1/19/2009

Still at work

Yesterday in our Adult Sunday School we covered 200 years of United Methodist history in about 50 minutes. It was a challenge (I broke the large class into 6 groups and gave them each a short essay and question about one piece of the history.) One section was the effect of racism and the Civil War on Methodism.

This morning the New York Times has an article, front page, about two United Methodist churches in Washington D.C., one white and one black, using the inauguration as an opportunity to come together. They were one church in 1829, but
the white members of Ebenezer Methodist Church cast out their black brethren: You tap your feet too insistently, they said, and sing too loudly. So the blacks walked around the corner and founded Little Ebenezer Church.

Each Ebenezer thrived. Middle-class whites drawn by a prosperous capital crowded into their church, and 1,200 blacks filled the other, the balconies creaking beneath the weight of worshipers. The white Ebenezer — known today as Capitol Hill United Methodist — now has about 150 members, mostly liberal young people who work on the Hill. At Ebenezer, about 60 elderly blacks attend services; its funerals greatly outnumber weddings.

A few years back, the bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church ordered these churches, sundered by the sin of racism, to reconcile. Congregants broached tender questions of race, and this weekend they joined as a youth group from Maryland spread its sleeping bags at Ebenezer while Capitol Hill volunteers fed and cared for them.

The history of the UMC involves so much fracture, and then uniting. It is work we still continue, even in Minnesota where it is both more stark and more subtle.

Where this ends is not clear; the churches cherish their separate identities. The question still unanswered in light of the inauguration of a president half-black and half-white is whether these fractured congregations might yet make each other whole.

“Reconciliation is jagged and messy, but racism is a sin against the body of Christ,” Ms. Lasater said. “We are broken when we are separate.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sunday morning still remains the most segregated time in this melting pot country