By Rev. Monica Corsaro
2016 | Portland, Oregon
At General Conference we celebrated our many partnerships with our ecumenical brothers and sisters in Christ. In particular we celebrated our relationship with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. We heard the names of many members of the AME Church. They were scholars, politicians, activists, freedom fighters, artists and more. We were celebrating the relationship of our common history. But then I think, on this day in particular, do we remember how the Methodist Episcopal Church began and can we learn from it?
“Officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church pulled blacks off their knees while praying, members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Richard Allen led a small group who resolved to remain Methodists. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME.” (from AME website).
Today African-American Bishop Gregory Palmer celebrated with our partners in the AME church and said in so many words, you started something oh so many years and it became fruitful, you started something oh so many years ago and it has been faithful, you started something so many years ago and you have continued to be a thriving community. And today we celebrate our relationship with you.
African American Methodists were not valued as being full human beings, they were not allowed to participate in full rights of the church and in fact were removed forcibly from a common worshipping space. These slaves and former slaves refused to be enslaved by their church and began their own.
Today that denomination is now in full partnership with The United Methodist Church, can we learn from history so we do not dare repeat it? I hope in the days to come we remember so we indeed can look with eyes wide open to what our future can be.
Rev. Monica K. Corsaro’s eloquence as a speaker and strong activism have made her a sought-out preacher in Seattle and across the nation. She is an advocate for the full inclusion for gay lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered people in The United Methodist Church. As the co-covener for the Religious Coalition for Equality, she helped to pass an anti-discrimination law, a domestic partnership bill, and Marriage Equality in the state Washington.