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Imagine what courage it took for that band of Black brothers and sisters to get up and walk out of St George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787. It took guts, bravery and wisdom, not knowing what would happen next. But their faith intervened, and from that day forward the Free African Society would plant roots into great denominations like mine, The African Methodist Episcopal Church…AME.
I have been a member of the AME Church my entire life. My family’s heritage goes back 150 years in this church with two ancestral Bishops whose pictures hang on the wall of our Mother Bethel Church in Philadelphia.
In light of the recent events at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the historic eulogy delivered by President Barack Obama, we’ll bring you the highlights of a church that dates back to the early years of the American journey.
A Brief History Of The AME Church
The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s MEC pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen led a small group who resolved to remain Methodists. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME.
While the AME is doctrinally Methodist, clergy, scholars, and lay persons have written important works which demonstrate the distinctive theology and praxis which have defined this Wesleyan body. Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett, in an address to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, reminded the audience of the presence of blacks 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 H. Cone, Cecil W. Cone, and Jacqueline Grant who came out of the AME tradition critiqued Euro-centric Christianity and African American churches for their shortcomings in fully impacting the plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.
Today, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has membership in twenty Episcopal Districts in thirty-nine countries on five continents. The work of the Church is administered by twenty-one active bishops, and nine General Officers who manage the departments of the Church.
Source: Dennis C. Dickerson
Retired General Officer
AME Websites To Learn More (Including Local and District Level Events)
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Carole Copeland Thomas is a 27 year speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in global diversity, empowerment, multiculturalism and leadership issues.