“… many would rather hear him than the bishops…”
– Henry Boehm
Black History Month is an annual opportunity to shine a light on Black excellence in all areas of society. This week, please enjoy this piece from the General Commission on Archives and History about Harry Hosier, Methodist Circuit Rider. Hosier was the first Black person recorded to have preached a sermon in America, as well as the first to preach a sermon to an all-white congregation, both in 1784. William Pierson, a professor of history from Fisk University, proposes that the name “Hoosier” given to residents of Indiana can be traced back to Hosier’s charismatic, powerful preaching and message of abolition. Enjoy!
(from Harry Hosier – GCAH)
No recording devices trapped the cadences and power of “Black Harry” Hosier’s preaching. But we may conjecture that given his African American heritage, his words poured out rhythmically and with a range of volume. This rhetoric, combined with a keen mind and outstanding communication skills, enabled the biblical truths he proclaimed to pulverize the stony hearts of his listeners.
“I really believe he is one of the best preachers in the world,” was the opinion of Thomas Coke, who, along with Francis Asbury, was one of American Methodism’s first two bishops. “There is such an amazing power attends his preaching, though he cannot read; and he is one of the humblest creatures I ever saw.”
In spite of such accolades, even the bare facts of Hosier’s life elude historians, who must therefore sprinkle probabilities throughout their narratives. Born about 1750, perhaps as a plantation slave, maybe in North Carolina, he experienced Christian conversion at some point and became Asbury’s traveling companion. Soon he began to exhort after the sermon, urging the listeners to apply the preacher’s words to their lives. Later, he was the principal speaker at services.
He and Richard Allen were the two non-voting African American representatives at the 1784 Christmas Conference, which officially organized American Methodism. He died, one authority says, “happy in the Lord” about 1806. Another specifies that his funeral was May 18, 1806, with burial in Philadelphia.
What transcends the biographical probabilities is the impression “Black Harry” made on the minds and hearts of those who heard him. Henry Boehm and Freeborn Garrettson, both ordained Methodist ministers, provide ear-witness accounts.
Boehm writes: “Harry was very black, an African of the Africans. He was so illiterate he could not read a word. He would repeat the hymn as if reading it, and quote his text with great accuracy. His voice was musical, and his tongue as the pen of a ready writer. He was unboundedly popular, and many would rather hear him than the bishops.”
Garrettson’s narrative helps us place Hosier within America’s race-conscious culture. Garrettson, following his conversion, found himself dejected. Then one Sunday as he led family prayers, a thought penetrated his melancholy gloom: “It is not right for you to keep your fellow creatures in bondage.” Whereupon he told his slaves they were free. Later, Hosier, a former slave, and Garrettson, a former owner of slaves, ministered together.
Traveling around the Delmarva Peninsula, Garrettson reports: Sunday, March 7, 1784—“Harry met me, and preached after I ended;” the next day—“as there was a degree of persecution against Harry I thought it expedient to leave him behind.” Six years later, 1790, on his way to Boston, Garrettson records: “The people of this circuit are amazingly fond of hearing Harry.”
Harry Hosier transcended the racial consciousness of his day. His famous sermon, “Barren Fig Tree,” (Adams Chapel, Fairfax County, Virginia), was the first sermon preached by a Negro in America. Likewise his sermon in Chapeltown, Delaware, 1784, was the first sermon preached by a Negro to a white congregation.
Garrettson writes that in Providence, Rhode Island, “Harry preached in the meeting house to more than one thousand people;” on another occasion, “Harry preached after me with much applause.”
Hosier illustrates the point made by a late twentieth-century scholar, who declares that American Methodism “relied much less on the written word than on that which was spoken Methodist preachers…were remembered first of all for their preaching and for the spontaneous verbal responses of their congregations—the shouts, the groans, the sobs of persons brought together to express their most interior and private thoughts.”
Grace and Peace,
Lenten Small Groups Forming Now Around “Words of Life”
We will have Zoom sessions on Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon exploring Adam Hamilton’s new study “Words of Life.” It’s a look at how the Ten Commandments shape and influence faithful living today. There is space for you at either time – don’t be shy! Books are available in the church office for $18, or you can purchase your own copy through Amazon where a Kindle version is only $12. See you there!
Continuing Coffee Hour Over Zoom
Laura Newton will host a weekly time of conversation and connection at 11:30 am after our worship service each week. Login available at 11:15am or conclusion of worship, whichever is later.
Here is a link to that time –
If you have questions or need help, you can ask Pastor Ben or Laura. Don’t be shy, you are missed and a part of this church family, too!
New Upper Rooms are Available in the Church Office
The new Upper Room Daily Devotionals are also available now. If you’d like to pick yours up, Gretchen is in the church office from 9am-noon Tuesday – Friday each week. Please call ahead so she can set whatever you are picking up out for you.
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Coffee Hour is a time of sharing after Sunday morning worship hosted by Laura Newton at approximately 11:30am. All are welcome!
If you have any difficulties accessing any of those links, please reply to this message or call the church office at (908)782-1070 and we will get you connected right away.