A Letter to the Bishops of the A.M.E. Church and Superintendents of the Z.A.M.E. Churches
Headquarters let U.S.C.T.
Harrison’s Landing, Va,
September 21, 1864
Christian Recorder: October 1, 1864
Turner writes letter to the Bishops indicating an opportunity for church growth and expansion possibilities.
Bishops and Superintendents of the A.M.E. and Z.A.M.E. (A.M.E.Z.) Churches:
I hope it will not be considered presumptive nor sacrilegious for a poor soldier upon the field of battle to solicit your grave attention a few moments.
I can form some theoretical idea, at least of the multiplicity of your engagements. The heavy cares of the Church, the charge of the ministers, the weight of thousands of immortal souls, your individual and influential responsibility to an infinite and just God, and the short time allotted for so much of its performance as will enable you to render a straight and rigid accountability to your Bishop of Bishops, are sufficiently expressive to inform me that your time is precious.
Should you think strange of my addressing the bishops of both connections, when I only hold a very humble identity to one, I can offer no apology other than that I very happily learned, that, in the Convention held in the city of Philadelphia, which contemplated the consolidation of two connections very promising overtures were made by both sides, looking quite favorably to its effectual issue, and that the result of this Convention elicited such fraternal negotiations as formed the basis of a practical reciprocity of notion, restricted, of course, to Diocesan non interference.
I also learned, that such notion, ex necessitate rai met the hearty co-operation of the Bishops; that all are looking for such a consolidation at the meeting of the next General Conferences, and they pledge themselves not to wrangle nor preach a feudal gospel, south of Mason’s and Dixon’s Line, during the next four years, regardless of their imaginary technicalities. I say, with these things admitted, I claim the unquestionable right of addressing you all.
I presume you have heard of the recent victories of the Federal army and fleet, before Atlanta, Ga., and Mobile, Ala; and, in all probability, unless some choking disaster overtakes the Union arms, success will soon perch upon their banners, to the capturing of Mobile, Selma, and Montgomery, Ala, and Macon, Athens and Augusta, Ga.
Should this be the case, in all those cities there are flourishing colored churches of the Methodist Episcopal and Methodist protestant faith, in all of which I have often tried to preach; and, thus prompted by a knowledge of the aforesaid churches and many of their members and local preachers, I have felt my duty to pen this epistle.
The point to which I wish particularly to call your attention in this: Several of the ministers of the Methodist Episcopal church are chaplains in the army, and, being very zealous for their Church, that lay hold of these colored churches with an eager impetuosity immediately upon their entrance into the captured city, and, I am informed, they have actually ordained elders and deacons out of some of the colored preachers found in said churches, for the purpose of securing their allegiance to the Methodist Episcopal church, regardless of the qualification of such preachers to receive such orders, even admitting its loyalty.
This usurpation of power and church monopoly South, I think, should be most vigilantly watched by us, so far as the colored churches are concerned. I, for one, would be willing to concede to the Methodist Episcopal Church all the white Methodist Episcopal churches South, but not the colored; for colored soldiers too are fighting the battles of this country, and many of them are members of the churches over which you preside, and, I think, are justly entitled to some of the spoils. Besides, the Methodist Episcopal Church can advance no higher claims on the Methodist Episcopal Church South than you can; for it is a distinct organization, separated by much wider territory in sentiment than we ever were. Throughout the State of Georgia you will find colored ministers of the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist Protestant faith, regularly ordained and installed pastors of churches (with some restrictions, of course,) but not of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
To suffer unauthorized parties to take possession of these churches and ordain anybody, through an imaginary emergency, for the purpose of securing allegiance to their espoused faith, is, I think, an assumption, which, I think, demands your attention, especially so, when we have such a supply of able bishops and active ministers.
I would not dare to outrage your superior judgment by questioning it so much as to suggest my idea of remedy; for I am fully aware that the extent of power and the strength of your instrumentalities will be wisely considered and judiciously applied, if you take the same view of the matter as I have.
Having done what I intended, vix: called your attention to my notion of an evil, that might be nipped in the bud, I take pleasure in acknowledging myself.
Your obedient servant,
Henry M. Turner,
Chaplain 1st U. S. C. T