Hope, Connection, and Support—My African Methodist Episcopal Heritage

Recently, after a Co-Counselor asked me specific questions about my religious beliefs and they seemed difficult to put into words, I decided to actively counsel on my Christian upbringing. The beginning for me was to claim my religious heritage, of which I am proud, and be publicly pleased and acknowledging of it.

I loved my growing up as African Methodist Episcopal (AME). It was the time of segregation in the Southern United States (I was born in 1946), and there were black churches and schools. We went to church every Sunday unless someone was sick. We went to Sunday school at 10:00 AM and then to the church service, which usually lasted until 2:00 PM. Sunday and attending church were important for the community in which I grew up (black, rural, Southern). Sunday was a day of rest after working hard for six days.

We used religion to fortify ourselves in a hard and harsh world. In difficult times I have used the hopeful messages in many songs as encouragement: “trouble won’t last always,” “one day at a time.” I have tried to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I have somewhere a yellowed and tattered part of a poem I have had since high school, which says, “He who looks up to God will never look down on any man.”

 My ancestors passed on to me many positive uses of religion, and used it to strengthen themselves. I am pleased to acknowledge how in the community in which I grew up, the positive influences of religion enhanced our connection, support, and thinking well about each other. On Sundays after church was over, the farmers would get together and plan what days they would gather their crops, so as not to compete for the small labor pool. If a crop needed to be gathered before it rained the next day, word would go out and people would come and “pitch in,” and never take a penny for helping out.

Our community was founded in 1860 by a group of men who had been enslaved. We are told that where they first knelt to pray, they built a church. The church became the community, the community the church. Since then, every third Sunday in August we have a celebration called “Home Coming.” Many who have left the community return with their children and grandchildren. Neighboring communities come. There is a sermon and singing and people stand up and testify about how proud they are to have come from this community and how important their religious foundation is to them. Then there is a big potluck dinner. There’s no mistaking the pride in being connected to this church community in those who come home from all over the United States, again and again, and bring their families.

On any given Sunday about fifteen people attend the church. On the third Sunday in August, as many as three hundred people come and the little church cannot hold them all.

There are stories of racism. And there are stories of white people trying to make things right and being respectful of black people. There are stories of standing together and stories of forgiveness. One Sunday a white man who had a drinking problem came to the church during service and said that my father had stolen his hog and he was going to come back and shoot him. Church was dismissed, and everyone went home quietly. Soon after we got home, where we lived several miles from anyone, cars started coming down the lane to our house.

Each man got out with a shotgun and came inside. They sat and waited until late into the evening, in case of trouble. The white man never came. I did not remember until a few years ago that after this incident the meat we barbecued at Home Coming was donated to the church by white men, who when they heard of what happened had gone and talked to the man, assured the community this would never happen again, and then, as an offer of apology, made this donation of meat for many years.

I know there are things I will discharge on that were difficult. Right now the place for me to start is to claim and celebrate my religious heritage and influences. I have no doubt that the people in my community would have had more difficult lives and struggles had we not had a religious structure as a source of hopefulness, and I am proud of how much I can still use it as a source of comfort. I have recently joined an AME church in Seattle (Washington, USA). Tears have come to my eyes several times during the services when listening to the sermon and the songs and thinking that these black people know what I know, that our faith has been that important a presence in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors.

I have attended RC Protestant liberation workshops and been in, and sometimes led, support groups looking at our religious upbringing. I have loved the chances to connect with black people and discharge with them on what we are pleased with and proud of about our faith, on our stories (those that are good and those that are difficult), and on what keeps us connected to our religion.

Marion Ouphouet
Seattle, Washington, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list
for leaders of African-heritage people


Last modified: 2014-10-06 18:39:50+00