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Monday, February 18, 2008

Link between city church, Liberia celebrated

By James Tinley
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— The Center Church on the Green played host to Liberian dignitaries, college students and Liberian Americans Saturday, all celebrating the interconnected history the church and the West African nation share.
The roughly 25 people who gathered at the church were led to the Grove Street Cemetery to visit the grave site of Leonard Bacon, the former Center Church on the Green minister who was influential in the creation of Liberia as a colony for freed slaves from the United States. Bacon was the Center Church minister from 1825 to 1866.
But Bacon’s advocating for the creation of a colony in Africa for freed slaves and his failure to support the proposal of a university for blacks in New Haven makes Bacon fall well short of “an ideal abolitionist” by today’s standards, said Sandra Olsen, the current minister of Center Church.
“But we have to face history, we can’t deny it or remember it as we would have liked it to be,” Olsen said. “Sometimes heroes are not quite heroic.”
The event organizer, J. Siafa Johnson, who is a native of Liberia and the former minister of the Black Church at Yale and the International Church at Yale, said he wants to hold the celebration annually to bring attention to the interconnected history shared between Liberians and the Center Church on the Green.
“I want to bring a new paradigm of multiculturalism and diversity to Liberia,” Johnson said.
“Many are still tied onto the old paradigm,” he said referring to the divisions in Liberia that have contributed to years of civil wars that ended in 2003.
Milton Nathaniel Barnes, the Liberian ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, said he has always been fascinated with the study of history and jumped at the invitation to come to New Haven to see the city that had such a great impact on Liberia.
“You can’t completely understand Liberian history without understanding American history,” Nathaniel Barnes said. “And in the same way you can’t completely understand African American history and American history without understanding Liberian history.
“Liberia is coming out of a devastating conflict and perhaps if we had a better grasp of history it could have been avoided. But we should understand we are now making history.”
To aid in reconciliation between the warring factions in Liberia. Johnson said he would reestablish a chaplaincy at Liberia University. He would like to see the youthful push for social reform from the university to have the guidance of spiritual leaders — similar to the civil rights movement in the U.S. — to help keep the push for reform from descending into violence. No chaplaincy has been established at the University since 1862, Johnson said.
Janiaha Nelson a George Washington University student who drove from Washington D.C. with three other students to attend the event and is raising funds for the chaplaincy said, “We want to make sure students have a place to come to restore themselves spiritually and a place that can aid them in the reconciliation.”

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