Black History in Church History

Just something borrowed from the pages of church history I thought was fitting for Black History month. Sometimes church history and civil history seem like two seperate things, and yet all of human history occurs within one united and overlapping timeline.

 

The Congregationalist, Lemuel Haynes, was sometimes called a black Puritan on the northern frontier. He was an illegitimate child, deserted by his parents—a black father and a white mother. He was taken in by a Christian family. This pious farmer and his wife named him Lemuel and reared him. Lemuel is a word in the Old Testament that means belonging to God. This young boy poured over Scripture, memorized lots of psalms and hymns, and devoured the writings of the Puritans. He studied theology with two Congregational clergymen and was ordained in 1785. He was the first African American to be ordained by any church in America. In 1788, he was called to a church in Rutland, Vermont, where he served for over 30 years. It was a white church with Lemuel Haynes as pastor. He was active in the revival in Vermont during the days of the Second Great Awakening. He includes this entry in his journal: “August 31, 1804: I set out on a mission for five weeks. During that time I delivered 30 sermons, gave the Lord’s Supper three times, and assisted in the formation of one church. In general, I had full reception and in many places the Word seemed to take effect.” Lemuel Haynes was certainly a Calvinist. He preached a sermon entitled “The Divine Decrees,” which is one of the finest sermons on that topic. In 1804 he was given an honorary Master’s Degree by Middlebury College. He was, perhaps, the first American black to be so recognized. But, this is not an entirely happy story. In 1818 Haynes was dismissed from his church. We do not know all of the details, but sadly, racism and prejudice seem to have been factors. His farewell sermon, “The Suffering Support and Reward of Faithful Ministers,” is in many ways a kind of parallel to Jonathan Edwards’ farewell sermon at Northampton 100 years before. One of the older books on Lemuel Haynes says this, “He seemed to maintain habitual communion with the Father of spirits. He forgot himself while the glory of the Lord and the interest of Zion lay near his heart.” A new book, Black Preacher to White America, published in 1990, has the collective writings of Lemuel Haynes.

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