By the Rev. Angela Ford Nelson
On March 27, 1871, just eight years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation wherein African-American slaves were given their freedom, the Rev. Samuel Watson and eight of his members purchased two acres of land in Sumter County to be used for building a church that they would later call Good Hope Methodist Church.
Although March 1871 is the date the church was officially established on the property, its congregation is thought to have worshipped there for many years before in a secluded space called a hush harbor.
It was on this land that James M. and Mary Louisa Davis, Alexander and Elias Dessassuare, Junis and Sara Davis, John Desassuare and Lloyd Dessassaure and others gathered under the cloak of night to worship God in song, dance and prayer.
In 2002, Good Hope Methodist Church merged with Wesley Chapel Methodist Church, another church with plantation roots, to form Good Hope Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, per a history by Jewell R. Stanley. This unified church maps its beginnings to a time when slaves were not allowed to worship unsupervised by their masters. Yet, in spite of restrictions and life-staking repercussions, they stole away to hush harbors where their faith was continued from Africa and strengthened in the New World.
Today, I serve as the second female pastor of Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC in its 147-year history, a history that began in the secrecy of a hush harbor and continues amid changing times.
But what was the hush harbor? Who were some of those who risked it all to worship the God of their ancestors and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What was worship like in these sacred spaces?
And what is the message of the hush harbor for us today?