During the month of February, on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will offer prayers from African American brothers and sisters. Black history is American history. More so, Black Christian history is Christian history. Our shared roots run deep into Christ’s life, even though our shared experiences are profoundly different.
Context matters, both the context from which the prayers are written to the context from which they are read and received. So, if you are a white brother or sister I encourage you to listen intently to the experiences these prayers reflect. Consider the time in American history from which the prayers are written. Receive them with humility and allow their prayers to shape your own. These are mothers and fathers of our faith and have much to teach us. If you are a brother or sister of color, may these prayers and the storied-faith that formed them be a balm for your soul.
I will use a variety of sources and cite appropriately.
May the Spirit of Christ open our eyes and ears, minds and hearts.
We begin with a prayer from Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans by James Melvin Washington. I recommend this book to you, though it is hard to find. We draw prayers from it for WCC’s Sunday liturgy from time to time. It is a beautiful gift to the Church. I am thankful to my bro and fellow pastor Rich Villodas for pointing me to it. I feel that Pastor Richard Allen’s words written from his moment in history is the right way to begin.
Richard Allen (1760–1831) was the father of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the oldest black institution in the United States. He was born into slavery and sold as a child to a plantation owner in Delaware who then sold his mother and three of his five siblings, all of whom he would never see again (it is worth remembering that family-separation has long been a practice in American history impacting countless generations of African American neighbors). However, an older brother and sister remained on the plantation, and the three of them began attending meetings held in the woods by itinerant Methodist preachers.
He surrendered his life to Jesus Christ at the age of 17, after hearing a white itinerant Methodist preacher preach against slavery. His enslaver listened to the same sermon and also converted. He eventually permitted Allen to purchase his freedom for $2,000. Richard did so by 1783. The paper detailing Allen’s freedom would become the first document to be held as a public file, having been donated to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
In 1794 Richard founded Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation met in a small blacksmith shop. A few years later in 1799 he was ordained as the first black Methodist minister by Bishop Asbury in recognition of his leadership and preaching. In 1816, Richard combined several different congregations and founded the denomination known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). This was the first fully independent black denomination in the United States. It is from this storied-faith and Black American experience he writes this prayer.
The following prayer has been entitled, A Prayer for Hope.
O, my God, in all my dangers, temporal and spiritual, I will hope in thee who art Almighty power, and therefore able to relieve me; who art infinite goodness, and therefore ready and willing to assist me.
O, precious blood of my dear Redeemer! O, gaping wounds of my crucified Saviour! Who can contemplate the sufferings of God incarnate, and not raise his hope, and not put his trust in Him? What, though my body be crumbled into dust, and that dust blown over the face of the earth, yet I undoubtedly know my Redeemer lives, and shall raise me up at the last day; whether I am comforted or left desolate; whether I enjoy peace or am afflicted with temptations; whether I am healthful or sickly, succored or abandoned by the good things of this life, I will always hope in thee, O, my chiefest, infinite good.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; although the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields yield no meat; although the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
What, though I mourn and am afflicted here, and sigh under the miseries of this world for a time, I am sure that my tears shall one day be turned to joy, and that joy none shall take from me. Whoever hopes for the great things in this world, takes pains to attain them; how can my hopes of everlasting life be well grounded, if I do not strive and labor for that eternal inheritance? I will never refuse the meanest labors, while I look to receive such glorious wages; I will never repine at any temporal loss, while I expect to gain such eternal rewards. Blessed hope! be thou my chief delight in life, and then I shall be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; be thou my comfort and support at the hour of death, and then I shall contentedly leave this world, as a captive that is released from his imprisonment.Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans by James Melvin Washington, 10.