Nearly 200 people gathered at historic Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia on Saturday, May 30, to celebrate “A Century of Commitment, A Legacy of Love.”
With that theme, they fondly remembered the old Delaware Annual Conference, which from 1864 to 1965 nurtured the faith, fellowship and fortitude of African Americans in the former Methodist and Methodist Episcopal churches. This was a special occasion–both joyful and poignant–that recalled struggles to overcome racism, heroic leaders, faithful disciples and the relentless arc of social transformation that by God’s grace, “bends toward justice.”
Rich oratory, rousing anthems and gospel classics, radical choreography and keen remembrances all reverberated through the lengthy worship celebration.
Bishop Ernest Lyght came from New Jersey and the Rev. David Briddell, a former Philadelphia pastor, journeyed from Berlin, Md., both to share compelling historical insights about the old Delaware Conference. Young Anthony Washington, of New Vision UMC, electrified the interracial congregation, including Cabinet members, with his dramatic eloquence in rendering lyrical, rhythmic spoken word.
Then Bishop Gregory Palmer, a Philadelphia native who heads the West Ohio Conference, preached powerfully, offering profound insights in his sonorous voice. Introduced by his beloved father, the Rev. Herbert Palmer, he challenged church leaders, including descendants of the old Delaware Conference, to be boldly authentic and affirmed in the expression of their Christian faith and racial identity.
Along with all the prose and poetry there were indeed, expressions of faith and racial identity that enriched a dynamic, intergenerational program of music and dance. Across the sprawling, sunlit sanctuary the attentive congregation responded with awed delight to organ and piano solos by Tindley Temple’s music director Theodore Thomas and the Rev. Tracy Duncan of St. Matthew’s UMC in Trevose. Three choirs–the Sounds of Joy, Faith in Action and Mother African Zoar’s Youth Choir–also filled the room with melodious songs of faith. And Grace-in-Motion, Grace UMC’s exciting young liturgical dance troupe, wearing painted faces, energized the crowd with their explosive music and choreography.
The Rev. Fred Day, who leads the denomination’s General Commission on Archives and History, brought greetings, lauding both the celebration and the heroes and history of the old Delaware Conference that inspired him in his ministry. Visual highlights of that history were also on display in a joint exhibit created by Tindley Temple and Zoar archivists.
Much was said and done during the three-hour-plus program, which former Conference Lay Leader Mary White emceed and helped organize. But the reception that followed was even more animated with joyous fellowship and heart-warming reunions among old friends. Amid the noisy laughter and reminiscences, some admitted that this grand, milestone celebration of the Delaware Conference–which ended 50 years ago–may be the last one many of its members will get to enjoy. And so literally, it was one for the ages.
By John W. Coleman
View more photos from the event in our Delaware Annual Conference Celebration Photo Album.