What’s Old Is New Again
My sins were a heavy burden. I was tempted to believe there was no mercy for me. I cried to the Lord both night and day. One night I thought hell would be my portion. I cried unto Him who delighteth to hear the prayers of a poor sinner; and all of a sudden my dungeon shook, my chains flew off, and glory to God, I cried. My soul was filled. I cried, enough for me--the Saviour died. Now my confidence was strengthened that the Lord, for Christ's sake, had heard my prayers, and pardoned all my sins. I was constrained to go from house to house, exhorting my old companions, and telling to all around what a dear Saviour I had found. I joined the Methodist society, and met in class at Benjamin Wells's, in the forest, Delaware State. John Gray was the class-leader. I met in his class for several years.
Rt. Rev. Richard Allen in The Life, Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen
Richard Allen was admitted as a Methodist preacher in 1784 at the Christmas Conference held in Lovely Lane Chapel, Baltimore, Maryland. He and Harry Hosier were the only two people of color at that historic meeting. Allen led services at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia until he led his congregation out of the segregated church to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent Black denomination in the United States. He purchased ground on Sixth Street in Philadelphia on which to build the church, now known as Mother Bethel AME. This sacred land is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States
that has been owned continuously by African Americans. From 1797 until his 1831 death, Bishop Allen and his wife Sarah operated a station on the Underground Railroad
for fugitive enslaved people fleeing from the south in the slave
and border states
of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But this success doesn’t fit easily with how his life began.
Allen was born in Delaware on February 16, 1760, as a slave owned by Benjamin Chew. He and his family were then sold to Stokley Sturgis, but because of financial problems, Sturgis sold Allen’s mother and two of his five siblings away from the family. Left with only his older brother and sister, the Allen family started to attend Methodist society meetings with both freed blacks and slaves. Richard Allen taught himself to read and write and soon started preaching, which angered local plantation owners. To help alleviate this criticism, Allen worked even harder for Stokely Sturgis so slave owners couldn’t claim enslaved people with religion did not work hard enough. How did this child born into slavery create new organizations to better serve God and free blacks from the evils of slavery? The answer is simple – prayer.
After the American Revolution, Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, a well-known Methodist minister and founder of the new Methodist movement, began preaching in Delaware about the evils of slavery. Sturgis was touched by Rev. Garrettson’s evangelism, contemplated his part in the horrific business, and changed his mind regarding his ownership of fellow human beings. Sturgis allowed his slaves to buy their freedom through their hard work thus enabling Allen to leave slavery behind forever. When he had, Allen changed his name from Poor Richard to Richard Allen.
This isn’t a story of one person praying one prayer on one day to elicit radical change. Poor Richard could not have become the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen with the power of only his prayers. The radical change occurred when all of the participants prayed and then acted to better walk in the way of Jesus. His enslaver Stokely Sturgis, the traveling circuit rider Freeborn Garrettson, and all of his fellow Christians in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church played pivotal roles in transforming a life to better serve our just and loving God. Just imagine what the power of our combined prayers can do to transform lives in the South Georgia Conference to better serve our just and loving God? And we all say together: thanks be to God.
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at email@example.com.