The American tapestry is a rich creation filled with adventure, faith and courage. However, if you look closely at many of the threads, you will notice they are stained by the sweet, blood and tears of Native Americans, slaves and immigrants.
The slaves from the Caribbean and Africa were forced into servitude, harsh servitude in most cases, to their European masters and mistresses. Of course there were those Europeans who opposed slavery in all of its hideous and tentacular forms and fought to abolish it.
It took the Civil War between the states to legally abolish it. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was his hope that the war would come to a swift closure, but the war dragged on.
However, the proclamation took on a life of its own and became the battle cry of a race which had been held in bondage for centuries. To the slaves it was the same as the words of Moses, the Exiled Prince, had declared three thousand years before in Egypt, “Let My People Go.”
The great black spirituals which arose during slavery gave the people hope that one day they would be free. Their children could grow up and enjoy life unshackled from a life of burden and misery.
One of the great black songwriters and preachers was Charles Albert Tindley (July 7, 1851-July 26, 1933). This young man knew first-hand about slavery because his father was a slave, but his mother was a free woman. His mother died before he had a chance to get to know her and his father was sold to another family in another place. His aunt would raise him.
As a youngster he heard the gospel call, but he was unable to read and write. With self-determination he taught himself to read and to write as well as mastering Hebrew with the help from the local rabbi and Greek by correspondence.
Since he was working to support his family, he did correspondence courses. Eventually, he sat for examinations to become a pastor and passed them with excellent marks. After serving for years in various places, he found himself back at his small church where he had been the sexton. It would be from that church he would create a megachurch and a ministry which would touch thousands of lives, even to this day.
What was different about the church that Tindley created was that it was integrated where black and white worshiped their God together. It took the social gospel based on Matthew 25 to be its core mission to feed, clothe, tend to the sick and house the unfortunates of society. With its savings and loan association it helped countless families to secure their own homes and provide a future for their families.
It is of special note that when a number of Christian churches of the day preached equality, they had “black churches” and “conferences” so they could keep the races separated, Tindley followed the counsel of Paul, the tentmaker of the New Testament, in Galatians 3:26-29:
“For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ’s, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.” Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
Out of his ministry this “Prince of Preachers” wrote a number of gospel songs. Perhaps, the two most famous ones are “I’ll Overcome Some Day” and “Stand By Me”.
In the 1940s the “I’ll Overcome Some Day” was adapted into “We Shall Overcome” which became the anthem of the oppressed and the Civil Rights Movement. “Stand By Me” was the inspiration for Ben E. King’s super hit—“Stand By Me”.
Today, the Reverend Lillian Smith leads the Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. They still make the gospel practical by helping those in need.
“As a denomination, we’ve lost some of the passion of the early Wesleyan movement. Those early Methodists were passionate for God and sharing the Gospel to all of God’s people. John, Charles and the others in the “Holy Club” had a passion for the poor and imprisoned. That passion provided education for miners’ children who would not have had access to education.
Our passion is not as strong as it has been or needs to be. The Wesleys’ ministry was extremely relevant to their day and addressed the brokenness of their day.”
With so many spiritual hacks dominating the various media outlets, it is refreshing to have Tindley Temple United Methodist Church helping those in need. Tindley took the message of his faith and made it practical and a help to those who came under his influence.
Helping a fellow traveller on the road of life does not require a religious commitment. It only takes a personal decision to do so.
G. D. Williams © 2013
Charles Albert Tindley Institute
Charles Albert Tindley
We Shall Overcome Morehouse College
Stand By Me
Ben E. King’s Stand By Me
The Emancipation Proclamation
“Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal Border States. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory”
Tindley Temple United Methodist Church