Copyright Arrowmakers 2019
Am I not a man and brother?
Ought I not, then, to be free?
Sell me not to one another,
Take not thus my liberty.
Christ our Savior, Christ our Savior,
Died for me as well as thee.
Am I not a man and brother?
Have I not a soul to save?
Oh, do not my spirit smother,
Making me a wretched slave;
God of mercy, God of mercy,
Let me fill a freeman's grave!
As I reflect over the words of the proclamation carried by General Granger, these words standout to me. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” Encapsulated in this order was the medicine needed for a racially sick country which held people as product. A country whose body was torn apart by a cancer of racism and revealed itself in a destructive Civil War. A change was moving throughout the nation and the answer to the question, “Am I not a man and brother” was to be answered.
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship as the freedman and woman were to be viewed as possessing equality in terms of existence and ownership. We are unique and unrepeatable human beings. We are human beings marked with royalty and the potentiality to live remarkably. This is an absolute quality which can not be diminished by any legislation, incarceration, or dehumanization. Juneteenth marks a celebration in which the ears of black and white skinned human beings would hear an absolute truth, “You are equal.”
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship between masters and slaves. Previous to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation the relationship between these persons was one of White personhood and Black commodity. White personhood was able to participate freely in the economic, social, and political development of the small infantile nation. Whereas Black bodies were commodities, bought, trade, and sold to accomplish the development, cultivation, and sustainment of the new Egypt. Black bodies and White personhood related to one another in the form of a transaction in which White personhood extracted the emotional, physical, and spiritual capital from Black bodies to create a structure which would benefit the power of White Egypt. With the announcement on Juneteenth, Black bodies experienced a change of relationship as they heard they were qualitatively the same as their White counterparts. We are not commodities and cattle to be auctioned. We are creatures and a collective mass of human beings who can create, labor and earn a wage.
General Order #3 finally announced a change in relationship as participants in the market place. General Granger’s Order #3 impacts approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas according to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. The impact of a quarter of a million persons learning they would no longer be existing and functioning as free labor is without measure. Consider for a moment if 10% of these persons now have the opportunity to work, negotiate a price for labor, and receive compensation for that labor. The terms of slave and master begin to erode in Texas and the South for our common terms of employer and laborer. These persons now have the opportunity to function as laborers and dare we say new entrepreneurs who would lay the foundations for great enterprise efforts such Black Wall Street, Madame Cj Walker, and others. Our participation in the marketplace requires a reevaluation of our economic education and the support of more entrepreneurs who will own businesses and not simply patronize a business.
This qualitative change in relationship among Whites and Blacks, the labor context, and market place did not come without its challenges. There was and there would be opposition. Sharecropping, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow were all forms of opposition to the good news “We are human beings.” Opposition arises from those who benefit from the status quo. The beneficiaries of the status quo act out of fear over the loss of security, comfort, and affluence. Fear created the unjust economic practice of sharecropping. Fear created the inequitable practice of the Homestead Act in the which the federal government supported White brothers and sisters seeking to make a new life West while Black freedmen and women struggled to move freely with economic shackles still around their ankles. Yet it is the steady rain of heavenly plagues which begin to wash away the existing reality and reveal a fresh soil of new landscapes for many to enjoy.
We are men, women, brothers and sisters. Juneteenth only affirms what is already in each and everyone of us. We are powerful and remarkable image bearers of God. We are men and women who have a long lineage which does not begin in chains and the bowels of slave ships. Our lives begin on West African shores, North African landscapes, and in the shadow of great pyramids. We have the intellect of kings, queens, scientist, theologians, and entrepreneurs. Thus our relationship to one another should be one of persons who are actively pursuing opportunities and partnerships which uplift the wellbeing of one another. We have come from different families. We have ancestors from different plantations but we are here now…together. We are here now. And just as our forefathers and foremothers huddled together for comfort and courage in dark fields to sing praises to God in whose image they were made. We need to rally together around common economic interest to achieve economic goals for the common good. Recommit yourself to work with persons of goodwill to find solutions to improve the social, economic, political, and religious situation of your fellow African American brother and sister. But not only them…let us commit to being a people who provide such an influence to the state of Arkansas and our nation all people will rise up and say with one loud voice…
“We are men. We are women.
We are sisters. We are brothers.
We will all die free.”
A New Journey for the Fletcher Family
It was seven years ago the Fletcher Family made contact with Conway. The first few months were a whirlwind for the family as we sought our bearings for a short period of time in the anticipation of returning to the US Army. Well needless to say, we are still here.
I remember from May to July 2007, three days a week I would preach on the corner across the street from Mike’s Place and the post office. I didn't know the faces. I didn't know the town. I didn't know that God was preparing me. He was preparing me to let go of the Army. He was preparing me to be bold. He was preparing me and my family to simply go.
Well as many of you know, we went into a trailer park. Planted a church. Started a nonprofit. Seven years later God once again is calling us to go.
Over the next year and a half, I will be looking forward to giving leadership fully to others and pouring Gospel work into a new wineskin. It is a beautiful thought and a process I look forward to immersing myself and family in for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.
So what is on the horizon?
In 2016, CoHO will begin its first ever transition out of a community and hand over the primary ministry responsibilities to an existing local church. We believe this is keeping with the overall vision of CoHO to introduce neighborly love and see that work grow in the hands of men and women who love the Church, the Gospel, and Christ. In fact, Paul declares in his epistle to the Ephesian believers that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its manifold wisdom would be made known through the Church. CoHO desires to use all of its available resources and influence to see such an endeavor become a reality in each of its Hope Communities. The community of Oakwood represents the center of gravity for this organization and we discern the time has come to shift the existing efforts to the Church at Oakwood. The benefit to the local church includes being able to use its existing people and talents to influence Oakwood in new ways. Additionally, a transition of this sort frees up resources to serve our younger Hope Communities Brookside and South Ash, support the growth of new leadership, and continues to advance the vision of renewal in low-income communities throughout Central-Arkansas.
Church at Oakwood
This beautiful local church and the myriads of people who have been in connection with her have been a sweet aroma to me and my family since September 2007. Till this very day, I remember Nicolle, the kids, and I loading up chairs in our van, going into Oakwood, and just hoping one person would show up. In cold weather, hot weather, sprinkling rain, and a gentle breeze, our Sundays have been marked by worship under a tree. She’s been called, “TP Church,” “Trailer Park Church,” “That’s a cool thing you do,” and my all-time favorite, “cult.” Regardless of the names, this church, this beautiful community of college students, poor people, alcoholics, well off people, and whoever else, represent the powerful grace of God to welcome men, women, and children in the most unlikely of places. I have married and buried friends from Oakwood. My wife has cried with women and wrestled with rescuing women from abuse. I have watched my kids grow and lead people in the park. I rejoice that what we leave behind is a strong local church with strong leadership, strong families, and single people, who love Jesus and the community of Oakwood. God has done his beautiful work through our family and he is now calling us to go and begin a new community of faith in a tough area of Conway.
Lord willing in September 2015 the Fletcher family will start Advocate Community Church to be a community of faith which seeks to discover what it means to be human in the worship of God and loving people. I want this to be a church that speaks directly to the personal and systemic sins which prevail in our society. I have an increasing burden to see a space in which people can openly voice their doubts about the Christian faith and still know the seed of faith given by the holy God is being nurtured by his Spirit. Our family want to know at this point in our lives what it means for the Church to be a friend of sinners.
There are two things that I know; 1) God never does the same thing twice. This time there will be no tree or trailers. This time our family will not step into a community without friends. This time Nicolle said “Yes!” 2) God is good and he is faithful to accomplish this future work because he has shown himself good and faithful these past seven years.
How You Can Pray.
Pray that God would grant the Fletcher Family continual wisdom and patience. Pray for the Church at Oakwood and the beautiful people of Oakwood. Pray for the communities of Brookside and South Ash as we strengthen our CoHO efforts in those places. Above all, pray that God would be glorified in all our efforts and that in the presence of our great God and Savior, his name would saturate the lives and communities of Conway.
Richard Allen is a man who is constantly on the move. Allen is constantly moving from Baltimore, Radnor, Lancaster and Philadelphia from 1785-1786. Where ever Allen went, it was a priority that He was preaching the Gospel. Allen joined a Rev Richard Watcoat to preach on the Baltimore circuit and when he moved into Pennsylvania, Allen joined with a Rev Peter Morratte and Irie Ellis along the Lancaster circuit.
In 1786, Allen is in Philadelphia and begins preaching from time to time at St. George’s Church to which he became a member. Allen had only intended to remain in Philadelphia for about two weeks, but God had a different plan. Allen saw a great need to preach to a great many of Africans in the city, therefore he began conducting open air preaching twice a day. Morning and evening and sometimes four to five times a day, Allen was out, in the public declaring the Word of God, unashamedly. As many began to gather, Allen began discipleship of African believers, established prayer meetings, ministering with at least 42 individuals. It was at this point that Allen realized these believers needed a place to gather and worship.
Richard Allen planned this to be a two week trip and it became a labor for the glory of Christ. He saw a great need for ministry. He labored daily to see Christ formed in people. Here was a free slave, going abroad executing the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Here we see the move of the Holy Spirit upon a believer to do a work for the glory of God and the joy of believers. Overall we continue to see the compelling, unfettered desire to preach Christ. Let us all pray to the Lord to stir our hearts, to leave our pews, our home fellowships, to declare the glory of the Gospel of Christ to men in the public square.
Brother Allen forms a bond with three other African American men at St Georges; Rev Absalom Jones, William White and Dorus Ginnings. The four sought support within their local church, St Georges to establish a place of worship for the African believers but were vehemently denied. Yet the group remained faithful.
Allen records that, “We felt ourselves much cramped; but my dear Lord was with us, and we believed, if it was his will, the work would go on, and that we would be able to succeed in building the house of the Lord. We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavours, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren, and that they were destitute of a place of worship.”
What example do we see in this body of believers? They kept their eyes fixed on Christ. They continued to do the works of the ministry, equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The believers followed the example of the early Church of Jerusalem, continuing “ steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers… Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”(Acts 2:42,47).
The African American believers experienced an unfortunate event during corporate worship at St George that would encourage their faith in Christ through suffering. In the midst of prayer time, Absalom Jones was told to move in the middle of prayer because he was in the seating reserved for Whites. Absalom Jones requested to move upon the completion of prayer. Two members of the church rejected his request and proceeded to drag him on his knees out of the church. Reverend Allen remembers this as the critical event in the birth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
"we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigor to get a house erected to worship God in.”
Out of this unnecessary and unconceivable incident, Allen saw this as an opportunity for his people to move forward to worship God unhindered.
The African American believers gathered some money and purchased a storage room to meet in. The believers were threatened and told they would be publicly disciplined if they would not cease their gatherings. Allen and the believers would eventually receive some support from one Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston of whom Allen states, “I hope…will never be forgotten among us.”
So Allen has been in Philadelphia since 1786 and been ordained by God to establish a local fellowship for African American believers. Receiving opposition from within their own local church, St. George and without, they continued steadfastly trusting in Jesus Christ.
It is on or about 1794 and the Methodist Conference sends and elder Mr. J-M- to demand the African American believers to stop raising money to build their own place to worship. Two separate times this meeting occurs, and on the last meeting, God’s sovereignty is manifested. The African American believers declared to the elder,
“We told him we had no place of worship; and we did not mean to go to St. George's church any more, as we were so scandalously treated in the presence of all the congregation present; "and if you deny us your name, you cannot seal up the scriptures from us, and deny us a name in heaven. We believe heaven is free for all who worship in spirit and truth." And he said, "so you are determined to go on." We told him--"yes, God being our helper." He then replied, "we will disown you all from the Methodist connexion." We believed if we put our trust in the Lord, he would stand by us.”
What did they elevate as primary? Who did they see as the only one who would gain them entrance into heaven? Who did they see as their only sufficiency? They saw Christ as their only sufficiency. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God… And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”(2 Cor 3:5, 9:8). They declared only Christ as the one who provided entrance to Heaven. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die… I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 11:25-26, 14:6).
Finally, they elevated Scripture as the final authority! “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works”(2 Tim 3:16-17).
In 1794, after raising a enough money to purchase a plot of land in Philadelphia, Bethel AME was officially opened with Richard Allen as the first pastor. Allen once again looks to God, giving Him the glory. “My dear Lord was with us, so that there was many hearty Amen's echoed through the house. This house of worship has been favored with the awakening of many souls, and I trust they are in the kingdom both white and colored.” The first African American church was birthed and more importantly, Christ was magnified.