By Rev. Nathaniel Thomas Grady, Sr.
Pastor Emeritus, Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas
As we pause to review black history, let us remember the contribution that the Black church has made and is still making in our society. The Black church has always been the underpinning of our community. Out of our historical struggle for freedom and equality emerged Bishop James Varick, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Bishop William H. Miles, founder of the Cristian Methodist Episcopal Church. These three men of faith are part of our Pan Methodist heritage.
The story of my spiritual journey began when my mother Allene Carter Johnson Grady took her twins, Nat and Judy, to the Lord’s House at an early age. I recall the Sunday school song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I grew up in public housing in South Jamaica Queens, New York. My mother was a nurse and my father was a shipping clerk at a large baking company.
I experienced the effects of racism and segregation when my mother gave our grandmother’s address so her children could attend “better” schools in a predominately white district. Redlining was a reality of life in the 1940s. I lived in two different worlds: living and going to church in my black community and getting my formal education in a white environment. Beyond my own personal experiences, my awareness of the vulnerabilities of being a black man was intensified by the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till in Mississippi. I attended my first civil rights rally in Harlem to commemorate his death.
In my community, I was known as the “boy preacher.” I received my license to preach at the age of 16 and was the youngest person admitted to the New York Conference of the AME Zion church. I was ordained a deacon at age 19. I was shaped and nurtured in African Methodism.
My first pastoral appointment was in Louisville, Kentucky in 1957. I remember vividly there was only one restaurant where I could eat. How strange it seemed to me, having just come from New York City. The people that I served at Walter‘s Memorial AME Zion Church were kind and supportive of a young rookie pastor.
After serving in Kentucky, I returned to New York and continued to serve in the AME Zion Church. In 1967 Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke, a major architect of the Church Union and the abolishment of the Central Jurisdiction in 1968, invited me to join The New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.
I was appointed as pastor to the Church of Our Saviour in Yonkers, New York, a multi-racial congregation. It was there that I cultivated and expanded my commitment to issues that affected the lives and livelihoods of persons in our community. At the church, we established a Head Start Program and a Day Care Center that employed 23 full-time staff members who nurtured more than 100 children annually for 25 years.
Deeply committed to community service, I became the first Protestant member, and eventually chairman, of the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph Medical Center in Yonkers and participated in civil rights activism in support of equitable hiring of firemen, police, and educators. Notable among these activities were efforts to change educational practices. There were no Black administrators and Black history was not included in the curriculum. In support of the Youth Council of the NAACP, we marched, protested, and boycotted until we achieved our goal.
During my 18-year tenure as Police Chaplain, I developed programs for community policing and police ethics. In 1972, I was honored by the House of Representatives of the 92nd Congress for contributions to the community and offered the prayer at the opening session.
How grateful I am for the consciousness evoked by participating in the 1963 March on Washington, 1965 Voters Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, and the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ rally in Memphis.
There is a price you pay when you take on the giants of racism and injustice. As it was with the Apostle Paul, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, my journey has included incarceration. This experience rocked my world but not my soul. The abiding support of The United Methodist Church and the ecumenical community sustained my endurance. I never forgot that Jesus loves me and the promise of Joel 2:25 – “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…”
God provided a pathway for me to become an assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the New York Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. Significant among my responsibilities was facilitating ecumenical and Pan-Methodist initiatives and coordinating an Ex-offender Program that assigned released prisoners and their families to local churches that mentored them.
After serving 10 pastoral appointments for more than 50 years, I retired in 2008 but continued to serve interim appointments until moving to Arkansas in 2012.
Unexpectedly, my pastoral ministry was revived by interim appointments and circuit elder responsibility in the Arkansas Conference Central District. I currently enjoy the honor of serving as Pastor Emeritus of Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Thanks be to God for guiding my feet in peaceful ways and turning my midnights into days.