On the Heels of Freedom: Celebrating our Roots in the American Missionary Association

I, as many others, get weary and discouraged sometimes when I consider the “state” of our society. News reports seem to highlight story after story of racism and inequality. Are we improving? Through all the years of seeking justice and civil rights, are we moving forward? One of the reasons I value Black History month is because of the stories that are related about African-American individuals who have made a difference – those who did not give up, but had the courage to resist the powers of evil. The stories give me hope and courage, as well as reinforce a grounding in and affirmation of my faith in God.

In the introduction to the book, On the Heels of Freedom, author Joyce Hollyday, quotes Rev. Milton Hurst who was the pastor of First Congregational UCC, in Talladega, AL and believes that telling stories make a difference. “To relive history, and to realize that your people have been through adversity, means that you’re informed about survival – about coming through, getting over, getting by. It also gives more than a hint of those specific places where God has deliberately touched down and moved a church or people. You can see it in the retelling of the story. You can feel in your bones the fact that this was an act of God, because there is no other explanation for it. The stories inform us, give us direction about what we ought to be doing, and give us the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to a mission. They remind us that we’re all part of the same fabric.”

Several of our churches in the Southeast Conference trace their history to the American Missionary Association (AMA). Growing out of the abolitionist movement, the AMA after the civil war partnered with emancipated individuals to establish over 500 schools and aided in the planting of two hundred Congregational churches. Although I am sure not always perfect, the AMA was committed to encouraging the education and creation of a society focused on equality. The effort resulted in having an impact on the development of well-known African American leaders and changing society.

These are stories that need to be re-told. But each of us has stories that need to be re-told to each other and new generations. Stories that are not always pleasant: stories of actions or attitudes that we regret; but also stories that reflect the places when God seemed to intervene and move us to a new understanding and a new commitment. These are faith stories. Just like our Biblical stories, they are stories that encourage us and remind us of God’s continued faithfulness. I hope you have taken the time to seek out some of those special stories during Black History month, stories that provide hope and courage in today’s world. We can make a difference!

Blessings, Char