by Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger
“I believe that telling our stories illuminates the world one voice at a time.” - Dan Curtis
We gathered to honor the people and an organization working to preserve the stories of African American United Methodists. The African American Heritage Foundation (AAMHC) has worked on creating an archive to house this great narrative. A narrative of persons who struggle to keep a story alive as the bearers of the stories age and pass on to glory; the story of people in a white majority church, who at times worry they will be silenced. The AAMHC is keeping alive the ministry, mission and vision of African Americans in the UMC. This center reminds the UMC of the great gifts, soulful songs, and deep pain of African Americans within our Methodist heritage.
I was honored one Friday night in December to don my best black evening dress and rainbow shawl to represent the Reconciling Ministries Network Board at the African American Methodist Heritage Center’s Ten Year Commemoration. On this night, the story of Reconciling Ministries Network and the African American Methodist Heritage Center were able to intertwine.
Even more than the melodious melodies, I wish everyone could have been present for the fabulous hospitality Ralph Williams and I received. When we approached people to say we were representatives of Reconciling Ministries, their faces lit up and voices rung with thank yous.
A great portion of the event was to honor the story and ministry of Bishop Forrest Stith as a long time clergy in the Baltimore Washington Annual conference, president of this foundation, and retired Bishop. Bishop Stith has been a long standing voice for justice in our church. He was an active clergy leader in the civil rights movement. Bishop Stith was also one of the Denver 15, bishops who signed the “Open the Doors" declaration at the 1996 General Conference, and he currently is one of the retired bishops who has signed a statement of support calling the UMC to remove the ordination ban for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual persons.
I had the honor of being introduced to Bishop Stith, to thank him for the years of service and witness he has offered to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, straight, cis-gendered and Transgender people. Bishop Stith just thanked me for the witness of Reconciling, saying ours was the prophetic voice. Bishop Violet Fisher also echoed a similar response, saying it meant something to her to have our thanks. Both of these Bishops honored in their words the story and ministry of RMN.
I hope we will all take a moment to learn more about African American Methodist Heritage Center (an initiative of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal and UMC) and their 10 years of historical preservation. I hope that each of us will reflect on the importance of sharing our stories and keeping them alive.
Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger serves as the Secretary for the RMN board and executive committee. She is a seminary student at Wesley Seminary in DC. Rachel was born in a reconciling congregation to a reconciling clergyperson. She brings with her years of leadership in the United Methodist Student Movement.