It was Thursday morning. The black preacher rose from his prayers. He went outside and saddled his horse for the familiar ride into town. That morning his soul was filled with eager anticipation. He would not, as he had on so many other occasions, guide his horse to Liberty Street where the Colored church was located. Rather, he would head toward 2nd Street -- to the white church. On that day, the preacher was on his way to join 40 other African American men representing eight Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. They were coming to establish their own church. The town was Jackson, Tennessee. The date was December 15. The year was 1870. That evening they devoted themselves to prayer and commitment to God. The next day they organized the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America -- the CME Church. The preacher was Isaac Lane.
Lane and those who gathered with him had been slaves. Indeed it had been scarcely five years since the Civil War had set them free. Slavery was the forcible capture of Africans in their native land, their horrible voyage across the Atlantic to America, and their servile status and inhumane treatment as chattel property (the same as horses, cattle, furniture, etc.) It began with twenty slaves brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 as indentured servants. (Indentured servants were people, often Europeans, who agreed to work for seven years in exchange for passage to America.) It ended with Lee's surrender to Grant in 1865. For more than 250 years slaves provided the labor on the cotton plantations, tobacco farms, cane brakes, and rice paddies of the South. More than 20 million Africans were bought and sold as American slaves. At the beginning of the Civil War, there were almost 4 million slaves in America.
Those who founded the CME Church had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, while they were slaves. John Wesley and the early Methodists had opposed slavery. But by 1830 the Methodist Episcopal Church, organized in the famous Christmas Conference in 1784, had become a slave-holding church. In 1844, as most of the Protestant denominations in America, it split over the issue of slavery. Methodists were very effective in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to slaves. It was as slaves that African Americans heard the preaching of the Gospel, were converted to Jesus Christ, and became devout Christians and faithful Methodists. Many of them were licensed to preach. In 1860, more than 207,000 slaves were members of the M.E. Church, South. At the close of the Civil War, 78,000 of those members were still members of that church.
"Our Own Church"
In their freedom, however, former slaves realized that continued membership in the church of their former masters was neither desirable nor practical. Isaac Lane said that they requested their own separate and independent church, "patterned after our own ideas and notions." Accordingly, the General Conference of the M.E. Church, South, meeting in New Orleans in 1866, granted the request of the Colored members. It authorized the establishment of those Colored members into a separate "General Conference jurisdiction." Pursuant to the action the Organizing General Conference for the Colored members was set for December 16, 1870. Senior Bishop Robert Paine of the M.E. Church, South, presided. It was to that meeting that Isaac Lane woud take his eventful ride.
The 1870 General Conference chose as the name of the new church The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America. (In 1954 the term "Colored" was changed to "Christian".). That conference adopted portions of the Discipline of the M.E. Church, South, as its polity; approved the Articles of Religion as its doctrine; and accepted the General Rules for its standard of conduct. It established The Christian Index as the official publication and set the boundaries of ten Annual Conferences. Significantly, the delegates elected William Henry Miles of Kentucky and richard H. Vanderhorst of Georgia bishops. On December 21, Bishop Paine ordained them the first two bishops of the CME Church.
From such humble beginnings, the CME Church has become a major denomination among the Christian churches of the world. Today it reports 800,000 communicant members, 3,000 churches and 3,200 preachers organized into thirty-four Annual Conferences divided into ten Episcopal Districts with ten active bishops. Its boundaries reach from the United States to Africa, Haiti, and Jamaica. It has General Departments and General Secretaries to administer the ministry and mission of the church in evangelism, Christian Education, missions, social concerns, stewardship, and ecumenical witness.
(c) 2000 Christian Chapel CME Church, Dallas, Texas USA