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30 August 2013

Unity through the decades: Rev Molliston Madison Clark

As we celebrate Black History Month in October, Chine Mbubaegbu delves into the Alliance's history books to find an inspiring story..

There have been times over the past three years I've worked at the Evangelical Alliance when I've been overcome by the privilege of working for an organisation with such a deep, rich history of being good news to this nation and with such a passion for uniting the Church. There are times when we have been amazed by some of the things we find in the archives that tell the story of our 167-year history.

But for me, personally, the story of Rev Molliston Madison Clark – an African American – has been my favourite so far. Rev Clark, born in 1807, caused a great deal of excitement when he arrived at the Evangelical Alliance's first conference in1846. Having survived a shipwreck on his way from New York to the UK – and therefore having to return to the Big Apple before beginning his journey to London again, he arrived at the conference late.

Writing in The Evangelical Alliance, published in 1847, J W Massie wrote: "His life had been spared, and his desire had been filled, that he should meet with the assembled servants of God.

"Mollison Madison Clark excited a deep and powerful interest in the conference. His personal appearance was as impressive as were his circumstances and his history. A figure tall and erect; a complexion superficially almost sable, but in its substratum tinged with the hue of the red Indian; his hair a strong black, but not fleecy; a countenance bearing the outline of a noble profile; every feature deserving the epithet handsome."

The description of the colour of Rev Clark's skin in a report of an Alliance conference seems totally alien reading at a time when our Council is full of leaders from diverse backgrounds and I'm privileged to be part of the One People Commission, which celebrates diversity while promoting unity, bringing together key national leaders from diverse ethnic groups.

But things were different in 1846; and reading through the description of the meeting I am struck by the sense of excitement and the welcoming spirit of the Alliance at a time when it was uncommon for black and white to mix.

Rev Clark was a freeborn native of Delaware and was sent to Philadelphia as teenager because in theory at least, black children were offered the same opportunities as white children in the Philadelphia public school system.

He was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church to attend the college they founded– Jefferson College. He went on to teach in a school for black children in New York. He moved to Ohio and again worked in a school for black children and he was instrumental in establishing schools for black youngsters who were moving into the area from the southern states.

He campaigned against the Ohio Black Codes which restricted the movement and opportunities for black people, including the requirement for black people to have legal documentation to prove they were "free" before they could settle in Ohio.

In 1852, Rev Clark became the first editor of the Christian Recorder – which is the oldest existing black periodical in America. He pledged that the magazine would focus on religion, morality, science and literature. The Christian Recorder was a strong and vocal opponent to slavery and repeatedly addressed the biblical and moral issues of slavery and encouraged and nurtured black consciousness.

In front of a captivated audience, Rev Clark gave an address. Some of the words he spoke in 1846 still resonate with me and give me goosebumps as I read as a black person and a woman 167 later at the Alliance. In his words are the message of hope and unity and familial love that we as the Evangelical Alliance remain passionate about. I'll leave you with his words:

"Representing as I do, over seventeen thousand professing Christians in the United States of America, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Denomination – and more or less remotely three million of my race, I feel the sacred and high honour as well as the great responsibility.

"They are men possessing, in common with the rest of the human family, great interests both in heaven and upon earth; and, though they may for a time be deprived, by frail human policy, of some of the privileges of the latter, yet they have faith to believe, that, through the everlasting Atonement, they will for ever enjoy the glory and happiness of the former.

"The Church has this great work to accomplish, and that all she wants to effect it is, that her concentrated energies be brought to bear, with wisdom, prudence, and discretion, upon the enlightened consciences of the World; and, under the guidance of the Divine Hand, the work will steadily and safely go forward, till it shall be perfected.

"Feeling very thankful for that kind and Christian reception with which I have met, I subscribe myself. "Your fellow labourer in the vineyard of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." M. M Clark

Words by Chine Mbubaegbu, head of media. Research by Kim Walker, senior information officer, Evangelical Alliance

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