Historians seek Afro Christian roots
Written by J. Martin Bailey
June 29, 2009
As part of a rapidly developing "Christian Preservation Project," a group of UCC historians is searching for documentation and personal reflections on the church's Afro-Christian roots.
During a luncheon sponsored by the Historical Council during the 27th General Synod, the Rev. Yvonne Delk shared her surprise that the African American congregations in which she grew up were somehow related to a predominantly Caucasian denomination. "I grew up thinking that the Afro-Christian Conference was independent," she said.
Delk went on to become the first African American woman ordained in the UCC.
"Our churches were deeply involved in mission," she reported. "We had a powerful group of women who organized our churches, raised money and supported new congregations and sent missionaries overseas."
A panel, moderated by Barbara Brown Zikmund, included the Rev. Rick Taylor, who has searched out documentation on the African-American churches in the "Mighty Second C"—the Christian Church that united with Congregationalists in 1931 and joined the UCC in 1957. Taylor described Allen Howell, likely the first black missionary, who was sent to work in Liberia.
He also reflected that at a time when it was illegal for slaves to be taught to read and write, the newly discovered minutes of several congregations show that they were as clearly written as any from white churches of the same era.
Prof. Elisabeth Nordbeck of Lancaster Theological Seminary described a cluster of churches in New Hampshire that were part of the Christian Connection originating in New England. One of the congregations still exists, outside the UCC, and continues its revivalist style today.
Participating in the session were librarians from the Congregational Christian Historical Society and the Amistad Library, where significant collections of Christian history are preserved.