by: Jeff Schrage
I had the privilege of preaching at the Historic Hopewell Church at Hueston Woods State Park near Oxford, Ohio. The church that I serve as pastor traces its roots to that historic building, which no longer has a congregation, but is maintained and utilized by various churches providing worship for Hueston Woods visitors. As I prepared for this opportunity, I learned the history of the church and feel it is a forgotten testimony of the church fighting against the evil of racism and slavery.
This is a timely opportunity that allowed me to reflect on the sin of our nation, remedied at the cost of many lives. Justice ultimately won on the issue of slavery based on race, but not without great cost. This fight for freeing slaves in America, should be reflected on. We should remember the work of faithful Christians understanding that all men are God’s image bearers and this truth should be thrust to the forefront of our pulpits. We should speak to this cultural moment with grace and truth, so that the church will be able to minister to the hearts of souls of the left and the right.
A band of Reformed Christian families from Chester, S.C., personally witnessed the brutal treatment of the slaves and demanded that the entire practice be condemned and abolished. When it became clear that their pleas would not be heard, they made the difficult decision to pack up their belongings, leave all that they knew, and head north and west.
They could not hop on I-40W through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but took wagons on rough trails, through steep wilderness. The harrowing journey took months. The families arrived in Lexington, KY and learned about the area in the Miami Valley of Ohio where they could be given land as long as they cleared it and started a settlement. This they vowed to do and after arriving homeless and uncertain they were able to set up a community.
Several years later they were able to build a log church, which was too small for the burgeoning settlement when it was completed. They built the current structure not long afterwards, and the church became the Associate Reformed Church, the most successful church in the area.
It serves us all to remember the cause which brought these families to the area. People standing up for the divine image stamped on all mankind. They left their lives in protest of an awful practice, seeking to glorify God and bring both physical and spiritual freedom to all who entered into the hallowed walls of that building. Pews were designated for and would be filled weekly by freed slaves, as well as by fleeing slaves on the Underground Railroad. That house of worship stood as a shining testimony of rest for those who were weak and heavy laden. This was and is the work of the church and this is the message that we all need to proclaim to the weak and heavy laden in these trying and difficult times. It my hope that the world can see the church standing up to the sin on both sides of this issue and invite all to find the rest that their troubled souls so desperately need.
What am I planning to do? In that symbolic place, what will I preach? I will go back to the basics of the mission of the church communicated by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus spoke the words of the Great Commission to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples of all mankind, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I am not going to preach those passages from the Gospels. But I am going to preach from the repetition of the Great Commission found in Acts chapter one. When Jesus was going to ascend, he repeated the mission of the church once again to his disciples in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This was the great truth and last words of Christ to the Apostles and for the Church. Go to everyone and tell the glorious story of Jesus Christ.
Those faithful men, women, and children astride their trail of wagons were going to what would feel like the end of the earth, to set up a church safe for all men to enter. The only fear, that healthy fear of a holy God, balanced by the gracious hand of a loving Father. Hopewell Church was a small band of people seeking the glory of God in all that they did. These faithful saints are to serve as an example.
Let us love and overcome those barriers that cause division and separation between men and let us seek to unify behind the only truth that can ever truly unite such a diverse people. The truth that all men are created in the image of God, are sinners, and can only find redemption in the one man, Jesus Christ. This Jesus who sympathizes with our suffering having taken on human flesh and resisted the evil of this world perfectly. Let us emulate Christ and obey him in our call to go to the ends of the earth making disciples of all men. This is our only mission and all mankind’s only hope.
Let’s share hidden or ignored stories, like that of Hopewell Church, where Christians through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit overcame the evil of racism in this world. Let us give the world hope, presenting the positive testimony of the transforming power of the Gospel! Let us not defend the confederacy, but let us look to those who upheld the mission of the church, spoke out against the evil of slavery, and risked all they had to stand with Christ against that suffering. In this remnant of those days, let us honor God and love our neighbors well.