Amistad pulpit finds new home at church ‘deeply involved in abolition’

Another piece of furniture from the United Church of Christ’s historic Cleveland chapel has found a new home.

The pulpit from the Amistad Chapel, which closed when the UCC moved its national offices, is headed to a place with a history of fighting slavery.

The Rev. Peter Wiley, senior pastor of First Congregational Church, UCC, of Hudson, Ohio, stopped by the new UCC offices Aug. 24 to pick up the pulpit. He told a small group gathered in the UCC welcoming area at 1300 E. 9th Street about the church’s abolitionist history, which he hopes will connect well with the Amistad heritage the pulpit represents.

From left: The Revs. Peter Wiley, Karen Georgia Thompson, Janet Ross and John Dorhauer gather around the Amistad pulpit before its transfer to First Congregational UCC, Hudson, Ohio, on Aug. 24, 2022. The pulpit was held temporarily at the UCC’s new offices after the Amistad Chapel closed. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Also on hand were two of the UCC’s national officers — the Revs. John Dorhauer and Karen Georgia Thompson — and the Rev. Janet Ross, pastor of Amistad Chapel UCC, which now nests at St. Paul’s Community UCC on Cleveland’s West Side.

Amistad legacy

The pulpit joins two other pieces so far that are carrying on the chapel’s legacy elsewhere:

The chapel, in use from 2000 to 2022, was named to commemorate the 1839 rebellion in which captives aboard the schooner La Amistad mutinied against human traffickers. Ancestors of today’s UCC aided them in their years-long fight for freedom.

Hudson connections

Founded in 1802, “the church in Hudson was deeply involved in abolition,” Wiley said. According to an online history of the church, that involvement included:

Angela Lynard sings from behind the Amistad Chapel pulpit during a rehearsal for the March 13 farewell service at the UCC headquarters building at 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland. Photo by Hans Holznagel
  • A unanimous declaration by the congregation in 1835 that slavery is “a direct violation of the law of Almighty God.”
  • The famous abolitionist John Brown, who grew up in the church. At an 1837 prayer meeting there, he declared he would dedicate his life “to the destruction of slavery.”
  • The operation — in church members’ homes — of most of Hudson’s nine stops on the Underground Railroad.

And there are connections to Connecticut, where the Amistad captives found support for years as their case wended its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Immigrants from Connecticut founded the Hudson church in what was then considered that state’s “Western Reserve.” And Wiley himself, before coming to Hudson, served as pastor of the Congregational Church of Brookfield, Conn. There he was vice-chair of the board of what was then the UCC’s Connecticut Conference while the Freedom Schooner Amistad was being built — with significant UCC support — in Mystic, Conn. The ship continues today as a floating classroom, calling on many ports to tell the story of the Amistad in particular and the Middle Passage in general.

“My heart is very tied to the Amistad story,” he said.

Flexible pulpit

Wiley said a decision will soon be made about whether the pulpit is better fitted to the Hudson church’s sanctuary or to its main community hall.

Ross, who preached for years behind the pulpit, said its flexibility will aid the Hudson church in that decision. It’s movable and not too heavy. The Amistad Chapel congregation moved it all around the worship space. “We worshiped in every inch of that chapel,” she said.

As the gathered group prepared to see the pulpit off to its new home, Ross gave it a good inspection, stood behind it one last time — and embraced it. “I’m just so grateful that it’s continuing on.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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