Father Moses Berry

Father Moses Berry

Father Moses Berry will be inducted into the 2023 Missouri Public Affairs Hall of Fame.

A former drug dealer. A hippie. A flower child. A coffee-house owner. An underground rock band member. A direct descendent of slaves. And a spiritual leader. Meet Father Moses Berry, a man The New York Times called, “a one-man racial reconciliation committee” in the city of Ash Grove, Missouri.

Berry moved to the small town in 1998, to live on the farm his great-grandfather built in 1875. In constant use by the family for over 148 years, it includes a family cemetery that was established in 1875 and dedicated to “Slaves, Indians and Paupers.” This cemetery is now on the National and Greene County registers of historic places.

Berry spent much of his life on a spiritual quest that began in San Francisco in the late 1960s. Now a dedicated priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Berry and his wife, Magdalena, established a small parish, Theotokos “Unexpected Joy” Church. It stands close to an enormous sycamore tree Berry’s ancestors used as a shelter for church picnics and other celebrations for more than a century.

Berry also founded the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum in Ash Grove. Its three rooms were filled with heirlooms and artifacts, including two portraits front and center: Maria Boone, mistress to Nathaniel Boone, and her daughter, Caroline Boone Berry, his grandmother. Berry is an illegitimate descendent of Nathaniel, the son of the legendary American hero Daniel Boone. The museum had an extensive collection of rural Afro-American life in the surrounding areas, preserved by the Berrys and other families over many years. After a series of illnesses, Berry had to close the museum in 2013. Fortunately, the collection was digitized and is available online.

Berry is also a contributor to “An Unbroken Circle: Linking Ancient African Christianity to the African American Experience,” a groundbreaking collection of essays. He and others founded the annual Afro-American and Ancient Christianity Conferences sponsored by the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black. He travels regularly, giving lectures locally and nationally on African American history and on issues in African American spirituality and Orthodox Christian mission.