past illustrious men and ministries

RICHARD aLLEN

Rev. Richard Allen
A.M.E CHURCH

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, usually called the A.M.E. Church, is a predominantly African-American Methodist denomination based in the United States. It was founded by the Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1816 from several black Methodist congregations in the mid-Atlantic area that wanted independence from white Methodists. Allen was consecrated its first bishop in 1816. It began with 8 clergy and 5 churches, and by 1846 had grown to 176 clergy, 296 churches, and 17,375 members The 20,000 members in 1856 were located primarily in the North. AME national membership (including probationers and preachers) jumped from 70,000 in 1866 to 207,000 in 1876

The AME Church grew out of the Free African Society (FAS), which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and other free blacks established in Philadelphia in 1787. They left St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church because of discrimination. Although Allen and Jones were both accepted as preachers, they were limited to black congregations. In addition, the blacks were made to sit in a separate gallery built in the church when their portion of the congregation increased. These former members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although the group was originally non-denominational, eventually members wanted to affiliate with existing denominations.

Allen led a small group who resolved to remain Methodist. They formed the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1793. In general, they adopted the doctrines and form of government of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence, Allen successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an institution independent of white Methodist congregations. Because black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities also encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia in 1816 to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the “African Methodist Episcopal Church” (AME Church).

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has a unique history as it is the first major religious denomination in the western world that developed because of sociological rather than theological differences. It was the first African-American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. The church was born in protest against racial discrimination and slavery. This was in keeping with the Methodist Church’s philosophy, whose founder John Wesley had once called the slave-trade “that execrable sum of all villainies.” In the 19th century, the AME Church of Ohio collaborated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, a predominantly white denomination, in sponsoring the second independent historically black college (HBCU), Wilberforce University in Ohio. Among Wilberforce University’s early founders was Salmon P. Chase, then-governor of Ohio and the future Secretary of Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln.

Other members of the FAS wanted to affiliate with the Episcopal Church and followed Absalom Jones in doing that. In 1792, they founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first Episcopal church in the United States with a founding black congregation. In 1804, Jones was ordained as the first black priest in the Episcopal Church.

While the AME is doctrinally Methodist, clergy, scholars, and lay persons have written works that demonstrate the distinctive racial theology and praxis that have come to define this Wesleyan body. In an address to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett reminded the audience of blacks’ influence in the formation of Christianity. Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner wrote in 1895 in The Color of Solomon – What? that biblical scholars wrongly portrayed the son of David as a white man. In the post-civil rights era, theologians James Cone, Cecil W. Cone, and Jacqueline Grant, who came from the AME tradition, critiqued Euro-centric Christianity and African-American churches for their shortcomings in resolving the plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.

BELIEFS

The AME motto, “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family”, reflects the basic beliefs of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The basic foundations of the beliefs of the church can be summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, and The Twenty Five Articles of Religion, held in common with other Methodist Episcopal congregations. The church also observes the official bylaws of the AME Church. The “Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church” is revised at every General Conference and published every five years.

CHURCH MISSION

The Mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is to minister to the social, spiritual, physical development of all people. At every level of the Connection and in every local church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church shall engage in carrying out the spirit of the original Free African Society, out of which the AME Church evolved: that is, to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy. It is also the duty of the Church to continue to encourage all members to become involved in all aspects of church training. The ultimate purposes are: (1) make available God’s biblical principles, (2) spread Christ’s liberating gospel, and (3) provide continuing programs which will enhance the entire social development of all people. In order to meet the needs at every level of the Connection and in every local church, the AME Church shall implement strategies to train all members in: (1) Christian discipleship, (2)Christian leadership, (3) current teaching methods and materials, (4) the history and significance of the AME Church, (5) God’s biblical principles, and (6) social development to which all should be applied to daily living.

1. preaching the gospel,
2. feeding the hungry,
3. clothing the naked,
4. housing the homeless,
5. cheering the fallen,
6. providing jobs for the jobless,
7. administering to the needs of those in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, asylums and mental institutions, senior citizens’ homes; caring for the sick, the shut-in, the mentally and socially disturbed,
8. encouraging thrift and economic advancement., and
9. bringing people back into church.

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