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The African Methodist Episcopal Church, also called AME Church, was established by the Reverend Richard Allen in 1816. Allen founded the denomination in Philadelphia to unite African-American Methodist churches in the North. These congregations wanted to be free from white Methodists who historically had not allowed African-Americans to worship in desegregated pews.
As founder of the AME Church, Allen was consecrated as its first bishop. The AME Church is a unique denomination in the Wesleyan tradition--it is the only religion in the western hemisphere to develop from the sociological needs of its members. It is also the first African-American denomination in the United States.
"God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother" -David Alexander Payne
Since its establishment in 1816, the AME Church has worked to minister to the needs--spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual and environmental--of people. Using liberation theology, the AME seeks to help those in need by preaching the gospel of Christ, providing food for the hungry, providing homes, encouraging those who have fallen on hard times as well as economic advancement, and providing employment opportunities to those in need.
The History of the AME Church
In 1787, the AME Church was established out of the Free African Society, an organization developed by Allen and Absalom Jones, who led African-American parishioners of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church to leave the congregation because of the racism and discrimination they faced. Together, this group of African-Americans would transform a mutual aid society into a congregation for people of African descent.
In 1792, Jones founded the African Church in Philadelphia, an African-American church free from white control. Desiring to become an Episcopal parish, the church opened in 1794 as the African Episcopal Church and became the first black church in Philadelphia.
However, Allen wanted to remain Methodist and led a small group to form the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1793. For the next several years, Allen fought for his congregation to worship free from white Methodist congregations. After winning these cases, other African-American Methodist churches that were also encountering racism wanted independence. These congregations to Allen for leadership. As a result, these communities came together in 1816 to form a new Wesleyan denomination known as the AME Church.
Before the abolition of slavery, most AME congregations could be found in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Washington D.C. By the 1850s, the AME Church had reached San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento.
Once slavery ended, the AME Church's membership in the South increased tremendously, reaching 400,000 members by 1880 in states such as South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas. And by 1896, the AME Church could boast membership on two continents--North America and Africa--as there were churches established in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.
AME Church Philosophy
The AME Church follows the doctrines of the Methodist Church. However, the denomination follows the Episcopal form of church government, having bishops as religious leaders. Also, since the denomination was founded and organized by African-Americans, its theology is based on the needs of people of African descent.
Early Notable Bishops
Since its inception, the AME Church has cultivated African-American men and women who could synthesize their religious teachings with a fight for social injustice. For example, Benjamin Arnett addressed the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, arguing that people of African descent have helped develop Christianity. Additionally, Benjamin Tucker Tanner wrote, An Apology for African Methodism in 1867 and The Color of Solomon in 1895.
AME Colleges and Universities
Education has always played an important role in the AME Church. Even before slavery was abolished in 1865, the AME Church began establishing schools to train young African-American men and women. Many of these schools are still active today and include senior colleges Allen University, Wilberforce University, Paul Quinn College, and Edward Waters College; junior college, Shorter College; theological seminaries, Jackson Theological Seminary, Payne Theological Seminary and Turner Theological Seminary.
The AME Church Today
The AME Church now has membership in thirty-nine countries on five continents. There are currently twenty-one bishops in active leadership and nine general officers who oversee various departments of the AME Church.