Exorcising the Demons of a Church's Racial Divide

By Edward Gilbreath 10-28-2009

On a sad but pivotal day in the late 1780s, several of the African American members of Philadelphia's St. George's Methodist Church were thrown out of the church by the congregation's white leaders because of their refusal to sit in a blacks-only gallery area. Those African American Christians eventually went on to form what would become the first congregation of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church, Mother Bethel A.M.E.

Now, 200 years after racism divided black from white at St. George's Methodist, members of the modern-day congregations of St. George's and Mother Bethel have reunited.

In an emotional worship service this past weekend, 300 of Mother Bethel's members joined the 30 current members of St. George's to celebrate the 240th anniversary of St. George's -- and to finally address head on the ugly sins of prejudice and segregation that had split the church by race.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, St. George's pastor, the Rev. Fred Day, presented Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, with a cross constructed with the original nails from the balcony that was built to segregate black and white.

091028-richard-allenIndeed, it was the same balcony that A.M.E. founder Richard Allen and his fellow African American congregants refused to sit in on that fateful day 200 years earlier when they were banished from the church. Tyler told the Inquirer:

It almost defies words to go back to preaching in a place that our founder, Richard Allen -- who had been pulled off his knees in morning prayer -- had vowed never to return to ... It's a sense of rejoicing, moving beyond bitterness.

The Inquirer continues: "By the time the final hymns were sung, it was as if demons had been exorcised and a 200-year-old abyss had been bridged."

Read The Philadelphia Inquirer story here. For an extensive history of the infamous split and subsequent founding of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, visit the Mother Bethel A.M.E. website.

portrait-edward-gilbreathEdward Gilbreath is director of editorial for Urban Ministries Inc., editor of UrbanFaith.com, and the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. He blogs at Reconciliation Blog. This article appears courtesy of a partnership with UrbanFaith.com.

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