This morning about 50 or so filled the natural wood pews at the 11 am church service at the First Free Methodist Church on the Hill to hear the uplifting words of their minister, the Rev. Daniel Ruiz. This congregation however was not the stereotypical congregation of a rural state like Maine; rather a majority of the attendees were black and not white – refugees from Rwanda and Burgundi (formerly Zaiire) and the civil wars those countries have endured.
Stuart Reed, one of the few white members left in the church told mhn.com yesterday that about 90% of the congregation is African. Most of them live in the State Street section of Portland, near Hadlock Field, and downtown Portland. Reed, who is the “go to man” in the congregation said he was surprised to learn recently that the Free Methodist is the most popular denomination in Africa than in the U.S. “These people are humble and forgiving because they are Christians. They are very adaptable people who have suffered in ways we can’t imagine.” A Maine native, Reed lived in N.Y.C. where he managed a large hotel before returning home 13 years ago.
“It’s humbling to preach to my congregation. It’s more like they teach me,” said Rev. Ruiz following the service. He is a man who clearly connects with his congregation and they with him, although he has not shared their same journey. “They bring the spirit of love to others here.” During the just completed service Rev. Ruiz implored his congregation to “let these other things go – like the war in your soul. God wants to give you peace today,” he continued. “He wants you to move on.” But from the smiles on their faces and the joyful singing of simple music, many had already found peace here in Portland. And were ready to share it with others. The modest Rev.Ruiz works for a social service agency during the week.
The change from a white population to an African population began about four years ago, said Reed at the church office yesterday afternoon. The first one to come to the church on the Hill, 140 Congress Street, was Isaac Bujambi. This soft spoken man came from the former Zaiire where he was a school principal as well as a minister. Now he works at the Portland International Jetport. Back home, he was an official in the Free Methodist Church. “All of us in this church have come to this country because of wars at home,” he said.