Established in 1926, “Negro History Week” was placed in February to coincide with the birthday celebrations of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Over the years, Americans have expanded the communal opportunity to reflect upon, embrace and learn more about the nation’s African heritage. Now we observe Black History Month. Free Methodists, join in!
The first Free Methodists were thrust out of the larger Methodist body over their unshakable commitment to a holiness that was not merely private but insistently public. Abolition – fighting to end slavery – was a core issue for our denominational forefathers and mothers. Underground railroad depots were part of the fabric of this group of radical Christ-followers. Our churches intentionally stripped barriers that kept black and white worshippers separate and embraced new ministries that invested in equipping and partnering with the poor, disenfranchised and oppressed.
Not surprisingly, most early Free Methodist churches formed in the North. An abolitionist church did not take root easily in the Southern United States. Nonetheless, before the Free Methodist Church’s founding in 1860, a “free” Methodist church organized in Missouri — a slave state at the time — through the work of evangelist John Wesley Redfield, and Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts visited this St. Louis church in 1859. This boldly testified that the church’s foundation would not be compromised by accepting injustice or the disunity of believers based upon skin color or social status. In Christ’s family, there are only brothers and sisters loved by their heavenly Father.
Today, the largest North Central Conference church is a predominantly black congregation – the Chapel. More than 500 worshippers gather weekly at the Chapel to praise God and testify of new hope and transformation in Christ. Connected to Olive Branch Mission, the Chapel serves Chicago’s Englewood community and the world.
Black pastors lead FM churches in the North Central Conference and other areas of the Free Methodist Church – USA. Despite a history grounded in actively seeking equality and cross-cultural ministry, however, North American Free Methodists are a largely white group. Be bold, Free Methodists, in taking continued action today as a movement of embrace for all, seeking justice and engaging in partnership across all the divides that threaten to diminish the united body of Christ.
Mark Adams is the superintendent of the North Central Conference. This article is adapted from a post on his North Central Reflections blog (nccsup.blogspot.com).
DISCUSSION: In the Uniquely Free Methodist campaign (fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm), our bishops have called us to celebrate fruitfulness. Do you celebrate the fruitful ministry of black Free Methodists and racially diverse FM congregations?  Are you aware of the fruitful ministry of two Free Methodist groups with black members, the African Heritage Network (myahn.org) and the Free Methodist Urban Fellowship (fmcusa.org/fmuf)? 0