CHARLES KINNY: FIRST ORDAINED BLACK PREACHER
by Patricia Nash
"The Day Blessed of God: Jesus IS Coming Soon," the brightly painted sign proclaimed. It stood in front of a large, striped canvas tent ready to shelter people who came to hear the Word. Twenty-three-year-old Charles Kinny took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his cotton sleeve, squinting to see the sign in the untamed Western sun.
Charles had always been a serious-minded person and such theology might interest him, he thought. But more than that, Charles was always searching for something to belong to, to feel a part of. Seven o'clock, he mentally noted. Balancing his hat on his head, Charles strode away, intending to return.
And return he did. Every night he made his way to the canvas tent, drinking in every word that evangelist J. N. Loughborough had to say. Charles was intrigued and impressed with the Adventist message; so he kept coming back.
One evening near the end of the series, a visiting woman preacher - Ellen White - stood at the speaker's podium in front of the congregation of 400 people. Charles listened intently to her message, taken from the book of John: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
"Sons of God," Charles thought. What a contrast to his past the Adventist message was offering! Charles had been born a slave in Richmond, Virginia in 1855. For ten years, until the end of the Civil War, the young boy had belonged to his master. But that kind of belonging had not given him the sense of security and encouragement that Charles was still searching for.
After the war, ten-year-old Charles had joined one of the parties moving West, evidently without any parents or other relatives to look after him. The travelers journeyed through St. Louis and Kansas City, stopping along the way to earn money at temporary jobs. Eventually Charles reached the city of Reno, Nevada, and settled there. But a permanent place to live and a good-paying job did not cure Charless loneliness.
And now Charles was being invited to be a son of God! His lonely heart, battered after experiences with slavery and wandering West, clung to this promise. A few months later, Charles had made up his mind. On the last Sabbath of September, Charles treasured every moment of his first day of Sabbath keeping.
Charles found a family in the Adventist church! He was one of the seven charter members of the Reno congregation. Charles immediately took an active role in the church affairs. He was elected clerk, a position that he served in meticulously, keeping records and sending regular reports to the Review and Herald. Charles was also asked to be the secretary of the Nevada Tract and Missionary Society. In his work with the Tract Society, Charles saw to it that the local library contained a complete set of Adventist books.
As his local congregation recognized his potential, the church, along with the California Conference, sent Charles to Healdsburg College for two years of schooling. Ellen White also lived in Healdsburg at that time and Charles must have had several opportunities to hear her speak.
After his schooling was finished, Charles formally began work in God's service. He preached, canvassed, and evangelized in many states, establishing several of the first Black Seventh-day Adventist churches. In 1889 Charles Kinny was ordained the first Adventist Black minister. His work was often lonely - at one time he was the only Black Adventist preacher in the United States. But hand in hand with God. Charles still found hope in being a son of God.