The Long Journey to Unity in Christ

The Long Journey to Unity in Christ

Apr 23, 2013

The Long Journey to Unity in Christ

by Librarian-historian, Nick Kersten

“The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” –Chinese Proverb

p18 0513 colored members CLR

From our origins in England more than 350 years ago to the present, Seventh Day Baptists have grown from a small group of English dissenters to a world-wide movement which spans six continents. That expansion has led Seventh Day Baptists on a journey into the world’s wonderful diversity of cultures and ethnicities.

Our churches have been enriched by the broadening of our perspectives, as God prepares us for a day when representatives of every nation, tribe, people and language will worship the Lord Jesus in perfect unity. (See Revel. 7:9)

That journey has not been without its failures and successes. But happily, perhaps because of our own historical sense of being an underappreciated religious minority, Seventh Day Baptists have been ahead of many others on this journey, and our churches have been eager to extend fellowship to people regardless of their cultural orientations.

One reminder of this came recently, as we were asked for information about ethnically black members of the Friendship, N.Y., SDB Church. The Friendship church was organized in 1824. In the records of the church, we find some of the usual SDB names: Crandall, Green, and Ayars. But we also find a family with the name “Wigden”—Benjamin, Mary, and Benjamin Jr.

Benjamin Wigden was a former slave who fought in the Revolutionary War, and reached the rank of sergeant. The researcher who contacted us believed that Wigden, along with members of his family, migrated to the area and helped found the church after leaving New Jersey.

Interestingly, the Wigdens are listed intermingled with the other members, which was not a practice always done in church records of that time. In some Baptist records, the members are segregated. That the Friendship church’s records are not, 40 years before the Civil War, indicates something about where they were on their journey to unity in Christ.

Unfortunately, that is not the only hint to the location of the Friendship church in their journey. The Wigden family is separated out in the records a different way. Next to their names in the church records is affixed the word, “Colored.” The word is also highlighted by some flourishes from the pen of the clerk.

For whatever reason, the fact that the ethnicity of the Wigden family wasn’t the same as the other members of the church was made a part of the official records. For their time, the Friendship church appears to have been far down the road in their journey to the unity we will all realize finally in Christ. But even those who have traveled far down that road can travel farther, a lesson we would do well to apply to our own lives and churches.

We have come a long way since 1824, but not as far as we must ultimately go.

Clip to Evernote