An African American Experience of The Alliance
February 7, 2022
Robert Page was acknowledged as the first Black Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary. How proud Robert Page would be today to see other Alliance leaders of color about the Father’s business of drawing all men unto Him–leaders like Dr. Ronald Morrison whose experience of being an Alliance “first” is shared here.
As a child, I had one singular ambition of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was motivated to be a professional baseball player and Jackie Robinson was my hero and role model. I played baseball at every opportunity, and my father was with me daily to help me fulfill a dream of his and mine. I played the same position in little league and high school as Jackie did, and for many years I used his signature model baseball bat.
I remember watching the Jackie Robinson story often (on our Black and White television!) while being fascinated with how he handled the prejudice, attacks, and insults while performing at a high level. As you know, he eventually won the respect of those who appreciated talent regardless of the ethnicity of the one who had it. We all recognized how important it is to have the character to match your gifts and talents.
Whenever I am asked about my experiences in the C&MA I think of Jackie Robinson for a number of reasons. Like many African Americans who are a part of our wonderful movement, my church experiences were in other denominations. I was licensed and ordained as a Baptist minister before I had a real awareness of the C&MA. Cleveland has the oldest African American-led Alliance church in the country (currently called Union Avenue C&MA Church), but I did not realize it was part of a denomination. Once I realized that it was, I was surprised to discover that only one such church existed in the Black community of Greater Cleveland. Understandably, I was more than curious to find out why this denomination had not established more churches in Cleveland, because every other denomination seemed to have many churches in our communities.
I remember the somewhat intimidating setting of my first appearance before the Central District Licensing Committee. With my wife by my side, I was questioned for about two hours on everything about my life and biblical convictions. Every one of the committee members were Caucasian pastors I had never met in person before that day. All of my years of church experiences and preaching were in predominately African American churches. It felt strange to be articulating my faith before an “all-white audience.” I felt like I had to prove to them that Black pastors are capable theologians and expositors of the Word of God, and my success may create an opportunity for others to follow. After the interview, I was licensed by the C&MA, and many of those men became lifelong friends and supporters of mine as an individual and as a church planter.
I went on to serve on seemingly every committee that existed in our District, learning how the C&MA functioned differently than the churches I had been nurtured in. More often than not I was the only African American in the meetings. It was the same as we attended many of the District functions and social gatherings. The other African American churches from other cities in our District did not seem to be fully engaged, and I wondered why. As I got to know some of those faithful pastors, I asked questions about their experiences with the C&MA before I came along. They all encouraged and supported me, but I sensed they felt somewhat of a disconnect between the leadership of the denomination and the paradigm of the African American churches who had little or no presence at the leadership table.
Over the years, I was blessed to learn from the African American leaders who were in the denomination before me, and at the same time develop many enriching friendships with my fellow Alliance pastors from other ethnic groups. I was invited to speak in a few churches that had no Black members, and I felt I was having a “Jackie Robinson” experience by being a Black preacher in environments that had never had one before. I felt honored to represent my ethnic group as I represented our Lord by proclaiming His Word.
My experiences with serving on District committees prepared me to serve on the national level. I was again encouraged by African American pastors who had served admirably before me and was told it was important for us to always have a voice at the table. I was elected for the first of what would become four terms on the Board of Directors, and a few years later I served one year as Vice-Chairman, followed by four years as Chairman. I have been told that my term was yet another “Jackie Robinson” experience, as no one could remember us ever having an African American serving in the role of Board Chairman.
It was a great honor to serve, and I bonded well with many of the Caucasian leaders who helped me do a job I had never anticipated doing. I did feel the pressure of sometimes being the only African American on the Board and feeling my leadership would be the measuring rod for when another person of color would have the opportunity. It brought me great joy to see the smile and pride on the faces of some of the older African Americans who had served faithfully, but were never considered to be a candidate for the Board of Directors and did not expect to see a person of color in that role. I proudly stood on their shoulders and made sure their concerns were not overlooked on the Board level.
My years of service with the C&MA have allowed me to have experiences I never dreamed would be mine. We have spent time with International Workers in Thailand, Japan, Brazil, and Taiwan. I am sure I would not have had those opportunities if I had not joined the best missionary denomination our Lord has raised up. I have enjoyed visiting the various cities that have hosted General Council over the years, allowing me to see what God is doing in other places I would not have normally visited.
In spite of all the things we could have done better and sooner as a denomination that celebrates its diversity (particularly in upper levels of leadership) I am grateful and proud to be a part of the C&MA. I have intentionally mentored and coached other aspiring leaders, encouraging them to step into roles and doors that were opened by faithful leaders before us. In the years to come as we observe Black History Month, I hope there will be so many leaders of color from our denomination that we will struggle to name them all but will recognize their important contributions. To God be the glory, for making from one man (one blood) all the beautifully diverse people groups on the face of the earth and placed in their hearts to seek after Him. (Acts 17:26) May we work together now to give a better preview of what we will one day experience, which is people from every ethnic group on the face of the earth, praising our Lord together in one eternal family. (Revelation 5:9-10)
Dr. Ron Morrison
February 6, 2022
Dr. Ronald J. Morrison, a 2014 alumnus of the Alliance Theological Seminary D.Min. program, is the founding and senior pastor of Hope Alliance Bible Church in Maple Heights (HABC), OH, a ministry planted in 1995. His wife, Mrs. Anita Morrison currently leads After School Programs and the HABC Worship Team. She holds an M.Ed. from John Carroll University, where she also worked as an educational consultant. The Morrisons have team taught in the United States and abroad.
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