Monday, November 21, 2011

Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as It Developed Among Blacks in America, by Harry V. Richardson (1976)

This is the first post in a new series about the development of post-Emancipation African-American Methodist Churches. When the direct approach toward research yields small fruits, than a broader, more generalized approach must be taken.

This is the most recent book I've read on the subject, and since it has offered much, I now share with you my gleanings.  There may be many points that I do not address which might interest you; but, I will be focusing on those aspects which will help me to recreate how things might have been for my husband's ancestors in their small, timber and farming community in coastal North Carolina.

PART I: Background
Chapter I: The Beginnings of Methodism

Since the most basic origins of the Methodist Church are commonly known, i.e. its founders, the beginnings of  The Holy Club at Christ Church College, and the derisive nickname attributed toward them, I will gloss over these. What I found interesting was that their initial missions proved unsuccessful. Both John and Charles Wesley came to the colony of Georgia in 1735,
John to serve as a missionary to the Indians and chaplain to the settlement at Savannah, and Charles to serve as secretary to General Oglethorpe and chaplain to the settlers at Frederica (p. 5).

Because Georgia had been settled as a debtors' colony, it was thought that the introduction of slaves would prove counterproductive. Those newly settled in the colony had been largely city-dwellers, inexperienced as farmers, and unaccustomed to working the types of crops that could grow in that soil and climate. The only "Negroes" found within the colony were runaways from neighboring colonies; and for this reason, the Wesleys had little contact with them. Yet John Wesley wrote his opinion of them in his antislavery pamphlet, Thoughts Upon Slavery.

Following the Wesleys' conversion experience,
They preached with such vigor, and aroused such "excessive" emotional response in the hearers, that they were soon excluded from the churches. Undaunted, they took to the open fields, and to the streets, anywhere a crowd could come together. Great numbers flocked to hear them, expressing their feelings with cries, tears, prostrations, and "fits." Many were converted (p.11).
In order to understand the episcopacy of the African-American offshoots of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we must first understand the method John Wesley used to organize the body of converts. First they were divided into Societies, and those were divided into classes headed by leaders. Unordained lay preachers were appointed to instruct and inspire the Societies. As the groups spread out across a region, itinerant preachers, or circuit riders who were ordained ministers, traveled between churches within a district and oversaw the preaching and instruction of Society members. Even today, it is common for most UMC ministers to remain in one location for no more than 3-4 years.
In a letter to Francis Asbury of September 30, 1785, he said: "Were I to preach three years together in one place, both the people and myself would grow as dead as stones (p. 12). 
Because the lay preachers were unordained, they were unable to serve communion, and thus the need arose to have ordained preachers within each church.

One item of notes gave clarity to the phrase, "annual conference."
Note: "The term 'annual conference' has three meanings as it is used within Methodism. In the first sense it refers to the administrative body which has jurisdiction over two or more district conferences. In the second sense it refers to the geographical territory administered by the conference. In the third sense, the term is used to refer to the meeting itself which is held once a year by this body for the purpose of regulating the affairs of all the churches located within the territory."  From an unpublished manuscript by Yorke S. Allen, Jr. (p. 13).
For additional reading:
John Wesley, Thoughts Upon Slavery, 1774, a pamphlet, printed in The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., John Emory, ed., (1835).

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to reading this series. AME churches popped up like popcorn in my neck of the woods after Emancipation.