We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8-10
Richard Allen is one of the heroes of early American Methodism. Born into slavery he was converted to Christ when he was 17 years old and almost immediately began to preach the Good News. He preached circuits in Delaware and surrounding states and worked to support himself during times of scarcity. He reflects, "My usual method was, when I would get bare of clothes, to stop travelling and go to work," he said. "My hands administered to my necessities." Richard Allen became a prominent figure in Methodism because of his passion, personality, and a positive zeal for the plight of people that could not be crushed no matter the cruel circumstances of life that he encountered. I have always loved and admired the adaptation of Wesleyan practical Christianity to his ministry by preaching the Good News and caring for the needs of people.
Richard Allen and his associate Absalom Jones were the leaders of the black Methodist community in Philadelphia in 1793 when a yellow fever epidemic broke out. Many people, black and white, were dying. Hundreds more fled the city. City officials approached Allen and asked if the black community could help serve as nurses to the suffering and help bury the dead. Allen and Jones recognized the racism inherent in the request: asking black folks to do the risky, dirty work for whites. But they consented—partly from compassion and partly to show the white community, in one more way, the moral and spiritual equality of blacks.
A stain on our United Methodist Heritage is the growth of a segregationist movement in the church that led Richard Allen to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Similar to John Wesley and Martin Luther who never wanted to start a new denomination, Richard Allen never wanted to depart from the Methodist connection. "I was confident," he later wrote, "that there was no religious sect or denomination that would suit the capacity of the colored people as well as the Methodist; for the plain and simple gospel suits best for any people." Yet, Allen came to recognize that the black community need the ability to worship in freedom without prejudice.
I share this brief story during Black History month as a reminder that human greatness has never come without great adversity. In fact, the power of Christ is often revealed when we find ourselves in places of scarcity, conflict, and helplessness and we thrust ourselves more deeply into dependence on the mercy and grace of God. I wish I could be more like the Christ I see in Richard Allen and give more of myself to those who suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually during this pandemic. I thank God for the witness of this Methodist Saint.
Thank you for the cloud of so many witnesses who have endured adversity as they trust in you. Though this pandemic has struck us down in many ways, help us be confident that we will not be defeated. As your people, remind us to offer ourselves to minister to the needs of others, Through Christ our strength. Amen.