My Journey

My Journey

journey

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.

Intersectionality, Black Potentiality

Intersectionality, Black Potentiality

bible church

By Rev. Dr. C.E. McAdoo

Retired Clergy, Arkansas Conference

Black Power, Black Power, Black Power. These are words spoken to articulate a cultural reality. We have popularized its use as a political and racial slogan, because on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael used these words. Yet as I try to help us all understand the true dynamics of Black Power, it was on the horizon some 12 years earlier. In 1954, Richard Wright wrote the book Black Power and the Rev. Dr. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell said at Howard University, “To demand these God-given rights is to seek Black Power.”

As a freshly graduated seminarian, in my first charge back in the state of Arkansas, I witnessed God-given power at St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The strength, discipline, and hope of this congregation demonstrated the power aforementioned within and throughout the community. Upon arrival, I saw through my own eyes a church with minimal resources, no reserved funds, and a depleted budget in need of a whole church renovation. Although the church was faced with insurmountable odds, St. James United Methodist Church believed in a future that surpassed its circumstances. As any young pastor, I would have liked to believe that I was the catalyst for its structural and faith renovation, God power was the true source of growth and development that took place.

St. James United Methodist Church membership included many distinguished Pine Bluff residents, many of which were professors and staff at the University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff and prominent citizens who were civic and social leaders within the city. As a new pastor, I relied on Dr. John Barner (a prominent professor at UAPB) to help me gain perspective of the needs of the church and the greater community. With his and others’ help, we sought to actualize the vision of renovating the structure of the church and building a structure that represented transformational growth within the community.

I vividly recall a galvanizing moment that solidified our path toward leaning into God’s power. A member stated, “Reverend, look at that, it’s a shame. We’ve got to do something.” As a Black church, in a predominantly Black community, a member called my attention to the decline of a pillar that has meant so much, to so many for decades. At that moment, I truly felt the connection of God’s Power and Black Power.

Understanding the urgency of the moment, I sought avenues to be a positive change agent. At that time, as a young pastor with limited resources; the only resource that I knew that was available was the United Methodist Church’s construction resource that assisted churches in building and renovations. Consequently, I reached out to a construction manager that was working in this capacity on a project in my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee. I contacted the construction manager and asked if he could assist in a whole church renovation at St. James United Methodist Church. Through God’s Power, he agreed.

In one of my favorite hymns, the writer says it best in verse one of the song, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness.” As I reflect on this great song, I think about the hope and faith in God’s power that the congregants had to embark on such a task as renovating a structure with so few resources and a new pastor fresh out of seminary. The congregation was extraordinarily supportive and believed in the strength of God’s power and their purpose in kingdom building. With this foundation, they began to actualize their potential. They believed in God’s Power and they believed in Black Power.

Although during this process, I had been an active agent of change and a motivating presence, the Lord blessed me to put away my ego and entrust this whole church renovation into the hands of two trusted and respected members. This factor enabled me to preach, pray, teach, conduct campus ministry, and perform my pastoral care duties. Their help was invaluable to my pastoral effectiveness and the overall health of the church during that time.

I recall a time during the construction when their help, guidance, and wisdom exemplified the personification of self-reliance and faith. We were close to completion and could not worship in the sanctuary that was under construction. I used my relationship with the pastor of First United Methodist Church – Pine Bluff to work out an agreement to utilize their chapel while their congregation worshiped in their sanctuary concurrently on the Sunday that our church was unoccupied. Upon hearing about the agreement, one of those trusted members said to me, and I quote, “Reverend, I love you, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit in the chapel while the white folks worship in the sanctuary.” At that moment, Black Power became Worship Power, at a location within the community.

You may ask, what is the point? The point is … Just as Jesus was in the garden, he asked God to pass over him the bitter cup. He asked a second time for God’s will to strengthen him. My salary was $300 per week. On the first Sunday that I pastored, the church took up $299. Black Power without adequate funds, stable money, and resources becomes “Fake Power.” I have yet to mention it, but the entire church renovation was a grand total of $85,000. With God’s Power, we were able to overcome this improbable dream. Each week, my two trusted members brought the weekly receipts in amounts payable to the church and we paid them weekly on each Monday.

Fortunately, my beloved district superintendent, John Lindsey, came by the church and asked what we were doing. I explained it to him, and he asked about the method in which we were paying for an $85,000 renovation (without authorization) and I explained it to him. He noted that we did not follow the Book of Discipline. I agreed and submitted that I did not know what was there. But… then he asked, “What can I do?” I noted that we did not have a sanctuary cross and he promptly purchased one with his personal funds.

God is not just empowering United Methodists. God empowers all people in their kingdom-building potentiality. That improbable renovation enabled the church to expand all of its ministries (large community youth group, college participation and focus, active United Methodist Men and Women units, self-sustaining and effective tutorial program, affirmative community development, and outstanding membership growth). Just like the interstate, God’s Power crosses all roads. These roads are God giving, as his gift to us, all people, not just in February, but year-round. Black Power.

Know the Story

Know the Story

person

By Rev. Rashim Merriwether

Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

The date is Feb. 1, 2021; The occasion is Black History Month. The purpose is to recognize and share the contributions and achievements people of African or Caribbean heritage have made. A chance to share the story of racism, which is embedded in the DNA of this country along with the negative stereotypes and tropes which have been formed into a narrative to disenfranchise, destroy and devalue people of color, their struggles, and footprint on the narrative of this nation’s history. This is a simple description to an unsimple story of African American people in this country.

I can remember the first time I listened as someone spouted off dates as though there were intellectual check-boxes to prove their acknowledgment or expertise in understanding and knowing the conversation of “Black History” in America. As the date 1619 was spoken, I found myself recalling the countless conversations with my grandfather, who had a history as both a Black Panther and part of the Black Militia respectively. He would ask a question, “Who are you; where are you from; who are your people?” 

The average person might respond by saying, “I am John. I am from Detroit, Michigan, and I am part of the Smith family.” To which my grandfather would respond, “That’s not who you are, that’s not where you are from, and that’s not who your people are. You need to find out and be ready the next time someone asks you that question.” 

As a youngster, I believed it was my grandfather’s way of being non-compliant to socio-demographic identities, but I learned that it was much deeper than that. It was him trying to let me know that our story is much larger and important in the conversation. Now back to that date.

I am sure there are many people who hear the date of 1619 and immediately default to the first time Africans were sold as property in America at Point Comfort, Virginia.  However, our story is much deeper, larger, and important to the conversation of African Americans and our ties to this land.

In 1517, Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas petitioned the Spanish to allow 12 enslaved Africans per household to immigrate to America, and in 1518 King Charles I of Spain granted licenses to import enslaved Africans to America. By the end of that same year, slaves were being shipped to West Indies, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico. 

By 1526, enslaved Africans were working to build San Miguel de Gualdape, which we now recognize as Georgia. In actuality by 1619, African Americans had already been unwilling slaves for a century. People that looked like me were intricate in the establishment and maintenance of what was known as “The New World.”

Why is this important? Because our story, our pain, our sweat, our tears, our blood, and our bodies are irrevocably part of this land. We inherited an indigenous pedigree that is older than the colonies themselves. Before there was a Plymouth Rock, our suffrage in this land was real.  Our sacrifice in the land was real, our mark upon this land was real. 

As we look at our own history in Arkansas and as Methodists, there are important narratives that must be unpacked and shared for all to hear. Voices that speak in honor of those who came before. They will share their experiences, their trials, their sorrows, their questions, and their hope. These stories are important because they are a history of who we are. Some will think to themselves to spout out a date to identify themselves as people in the know of race and the United Methodist Church, but like my grandfather helped me to understand, “Our story is much deeper than that. And we have a responsibility to know, so the next time someone asks ‘who are you? Where you from?’ you need to know the story.” 

In honor of the people, their experiences, their sacrifices, and their struggles I share a few stories to help us go a little deeper in understanding who we are, as African Americans, and what our story means in the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church.

This is the beginning of a series that will go throughout Black History Month. Please check back each week for a new article. You can read the first one here.

A Teacher Breathes!

By Etta F. Carter, Ph.D.

Theressa Hoover UMC, Leadership Team, SPRC Chair

“Oh Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” – Psalm 144:4

The word “breathe” has taken on a more prominent and significant meaning for me during these current times than in years past. It has become synonymous with a struggle for air, a physical struggle to continue to live, step back, pause and think before you act. In other words, just breathe! Everyone has their own images and ideas of what specific words mean to them. I can imagine that if you are reading this now, there are many of you with recent images of Black men who lost their lives struggling to breathe due to cruel unjust actions that resulted in depletion of needed oxygen. Or maybe you are feeling empathy, sadness, hurt or anger as you imagine the suffering of 430,000 plus victims who have died within the last year in the United States from the Covid-19 Coronavirus as they struggled to breathe. Or just maybe, you or someone you know has been blessed to continue to live a productive life with the aid of a medical device to help with breathing: an inhaler, or a CPAP machine, or portable oxygen. Whatever your image(s) happens to be, I have been quite uneasy over the past two years whenever I think about the word “breathe” especially now that I wear two masks as I leave my home.

Growing up in rural Dallas County, Arkansas in the small town of Ivan was exciting for a little girl who knew only her daily happy life. Ivan, with a population of 64, was large enough to have its own Post Office and was listed on the state map. I grew up experiencing death as a normal part of life: the farm animals were killed for food; other animals and pets died naturally; and it seemed as if my mother was attending a funeral every week – as an outing. She would dress in all black to attend funerals of deceased family members or church members, friends and even people she did not know. But I never thought that the last thing the deceased did in life was breathe. Of course, it became amazingly clear when I never saw them again. However, the memories were prevalent in my thoughts, and finally I knew I would never see, hear, or touch them again. 

Then childhood became complicated when rules were instituted and the answers to my “why” questions became “because it’s just that way.”  Why can’t I play anymore with the twins, who were white, that I played with for five years each time my mother babysat them? The answer was “because it’s just that way.” Why can’t we have new schoolbooks instead of the books with seven or eight names of white children who had used them years before? Why can’t we ride on the new, more than half empty, school bus to Fordyce with the white kids?  Why did the white high school have so many more student programs than our high school? The answer was the same. However, the traditional answer was not good enough. So, I searched for the answers that helped me to breathe. 

As an educator, I have received blessings and opportunities that far exceeded my dreams and goals, and I promised myself that I would always give the correct answer, no matter how seriously it hurt.  My mother had a saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” And I have added, “If you want to be truly amazed, follow HIS plans for you.” It is with glazed and amazed eyes that I look back over the many chapters of my life, from childhood to great-grandmother, from student to teacher to administrator, from sister-member of a national teacher’s organization to national president, friend, missionary, UMC clergy spouse, to retired senior. As a teacher in Chicago and New York City, I have faced many difficult challenges. Challenges that took away my breath. However, my primary goal was to give children a sense of self-worth, aware of the endless possibilities that lie ahead within their lives, the joy that comes from learning, and the assurance that God is on their side. My prevailing worry at this time is that “many children continue to be judged by the color of their skin, and not the content of character” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed. Good teachers who love children can teach regardless of circumstances, which is evident during this pandemic and the country’s reliance on the resilience of teachers. They can and do instill dreams and make the magic come alive. Yes, we must breathe! Breathe… in the good times, the bad times and the ugly times. Breathe during the threat of physical harm, breathe in panic, breathe in uncertainty, and with certainty knowing that with each breath brings God’s love. 

Every person who has stopped breathing because someone knelt on their neck, every person who tries to defend democracy through a crushing door of the Capitol building, every person who is a target of hate; every person who has experience death of a loved one, family or friend, because of the pandemic; or is continuing to experience isolation; mental stress; a yearn for physical touch; loss of their jobs, homes, or personal security, needs to know that to breathe is a gift. So, let’s breathe together and thank God for his blessings!

“Breathe, let go, and remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” – Oprah Winfrey

Black History Month and the Arkansas UMCWesley Chapel UMC

Black History Month and the Arkansas UMC
Wesley Chapel UMC

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Each February, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States as a way to remember the amazing contributions and achievements of black Americans and other people of African descent throughout history.

Throughout February, we are celebrating the groundbreaking achievements of black Americans in the Arkansas United Methodist Church.

Our final week of Black History Month celebrates not a person but a place: Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church is the oldest black Methodist church in Arkansas and sits on the campus of Philander Smith College, which happens to be the home of the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church staff offices as well.

Wesley’s history dates back to 1853, when the black members of the Cherry Street Methodist Church, a combined white and black membership church in Little Rock, erected a new church near Eighth and Broadway in Little Rock. They named this new church Wesley Chapel.

After Emancipation, the Rev. William Wallace Andrew, the first pastor of Wesley Chapel, helped to move the church out of the Methodist Church, South and into the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church also joined the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church at that time.

A long history of church restructuring happened throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but in 1927, the present structure where Wesley Chapel sits today was constructed.

In 1968, the church became a part of the Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church and changed its name to Wesley Chapel UMC.

Although the church sits on the campus of Philander Smith College, and has been at its current location since the early 20th century, many people may not be aware that Philander Smith College began as a school inside the walls of the church.

In 1863, a school for the children of freedmen was organized in Wesley Chapel by Rev. Andrews, and in 1867, Philander Smith College was organized in Wesley Chapel. The school was called Walden Seminary during the early days of its existence.

The Rev. Ronnie L. Miller-Yow, Dean of Religious Life and Campus Culture for Philander, has served as pastor at Wesley Chapel since 2003.

We celebrate the contributions of black Americans every year in February, but the immeasurable improvements to our society that black Americans have gifted the world should be honored each and every day.

We hope you have enjoyed this five-part series, and have learned something from these articles. Please continue to send us the names and pictures of historically important Arkansas black Methodists to cfc@arumc.org

All information taken from Wesley Chapel’s website, wesleychapelumclr.org/our-history/. For more information, please visit their site.