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February 2014 Archive for Evangelical Mission Blog

RSS By: Pastor Lamont Anthony Wells

Pastor Lamont Anthony Wells shares his thoughts about evangelical mission.

African-American Heritage Month: Remembering Our Lutheran Legacy

Feb 13, 2014

Each year during the month of February in the United States we celebrate African American History Month.  This is a time to share with the world the many contributions of African descendants in America. These contributions are often excluded or inadequately represented within recorded American history.

In my travel and casual conversations, I am often asked why I am serving in a "white" denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). My answer: "I am here because it’s my spiritual and theological home, and because I am called to serve God’s mission in this particular church context." My story as an African American and my Christian faith is nurtured by Lutheranism’s focus on God’s grace. Although I may be considered by many as an outsider or newcomer to this tradition, as an African American, history records I am not. Dating back to 1669, African Americans, enslaved and/or free, became members of the Lutheran congregations in New York and New Jersey. In fact, African-American Lutherans have been in this country for more than 350 years, longer than many European Lutheran immigrants.

I believe that African American History month is important for all Americans. The month-long celebration engages the history of African Americans and cultivates awareness and understanding. We are all tied together by the circumstance of history.

In spite of the effects of slavery, negative stereotypes in the media, internalized oppression, and covert racism even in a "post-racial" society, the framework of Lutheran theology helps many African Americans discern God’s directions and activities in their lives and in the communities in which they live.

Lutheranism in New York has been a catalyst for change in our world and produced African-American judges such as Dan Joy of New Hope Lutheran Church, Jamaica, and Laura Douglas of Church of the Abiding Presence, Bronx.  Our heritage has given to the City of New York Archie Spigner, who served in the New York City Council for 15 years. Archie was a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church, St. Albans. This great history of New York Lutheranism produced Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner Corporation. As a cradle Lutheran, Parsons was confirmed by Pastor Winston Bone at Incarnation Church (now New Hope) in Queens. Dr. Nelson Strobert, retired professor of Christian education in the Paulssen Hale Chair for Church and Society at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, came to faith and maturity as a member of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 

Although not always an easy road to trod, New York Lutherans have the distinction of ordaining the first African American who served as a pastor in American Lutheranism. On October 24, 1832, Jehu Jones Jr. was ordained at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Matthews. Jehu Jones would later develop the first African American mission church, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Philadelphia circa 1836.  

Lutherans in New York ordained the second African American when Daniel Payne received ordination by the Franckean Synod at Fordsboro, New York in 1839. Daniel Payne, who received formal education at the Gettysburg Seminary, was the first African American college president. He was named President of Wilberforce University, Zenia, Ohio in 1863. Payne also holds the distinction of serving as the sixth bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

History shows African Americans have been a part of the New York scene for a very long time. They often were key players in the life of their communities. I invite you to celebrate this great heritage of faith and struggle, along with survival and triumph during African American History Month 2014. Much of our story as Lutherans in America is a part of New York history.



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