Church across the street at their annual church meeting. Here’s what I shared. I told them that I appreciated their commitment to outreach and their commitment to our community in ministry especially in the very many ways that we minister alongside of each other. I encouraged them to go deep into their mission statement and to their strengths, to the area they are already doing ministry in and strive to do that ministry better. There are two proverbs that I left with them. The first is that “it’s easier and more effective to cut down trees with a sharpened ax. Take time to sharpen the ax.” And the second is this: “Two strands are strong, but three strands are even stronger”. We will all be more productive if we commit ourselves to working together to be more effective. Let’s sharpen our tools and strengthen our bonds of communities. Our churches can learn from each other. Let’s do our work “more better” this year. I like the sound of that even if it is not proper English “more better”.
I am thankful for Richard Allen, Fredrick Douglas, and Absalom Jones and all the people of faith help us to be more effective, to go deep into the roots of our DNA, the footprints of our faith of those that have gone ahead of us working for the unity of the broader church, to work for justice, freedom love and hope for a better tomorrow.
Let us work together to bring the good news to our community and our world. The church of God is huge. It covers the world as the waters cover the sea.
Year B 1st Sunday in Lent
February 22, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
Father David Madsen