Free Indeed

Stephen Nichols

This past Sunday I visited Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Lancaster city on a field trip with my students in my course on Christianity and American culture.  This church, named after "Mother Bethel," the church Richard Allen founded in Philadelphia, has a rich history of its own.  Established in 1817, Lancaster's Bethel played a role in the underground railroad in the county and a dozen or so African Americans from that congregation who served in the Civil War are buried in the church's cemetary.  In 1879, the church building fell victim to arson.

The pastor, Edward Bailey, preached a great sermon on Christ's answer to self-righteousness from John 8:31-38.  The truth of Christ sets us free, free even from our own selves.  He didn't quote Luther on the sin of incurvitas, but it sounded like Luther to me.  The seventy-year old (I'm guessing) pianist was pretty good, too.

Before I went, I reread the chapter on nineteenth-century AME Bishop Daniel A. Payne from Thabiti's wonderful book, The Faithful Preacher:  Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors.  If you haven't picked up that book yet, what are you waiting for?  And, if you're white--or as Bono once said "almost pink"--like I am and you never visited a predominantly African American church, what are you waiting for?