African Methodist Episcopal Church Overview

The AME Church was the first independent black church in America

Congregation Holds Hands in Church
Congregation members hold hands at the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

mark peterson / Contributor / Getty Images

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born of racial discrimination following the American Revolution when African Americans struggled to worship freely. The AME Church established the first congregation in the United States to provide Christians of African descent their own place of worship. Learn how a determined pastor overcame great obstacles to launch a bold new religious movement.

African Methodist Episcopal Church

  • Full Name: African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Also Known As: AME Church, AME, or AMEC
  • Founding: Established by Richard Allen in 1816 as Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Known For: The first independent Protestant denomination organized in America by people of African heritage.
  • Headquarters: Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Mission: "The Mission of the AME Church is to minister to the social, spiritual, and physical development of all people."
  • Famous Quote: “The plain and simple gospel suits best for any people.” --Richard Allen, AME Church founder.

African Heritage, Methodist Beliefs, Episcopal Government

The AME Church was organized in America by people of African descent, its beliefs are Methodist, and its form of government is Episcopal (governed by bishops).

Established long before slavery was abolished in the United States, the AME Church faced difficult struggles against bigotry and racial discrimination. On two occasions, the church's founder, who had worked hard as a young man to purchase his own freedom, fought in court to guarantee freedom for the newly formed denomination. 

AME Church Founding

Richard Allen was born into slavery in Philadelphia in 1760. At 17, he became a Christian and began preaching wherever he had the opportunity on his plantation and in local Methodist churches. Allen's owner, one of his earliest converts, was so struck by his slave's gift for preaching that he let Allen purchase his freedom.

After traveling and preaching for a season, Allen returned to Philadelphia in 1786 and joined St. George's Methodist Church, the first Methodist Church in America. His leadership there attracted many blacks to the church, which in turn, stirred up racial tension. Eventually, Allen and other leaders of the black Methodist community decided to step out and form an independent black congregation. They recognized that blacks needed a place they could worship freely, escape the racism prevalent in New England at the time, and no longer be forced to sit in segregated areas labeled "Negro Pews" or the "African Corner."

In 1794, Allen purchased an old blacksmith’s shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and there founded the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black church in America. But for the next several years, white Methodist leaders in Philadelphia fought to keep Allen’s congregation and property under the Methodist Church's jurisdiction.

Richard Allen, the pastor of Bethel AME, called a convention of other persecuted blacks in the region. Finally, on January 1, 1816, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the church belonged to Allen and his associates. The Mother Bethel AME Church was officially formed.

Allen was ordained an elder in the church and then consecrated as bishop—the first black to hold such an office in America. By the 1820s, the church swelled to 7,500 members. Black leaders in Baltimore, Wilmington, Attleboro, and Salem began following Allen's example and set up independent African Methodist churches.

Today the AME Church has active congregations in 30 nations on four continents (North and South America, Europe, and Africa), and has more than 2 million members worldwide.

Governing Body

The AME Church describes itself as a "connectional" organization. The General Conference is the highest ruling body, followed by the Council of Bishops, the executive branch of the church. Equal with the Council of Bishops is a Board of Trustees and a General Board. The Judicial Council serves as the appellate court of the church.

African Methodist Episcopal Church Beliefs and Practices

The AME Church is Methodist in its basic doctrine. The church's beliefs are summarized in the Apostles' Creed. Members believe in the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the once and final forgiveness of sins.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church practices two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. A typical Sunday worship service includes hymns, responsive prayer, Old Testament and New Testament readings, a sermon, tithing, offerings, and communion.

Sources

  • "Richard Allen."131 Christians Everyone Should Know.
  • https://www.ame-church.com/.
  • http://stpaul-ame.org/.
  • https://www.motherbethel.org/.
  • http://www.rosaparks.org/.