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African Methodist Episcopal - USA

Group Members:
1. Andrea Anderson
Mary Marjorie Bethea
3. Simon Castagna
4. Benjamin Valentine
5. Merritt Robinson
6. Douglas Haub
7. Jeremy Serrano
8. Chris Sikorowski


AME Logo

Racial Group: African-American
Denomination: African Methodist Episcopal
Region of the World: United States of America

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is a Christian denomination with more than 2 million members in over 30 nations including North and South America, Africa, and Europe. The name of the denomination is also a descriptor of it's origin, theology and polity.

African- The church originated in the United States from people with African decent.
Methodists- The church finds its roots in the Methodist tradition with its emphasis on a "plain and simple Gospel."
Episcopal-This is the form of government under which the church operates.

The Motto of the Church is:
“God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family.”

History, Place - notes link
Jeremy - editor

The roots of the African Methodist-Episcopal Church can be traced to the Church of England. The English brought to America Anglicanism, as well as the dissenting voices of Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and Quakers. Polity and governance issues had an impact on churches in the 18th/19th century. Many of the Anglican bishops were not willing to come to the new English colony called America. Thus the Episcopal church was formed with its own bishops. "It was a timely move that enabled “Anglicans” to continue their churches and avoid questions that might have been raised regarding their loyalty to the Colonies during the American Revolution " (Mel Robeck-Modern Church History Class Notes).

Methodism, broke with the Anglican church in part due to governance issues, but mainly due to the "methods" that John Wesley taught as beneficial for developing good, strong Christian character. Despite the schism Methodists were committed to Episcopal polity. It was in the lineage of these successive schism that the African Methodists-Episcopal Church was born.

During the colonial and Pre-Revolutionary times, there were large numbers of blacks who joined the Methodist Church. In some places, they were forced into separate congregations with a white preacher
(Cummings, 4). Although there were many racially integrated churches during this time, often blacks were relegated to the rear or balconies. Whites entered through the front doors and blacks were forced to enter through side doors. When it came to the sacraments whites were baptized and served communion first with blacks taking seconds. The increase in black Christians brought about major problems for white churches in America. In 1787, several black members of the Methodists Churches in the North voted to establish their own places of worship. The leader of this movement was Richard Allen.

Richard Allen
Richard Allen (1760-1831) was born a slave, but had earned enough money as a wagoner and woodcutter to purchase his freedom. In the first U.S. Census taken in 1790, Allen is registered as a "free man, head of household of ten persons, and employed as a chimney sweep (Cummings, 47)." John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was adamant in his attacks on slavery. This aroused Allen's interest in the new denomination and he become a convert. Allen said, "the Methodist is so successful in the awakening and conversion of colored people [because of his] plain doctrine and having a good discipline." He followed the Methodist circuit, preaching to black Pennsylvanians and was one of two black men in attendance at the Christmas conference of 1784, when Methodism established itself as a denomination distinct from the Church of England ( Bishop Francis Asbury offered Allen an itinerant ministry but Allen refused because he believed the Methodist denominations stance on slavery would compromise his principles.

St. George's Episcopal Church (Philadelphia) In 1786, Allen began worshiping at St. George's Episcopal church (Philadelphia). Typically this church had blacks sit or stand in the rear of the church. One Sunday Absalom Jones, a friend of Allen, dropped to his knees in prayer in an area reserved solely for whites. He was quickly escorted out of the church. This incident prompted Allen and others to end their fellowship at St. George's in November of 1787 (Cummings, 45).

Around the same time in 1787, Allen founded the Free African Society, the first organization established by blacks for blacks (Noll, 202). The purpose of this group was to improve the economic and social conditions in the Black community as well as provide for their spiritual encouragement. In 1793, through this organization, Jones and Allen led blacks to provide care for the entire population of Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic (202). It is through this society that a large number of congregants would come to be a part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Cummings 4).

In the same year that the Free African Society was established (1787), Allen was successful in founding the Bethel Church for Negro Methodist. In 1793, he built the Bethel church on his own property at his own expense. Bishop Asbury opened the house for worship. "He and his followers were convinced that blacks would be best served by a church of their own making" (Cummings, 4). This church became a prototype and birthed a new movement in the south. After many years of fulfilling his calling Allen was subsequently ordained a deacon of the Methodist church in 1799.

In 1816, the leaders of this new movement called for a General Convention in Philadelphia. Delegates from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Attleborough, and Salem were all in attendance. At this convention, the connection between the represented black churches was formalized.

"Resolved, that the people of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and all other places, who should unite with them, shall become one body under the name and style of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Payne 14)."

It was during this convention that the AME Church was born.

Early History and Organization

During the First General Convention two important acts were passed. First, Rev. Daniel Coker was voted to be the first Bishop of the AME Church, but he declined. Richard Allen was chosen to be his replacement and was consecrated the First Bishop of the AME church on April 11, 1816. Second, an act was passed to accept any minister coming from another denomination in the same capacity that he held in his previous denomination (Payne, 14). These acts are held only in common knowledge as there were no records of the 1816 General Convention.

Another victory was won in 1816, after many court battles over property and governance, the Bethel church was ruled as independent of White Methodists in the Philadelphia Conference.

The Conference of 1818, was held in Baltimore. It was important because it was the first conference with a written record and The office of Book Steward was created.

Prior to the Civil War (1861-1865), the spread of the church was in the North East and Midwest. There were primary congregations established in Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, Washington Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities where there was a great need for Blacksmiths. Other communities also established a presence in the north. In the slave states of
Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana, Missouri and South Carolina.

The AME Church in South Carolina was disbanded after civil unrest in 1822. Six slaves conspired to overthrow the injustice of slavery in that state. Their insurrectionist plans were discovered and all of them were hanged. The slave holders in South Carolina were not satisfied with this punishment and sought to disband every independent black organization. It shut down the AME church because, "it gave the idea and produced the sentiment of personal freedom and responsibility in the negro (Payne 45)."

In the early 1850's the church reached the West Coast, they were established in Stockton, San Fransisco, and other places in California.

Universality, Hybridity and Difference - notes link
Merritt - editor

Universality is the idea that particular features of a culture are superior or true for all cultures at all moments of time. Universality marginalizes the distinctives of other cultures and it ultimately leads to the elimination of differences within culture or the alteration and hybridity within people and homogenous groups. (Bolger, 10/08)

Despite the fact that AME church separated from the white Methodist church, many of its forms and ideology were still influenced by the doctrine and governmental style of the Methodist church. Acceptance of British cultural superiority by many leaders of the AME church had profound racial implications that were devastating for African Americans. They were stripped of much of their African culture, and the unique culture of the African Americans were replaced with English heritage. (Little, p 150) In the late 1800’s, the AME church sought to evangelize, recruit, and train Native Americans to become preachers and missionaries. They placed a premium on the value of education similar to whites. Ironically, they often displayed the same cultural and religious bias towards the Native American as whites had perpetrated against blacks. (Little, p 90)

In 1901, there was an ecumenical conference in which the AME church sent the fourth largest delegation but throughout the conference, the speeches only addressed the role of Anglo-Saxons in the spreading of Methodism throughout the world without mentioning the significant contribution of the AME church. During his speech, Bishop Benjamin J. Lee, identified the fact that Methodism was begun by Anglo Saxons but people of color were instrumental in the spreading of Methodism across the globe. (Little, p 152)

African American’s continued to struggle internally because they supported the spread of Western culture but they were often ostracized or excluded from participation and equality within the same culture they supported. (Little, p 195) Nevertheless, blacks persisted to follow whites by becoming educated and emulating white middle class and their business knowledge in order to pull the black race up from poverty and to prove their worth and capabilities. (Gregg, p 195) The word “uplift” was utilized in multiple manners to describe the goals of the AME church. The concept of uplift meant uplifting the race as a whole to the level of white society. For the social elite, the word meant accommodation to mainstream American culture. For the lower class, it meant the possibility of complete equality with their white counterparts. (Gregg, p 4) Color and racial tension divided Philadelphia’s African American community. There was obvious color discrimination during the time frame of 1890-1940 by whites but there was an increase in discrimination by black against blacks. “It is quite noticeable, for example, in photographs of leading men and women within the AME church that most of them were considered light skin blacks”. (Gregg, p 209) This type of discrimination is still prevalent today, where darker skin blacks intimate that lighter skinned blacks receive better treatment because they are considered to be more white.African Methodist Episcopal - Church in Mission @ FTS

James Cone, who is an ordained AME pastor and considered the founder of black liberation theology, has felt that Black Christians in North America should not follow the “white Church”, on the grounds that it was a willing part of the system that had oppressed black people. Cone has gone as far as claiming that the “white church” is an institution that is antichrist and racist to the core. ( Thus Cone, within his theological framework, has attempted to reverse the roles of white supremacy by indicating that "black values" are the superior American values even in consideration of white values which have been promoted throughout the last two hundred years of history.

The AME church was birthed out of slavery and continuous attempts have been made throughout the centuries by AME church leaders and laity to affirm the positive aspects of African and Afro-centric culture. Additionally, the AME church has maintained its foundational statement of God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family. This motto has been the driving force for the AME church's universal ideals of social justice, liberation, and
inclusivity for all mankind.

Stain Glass

Representation and Resistance - notes link
Douglas - editor

The confrontation between Absalom Jones and the usher at St. George’s Episcopal Church was but exemplary of the environment that Africans and African Americans were faced with in the late 18th century. For a time, Richard Allen had conducted separate services at 5 am for the African American's in St. George's congregation ( This catalytic event that spurred Richard Allen to found the African Episcopal Methodist church demonstrates specifically the daily coupling of representation and resistance that Afro-centered (whether white or black) leadership employs. To represent the marginalized and oppressed (specifically the Afro-oriented) meant explicitly to be in resistance against the oppressing forces. Thus from its inception the AME church has had core values of freedom, social justice and empowerment.

In the face of growing racism and institutionalized segregation in the Episcopal Methodist Church, Richard Allen and other AME leadership offered a strong voice for the African and of-African-decent members of the church and community (Baldwin, 27). Having been excluded from their mother church, the African was left without land or a place of worship. In Philadelphia, Allen organized the gathering of resources from the black and sympathetic white communities and was able to raise enough money to purchase a building and a plot of land. With council from the denomination, the new church was incorporated into the denomination and it seemed, for a time, that there would be a place for the outcast members of St. George’s. Allen’s vision was that this would be a congregation open to all believers. Any segregation that occurred was enacted by one not attending the congregation; no one was excluded. A decade later James Smith was placed in charge over Philadelphia and immediately demanded the keys and title to Allen’s church (Allen, 32). According to the constitution that had been part of the church’s incorporation, the land and building belonged to the Conference. Quickly Allen found new legal council and was able to win a battle before the Supreme Court to retain ownership over the land and building.

It was clear that many in the African community were faced with the same struggle as Allen’s congregation and in April 1816 a general meeting of the Conference was called where delegates from the black churches were to take into “consideration their grievances, and in order to secure the privileges, promote union and harmony among themselves,..resolved: ‘That the people of Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc,. etc,. should become one body, under the name of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’” (Allen, 35).

The African Methodist Episcopal Church became the first legally recognized black denomination in the United States. African and off-African-decent Bishops were appointed as members of this community no longer trusted that white clergy were “capable of caring for their spiritual needs” and also, they wished to “gain authority over their own religious institutions without interference from whites” (Blum and Poole, 56).

In this new-found space of the AME church the African American community was able to generate and sustain its own identity (Emerson, 156). The AME founded the Christian Recorder which is the longest running and oldest African American circular, and the AME Review, one of the first African American scholarly journals to be published. Founding voices of Black Theology found their home in the AME church in the likes of Bishop Henry Neil Turner, considered the father of Black Theology, and James Cone, a leading voice in the contemporary Black Theology movement.

Voice was given to recapture what was culturally important to the African American in the midst of the Eurocentric binarisms that dominate American Culture: i.e. mind over body vs. mind with body; melody-driven music vs. rhythm-driven music; stoic vs. passionate, etc (Emerson, 145). In the walls of the AME church, the African was given the space to begin the long process of re-membering its identity in the midst of the ruthless dis-memberment of slavery, segregation, and racism (Emerson 188, 193; Sugirtharajah 207). As blacks in America lost rights, the AME church established a safe-haven against the oppressing powers of white America and continues to work toward reconstituting its “‘shattered community’, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures” of the oppressing dominant culture (Ashcroft, 95; Emerson 16).

"Religious institutions, ideologies, and beliefs did much more than provide African Americans a refuge in a hostile world. Religious arguments often served as tools of active resistance to and criticism of the nation. An analysis of African American religious challenges to postwar white nationalism, racial exclusion, and racial violence suggests that the religious character of American society and its national identity were racially contested during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Many people of color refused to stand by idly as white Americans proclaimed the holiness of a land where racial hatred ran rampant and prejudice knew few bounds. They created an oppositional discourse that turned the trope of American "Christian nationhood" against whites. Depicting civil rights as a sacred obligation, denouncing Jim Crow as anti-Christian, railing against the silence of white Protestant leaders over racial injustice, condemning lynching as immoral, and asserting the virtuousness and holiness of blacks, these African Americans claimed that the nation would be truly 'Christian' when racism ceased." (Blum, 95-6)

Today racial tensions still exist (which is not surprising considering the environment that birthed the denomination). And new tensions have emerged within the denomination itself according to Black Theology Scholar and AME pastor, Rev. Dr. Ralph Watkins. Today the issue of economics in the midst of the black community has given rise to a pseudo-caste system. Historically the AME church has stated its mission is to be a voice for all people on the margins, not just the African. So just as Oliver Brown, AME minister (, filled the famous Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, on behalf of his daughter, so much the AME church continue with a voice of representation for the poor and outcast regardless their race or ethnic background.

President-Elect Barack Obama addressing the AME Church General Conference and recounting the AME contribution to faith, country and society and calling on its continuance.

Religion and Globalization - notes link
Douglas - editor

The mission of the AME church is holistic. It seeks to minister to the spirit, mind, body, emotions and environmental needs of all people. While clearly of-African-decent in demography, the church was founded to be a voice for the marginalized and oppressed (see Resistance and Representation). Clearly the African and of-African-decent fits this category. However, the vision of the AME church is that it will be a haven for all peoples. The spirit of the Free African Society can be felt today in the AME church through its commitment to

"seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy through a continuing program of
(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 thos in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, asylums and mental institutions,
senior citizens' homes; caring for the sick, the shut-in, the mentally and socially disturbed,
and (8) encouraging thrift adn economic advancement."

Birthed in the era of slavery, it can be seen why the above 8 foci would gain prominence. Within the AME church, religion is lived out as described above; not just as a belief system but a way of life. This vision has had domestic and global implications. Spreading throughout the United State, the AME prior to the Civil War brought its message and embrace to the downtrodden, marginalized and oppressed people of such major urban centers as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Detroit. For a time the AME also held congregations in the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Spreading westward, the AME started congregations on the Pacific Coast (mostly Califnorina) in the early 1850’s.

According to the AME church website "[t]he most significant era of denominational development occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction" ( ~ history). Blum notes that "scholars of African American religion in the postwar [civil] years have focused on the ways the black church served as a 'haven in a heartless world'" (Blum, 95). As the Confederate army slowly disintegrated and Union forces were recaptured Confederate ground, AME clergy were given permission to move through these states to evangelize. By 1880, the African Methodist Episcopal church had spread well into Confederate territory and added to its numbers.

AME Global MissionThe AME church, while born out of slavery in America, was not content to keep its message land locked. Bishop Henry M. Turner advocated for African Methodism to reach outside domestic frontiers and in 1891 took root in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and on to South Africa in 1896. Today the AME has 20 conferences that span internationally and include congregations in all 50 US States, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D' Ivoire, Togo-Benin, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Guyana/Suriname, the Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad/Tobago, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo, Rawanda, Burundi, Lesotho, Swaiziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Northern South America, Canada (Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec), Cuba and the UK with both men and women presiding as Bishops. (In the time this wiki was being created the AME added another district - moving from 19 to 20 - but their information is under construction so this map is not an old version though a new version is not yet available).

These Bishops, when elected, are given a life-time appointment to the districts described above. Each of these twenty districts are divided into Episcopal District presided over by Elders appointed by the Bishops. These Elders are the liaisons between the Bishop and the local congregation and are required to meet quarterly with each congregation in their assigned district. AME Organizational ChartThe Pastors of these congregations are appointed yearly by recommendation to serve from the Elder of the Episcopal District in which the congregation resides ( ~ structure). While it was common for churches established outside the mainline and traditional denominations to set up independent or congregational forms of governance, Richard Allen strongly believed that Methodism was the best form for Africans. Thus he established the foundation for the rich connectional polity that this denomination employs. The AME church's belief in unity of all believers affects the congregants, as all are welcome, its mission, as it seeks the lost nationally and abroad, and its polity, for it is a connectional church.

Education - notes link
Jeremy - editor


The AME church has been committed to education from its very inception. The first Sunday School can be traced back to 1794 at "Mother Bethel." There was a twofold reason for education within the early AME Church. First, education was a means by which to prove to whites, that previous slaves where indeed fully human. They were capable of reading, writing, and exegeting scripture. Second, having adopted a modern view of faith, learning about the Bible was a means by which to draw closer to God. This focus on education lead to the establishing of The Department of Christian Education in 1936. The purpose statement of this department reads, "The goal of the Department of Christian Education is to develop a complete, comprehensive, connectional, Bible-based curriculum that reflects our heritage, our culture, our traditions, and our achievements, and to cultivate and preserve our families, our communities, and our churches for Christian living, Christian witness, and Christian service" (Cummings, 110).

In addition to the above department, local church established preschools, grade schools, and high schools, there are several
higher education institutions that the AME support.

AME Education

Wilberforce University- Ohio
Edward Waters College- Florida
Allen University- South Carolina
Paul Quinn College-Texas

Morris Brown College- Georgia
Shorter College- Arkansas
Payne Theological Seminary- Ohio
Turner Theological Seminary- Georgia

Production and Consumption - notes link
Simon - editor

AME ReviewCultural productions have always been part of the AME church’s philosophy, starting from the very first AME hymnal - compiled by Richard Allen in 1801 and containing 54 hymns, most of them being traditional hymns sung by African Americans of the day (Waters, 1) - to scholar institutions such as Wilberforce University. During the late 19th and early 20th century, the AME church was especially active in its confrontation of racial discourse. The Church used the mainstream media, and more specifically journals such as the AME Church Review and the Christian Recorder, which are still published today. These publications usually confronted directly and often with humor and sarcasm the claims of “white superiority” of the time, through a diverse panel of forms of literature (poems, sermons, essays, articles) written mainly by scholars from the AME Church.
The apology of blackness found in these publications usually revolved around two points : the deconstruction of white superiority and the vindication of the black race. (Little 1998, 3)

At the center of this was often found criticisms of social Darwinism, which basically implied that the white race was more evolved than other colored races, and of the so-called “white burden”, which was to civilize and Christianize the inferior colored races. These ideas were refuted by scientific, religious and historical articles, often in a satirical manner, with humor sarcasm. Some ideas and debates of the time, for example, were expanded and developed to the point that they became ridiculous. Lawrence Little describes such an instance in “The African Methodist Episcopal Church Media and Racial Discourse, 1880-1900.”

“During the war with Spain in 1898, Review editors offered a stinging satire in response to a reportedly hour long debate at the International Surgical Association in Washington on the subject, "‘Do Negroes Sneeze?’" The editors declared that "In no age has such a momentous inquiry been propounded," and that no less than the relationships between black people and God and slave owners and slaves rested on the answers. Asserting that the shape of the nose rather than function accounted for the inability of black people to sneeze, the editors maintained the Germanic was "the best nose for sneezing, and may therefore be fixed upon as the ideal human nose for sounding the Adamic shibboleth." Consequently, black people must have a pre-Adamic origin. For further evidence, the editors noted that nowhere in history had there ever been a recorded "Negro sneeze" and that black people often would fake or imitate sneezing to gain entry into the human family. The editors also found a practical use for the information because a test using cayenne pepper could be devised to insure that biracial people could not use Jim Crow facilities. Through satirical criticism, the religious editors managed to call the members of the Association asses twice without direct references to the members and to expose the absurdity of the effluvium racial argument.” (Little 1998, 4)

Many of these articles also had the aim to deconstruct and reconstruct the black identity. They did not always simply want to show that black people were equal to white, or to fight injustice: some articles tried to take this idea a step further by showing that the black race was a race set aside, that it had a special history and destiny, sometimes pushing ideas of black superiority to a point that would be difficult to defend with scholarly seriousness. Altogether, though, the general idea was not only to defend black rights but to find a sense of pride in one’s blackness.
Through biology, history and mythology, some articles found the roots of humanity and civilization in Africa, refuting at once the idea that black people had no history. Some articles proved how many black kingdoms existed, inside and outside of the Bible, before even any kingdom existed in Europe.
Through genealogical research, some scholars showed the presence of black people throughout the Biblical narrative, at key points of the story, proving irrefutably and biblically the greatness of African and of its people.

Today the AME Church Review and the Christian Recorder are still being published. Although the Review has become over time of lesser importance, the Recorder is still the AME Church’s main organ. It is still published twice a month on paper and online (, translated to different languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and Nama). While it is still interested in issues of social justice, whether they concern black people or not, it has mostly become a newspaper that gives information about the AME churches’ events and actions in the US and throughout the world. In the coming years, the Recorder is expected to know some changes, making better use of its online format with videos, podcasts and being translated to more languages.

Race and Ethnicity - notes link
Ben - editor

Race and "Black Experience"
Though the AME is predominantly made up of people from African decent, it does not discriminate against any ethnic or racial group. Yet the presence of the word “African” in the church’s name points to its dedication to the black people. Race plays a crucial role in the fabric of the AME church, as it influences the understanding of God, Scripture, and self. Race is the AME church is foundational to understanding the “black experience”, a unique facet of the AME church. The idea of race was foundational to the origins of the AME church. The rejection from the white Church prompted Richard Allen to found a church for African Americans, who were not welcomed as fully included members in white churches. Although blacks had separated themselves from whites, they were not segregationist when it came to their churches. They freely allowed whites to come and participate in their church services. Blacks often received whites well as they worshiped side by side and prayed for their white counterparts. As victims of racial prejudice, the black members of the early AME church understood the pain of segregation, and did not desire to perpetuate the injustices that had been done to them.Early Segregated Church
The binarism of race (black vs. white) has also gone into shaping a black identity for the AME church. According to Michael Emerson, due to the brutal practices done by whites upon blacks, many blacks saw whites as less Christian than themselves or not Christian at all because of their brutality. Here is a quote from a woman talking about her own race:
“ I was prouder to belong to the dark race that is the most practically Christian known to history, than to the white race that in its dealings with us has for centuries shown every quality that is savage, treacherous, and unchristian.” (Emerson, 17)
These heinous acts by the white community further fostered a racial identity for the AME church. A positive view of blackness was enabled by a negative view of white hypocrisy and hate.

Through the AME church, blackness went from a reason for dismissal from the white church, to becoming a symbol of acceptance and liberty in the AME church. Richard Allen desired to implement his conception of freedom of worship and desired to be rid of the humiliation of segregation, especially in church.

Race in Theology
Race is of crucial importance in the AME. While all races are affirmed as children of God, there is a special emphasis on the black race, and the pride and honor found therein. the affirmation of blackness has been encouraged in part by the development of black theology. There exists a clear connection between the origins of Black Theology, and the contemporary AME church.
The first definition of this theology was formed in 1968 by the National Committee of Black Churchmen:

"Black Theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in light of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievement of black humanity. Black Theology is a theology of "blackness" It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says No to the encroachment of white oppression." (Cone, Documentary History, 101)

James ConeBlack theology seeks to understand Christianity in light of the black experience. It is no wonder therefore that black theology is enormously influential in the AME Church today. The most prominent voice for recent Black Theology in recent years has been Dr. James Cone, a professor Emeritus at Union Seminary and an AME pastor. In his notable book A Black Theology of Liberation (26-27). Cone lays out six primary sources of black theology:
  • Black Experience- seeking to understand existence in a society that has been largely white, and largely oppressive. This includes reclaiming pride in “blackness”
  • Black History- Black history means not only the ways that blacks were enslaved and treated once they arrived in America, but also a historical cataloging of black resistance to such oppression.
  • Black Culture- Black culture is connected to black history, and includes such things as black music and other creative artforms. Notable in this would be the study of black spirituals stemming from the days of slavery. AME churches today often emphasize traditional African dress as a way of connecting with African roots.
  • Revelation- past occurrence, but also of God's current activity in the black community.
  • Scripture-The Bible in black theology is seen primarily a text that tells the story of a God of liberation and redemption.
  • Tradition- How the Church has read scripture throughout various contexts.
Worshipers at First AME Church, Los AngelesAME Worship

Race in Scripture

Scripture is examined in part through the lens of race and the historical background of African people. Scripture reading in the contemporary AME Church has been influenced by Black Theology and is comprised of several tasks:
The first task of this “black hermeneutic” task is to remind the interpreter that the religious perspective of white people is radically different than that of the black reader. This epistemological break can be vividly demonstrated through Christian slave owners telling their slaves to obey, all while reciting Bible verses defending their actions. While both white and black Christians historically were both proclaiming "Black Jesus"Christ, their views and understandings of Christ were often diametrically opposed.
The second task of this black hermeneutic is to deconstruct any misinterpretations of the black relationship to American Christianity. This is seen as a protest against the voices that have considered blacks as being less than human. Here, race is affirmed and praised.
The third task of black hermeneutics is the quest for "self-knowledge". Hermeneutics must promote an understanding of blackness, especially in the North American context. The story of the black people informs the reading of the text, so a "generic" reading of scripture is not possible or desirable. For black theology, the meaning of scripture today is more important than what it meant in the past. (Evans, 23-24)

This idea of the AME as a healing and liberative community for issues of race came from the way people of African descent were historically viewed as “inferior” to white society.One can see the desire to affirm blackness and encourage full integration into wider society. This however does not mean that blackness is a negative quality that must be lessened. On the contrary, it affirms black people as children of God, as equals to other races.

"Our main job is to bring people to the knowledge of God, to bring Negroes to the understanding that they too are children of god, and must develop the God-like qualities of their father, to lift the spirit of Negroes out of the dust of disappointment, frustration and sin, to build solid moral character in the individual and society, to persuade America and the world to practice the principles of the Christian religion in dealings with black people, and to include them in the Christian Brotherhood." (Wright,12)

Diaspora, Place - notes link

Andrea - editor


The term African Diaspora describes the scatter of people of African descent throughout the world. People of African descent left the continent for many reasons. Some desired to escape societies ravaged by colonialism to areas where they could find more security. Some believed in the promise of intellectual and economic success that could be found elsewhere (Akyeampong, 191). However, some were forced to leave due to an international slave trade that spread the African community to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. The African presence within North, Central, and South America is most often attributed to this final reason (Akyeampong, 188). Although African-Americans have played a significant role in the history of the United States, due to continued racism and prejudice, it is difficult to it home (Akyeampong, 185). As a result African-Americans have sought to reconnect with their “homeland” in multiple ways, such as the instituting the First African Diaspora Studies Institute in 1979 in Howard University (Akyeampong, 184).

The AME Church has continued its connection to the greater African Diaspora through its commitment to missions throughout the world. The Department of Global Witness and Ministry (GWM), currently led by Dr. George F. Flowers, seeks to offer “real life, real hope, and real help” to those in need throughout the globe (See Much of department’s resources is directed towards addressing the needs of their neighbors in the Caribbean Islands and Africa. The GWM identifies the following needs present in these communities.

  1. Refugees and displaced people

  2. Hunger and poverty alleviation
  3. Clean water resource development
  4. Ministry and medicine to HIV / AIDS victims
  5. The Crop Hunger Walks
  6. The Tools and Blankets Project

The GWM has also joined with the Church World Service to create the Africa Initiative. This initiative is in the process of launching the AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program, the School Safe Zones Program, and the Eminent Persons Peacemaking Initiative.

The AME church has not only served throughout the world through missions work, but also has established congregations throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Each of these churches belong to one of seven overseas districts in the AME Church.

West Africa
David R. Daniels, Bishop
Sierra Leone; Liberia; The Ivory Coast; Ghana; Nigeria; Togo: Benin

South West Africa
Wilfred J. Messiah, Bishop
Namibia; Angola; South East part of South Africa

Caribbean Islands and London, England
Sarah F. Davis, Bishop
Guyana; Suriname; Virgin Islands-St Croix; Windward Islands-Grenada; Barbados;
Tobago; Trinidad; Jamaica; Haiti-Dominican Republic, London, England

Central and East Africa
Paul J.M. Kawimbe, Bishop
Zambia; Democratic Republic Congo (DRC); Congo Brazaville; Burudi; Rwanda

Southern Africa
E. Earl McCloud, Bishop
Botswana; Mozamobique; Lesotho, Swaziland

South Africa
Jeffery N. Leath, Bishop
Republic of South Africa-Northern Area

Central Africa
Julius H. McAllister, Bishop
Zimbabwe; Malawi; Tanzania; Uganda

Language, Body & Performance - notes link
Andrea - editor

Much can be learned about the use of language and performance within the AME Church by exploring the denomination's history of liturgy. The story begins in 1801, when Richard Allen published the first edition of his hymnal, the first hymnal created particularly for the African American community (Costen, 145). A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, Selected From Various Authors, which contained 54 hymns, was a pocket-sized collection and included only the texts of the hymns, which was typical for that era (Stanley, 1). The hymnal quickly gained so much popularity among both black and white congregations, that a second edition was published in the same year (Costen, 146). After the inaugural General Conference held in 1816, a committee comprised of Allen, Daniel Coker, James Chapman, and Jacob Tapisco gathered to create the official hymnbook of the AME Church (Costen , 146). The African Methodist Pocket Hymn Book was published in 1818, containing 314 hymns (Stanley, 1).

The publication of a hymnbook that focused on the musical traditions of the African American community was important for two reasons in particular. First, the hymnbook was a way for the music that emerged from the African American experience to be documented and preserved for future generations (Costen, 145). Such documentation also helped African American music to be recognized as a legitimate art form to the broader Christian community. Second, the hymnbook emphasized the relationship between literacy and spirituality that was evident throughout society. Many slaves were denied the right to learn how to read and write (Callahan, 11-14). Illiteracy not only attempted to keep slaves ignorant of the possibility of emancipation through the work of abolitionists listed in the newspaper, but also ignorant of the redemption that was depicted in the pages of Scripture. Fortunately, African American slaves were able to see beyond the biblical directives towards submission and obedience that plantation owners emphasized and found a God of justice who loved all of His creation (Callahan, 83-137). Placing the spirituals in written form not only preserved the music of the African American experience, but also the unique understanding of God that was present in the spirituality of the slave.

The liturgy of the AME Church includes these spirituals, as well as hymns, gospel songs, anthems, and other songs from the global Christian community. The following is an example of the liturgy presented in the 1984 AMEC Bicentennial Hymnal (Costen, 147). However it is important to recognize that each church has the freedom to adjust the liturgy to better fit the personality of the congregation. Musical elements of the liturgy are presented in italics.

Processional Hymn
Call to Worship
Hymn of Praise
Choral Response
Prayer of Confession S
cripture Lessons (Responsive Reading)
Hymn (to introduce the Decalogue): “From All that Dwell” (tune: Woodworth)
First Commandment
Changed Response
Hymn: “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us and Incline Our Heart to Keep This Low” (music by J. T. Layton)
Second Commandment
Chanted Response
Hymn: “Lord, have Mercy…”
Third Commandment
Chanted Response
Hymn: “Nearer, My God, to Thee” (music by Lowell Mason)
Fourth Commandment
Chanted Response
Hymn: “My Soul be on Thy Guard” (music by George Frederick Handel)
Fifth-Tenth Commandments
Chanted Response (after each one)
Hymn: “Nearer, My God, to Thee” (music by Lowell Mason)
Or: Summary of the Decalogue Gloria Patri (tune: Greatorex)
Benevolent Offering
Announcements and Parish Concerns
Hymn of Preparation (“sermonic”hymn)
The Lord’s Prayer (chanted) – optional
Invitation of Christian Discipleship
Hymn of Invitation
The Apostles’ Creed
The Offertory
Special Music from the Choir
Choral Response
Doxology (Closing Hymn) [It is not clear whether one or both are to used]
Recessional (Costen, 147-148)

There is also a physical element to the performance of the liturgy in the AME Church (See For example, congregants traditionally receive Holy Communion with the right hand, because the left hand is considered to be unclean in biblical times and even today in the Middle East. For the same reason, the Missionary Benediction is positioned with the right arm on top of the left arm and blessings are given by extending either the right hand alone or both hands, but never the left hand alone.

The performance elements of worship in the AME Church have continued to transform as the denomination has continued to grow. Richard Allen had more evangelical posture and favored a more enthusiastic style of preaching (Roberts, 164). As evident by the songs included in his hymnal, he recognized the value of the African American cultural and religious expressions. This sentiment is also evident in the ninth and tenth stanzas of a hymn he composed before 1801, entitled Spiritual Song (Waters, 1).

When Peter was preaching, and boldly was teaching,AME MCAM Logo
The way of salvation in Jesus’ name,
The spirit descended and some were offended,
And said of the men they were fill’d with new wine.
I never yet doubted but some of them shouted,
While others lay prostrate by power struck down,
Some weeping, some praying, while others were saying,
They are as drunk as fools, or in falsehood abound.

Our time is a-flying, our moments a-dying,
We are led to improve them and quickly appear,
For the bless’d hour when Jesus in power,
In glory shall come is now drawing near,
Methinks there will be shouting, and I’m not doubting,
But crying and screaming for mercy in vain:
Therefore my dear Brother, let’s now pray together,
That your precious soul may be fill’d with the flame (Waters, 4-5).

Later bishops, however, encouraged more European-oriented anthems, hymns, and liturgies in an effort to be more suitable to mainstream society (Roberts, 166). Despite these changes, the AME church has maintained its commitment to the denomination’s rich performance history through the Music and Christian Arts Ministry (See The purpose of MCAM is “to promote Music and Christian Arts used for Worship in the AME Church, educate the leadership, and preserve the musical heritage and tradition of the AME Church.

Bethel AME Church Dance Ministry

Womanism/Feminism - notes link
Mary Marjorie- Editor

AME Women and Preaching

The General Conference of the AME Church first approved the ordination of women in 1948, the culmination of 174 years of struggle of both men and women in the AME Church: “[I]t would take 104 years for AME women to achieve ministerial authorization and another 46 years for their candidacy for the order of bishop to be considered” (Wessinger, 124). Women in the AME Church started requesting for ordination as early as the 1840s. In the following, a brief history of the AME Church's journey towards women's ordination is addressed.

Julian Jane Tilman, Preacher of the AME ChurchJarena Lee was the first African-American woman to make a request to preach (late 18th-early 19th century). Rev. Richard Allen of Philadelphia denied her first request, but later in 1817 she requested a second time. By this time, the AME Church was officially organized and Rev. Richard Allen was now bishop. He had a concern for equipping enough people to preach in the AME Church since their numbers of preachers were small. Bishop Allen decided to let Jarena Lee preach within the context of her home. Also by this time, women made up the majority of the AME Church and they were the reason for the growth of many AME churches. By the 1840s, many women were unofficial preachers and teachers in their homes, often instructing both men and women. This was the first of many steps to their full acceptance as preachers in the AME Church.

AME women’s groups also contributed to the transformation of the structure of the AME church. One of these was Daughters of the Conference (1816) that existed in almost every AME congregation. They focused on taking care of the needs of their pastors by providing food, repairing clothing, etc. In a similar vein, a group of women in New York City in the 1920s held their own religious gatherings and distributed Christian literature.

It was out of women’s transformational activity that the issue of women's roles in the church was brought before the General Conference. Before the 1860s, women were denied the rights to preach or any official role in the AME church at four General Conferences, which was male dominated since only appointed leaders in the AME Church could attend the General Conference. In the 1860s, women’s ordination became more critical. This is because of various factors that continued to emerge throughout AME's history. For one and as stated before, there were more women members in the church than men. They also contributed greatly to the ministry of the church. As a response to these realitys, the 1868 General Conference decided to organize a new title in the church called “Stewardess” in which women were appointed to in the church to serve other women. This was the first official role for women in the AME Church. The role of the stewardess had no power to legislate, but were assistants and looked after the women in the AME church. The role of the deaconess was also created at the end of the 19th century. Along with being assistants, they also visited the sick, took care of women who needed help and looked after the training of young girls.

AME Women and Missions
Connectional Women's Missionary Society

After the Civil War, AME church experienced an influx of new members from the abolition of slavery. The AME church also started focusing more on foreign missions and two women missionary organizations were organized. There was the Women’s Parent Mite Missionary (WPMM) and the Woman’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society (WHFMS). After a political battle between the two societies, the two merged in 1944. Sara J. Duncan, the organizer and leader of WHFMS, encouraged the inclusively of the organization. Duncan's goal with the organization was to “[d]emolish the myth of women's inability to work productively outside the home, but ended up arguing, however, not for women's equality, but more romantically for women's superiority in missions” (Angell and Pinn, 273). The WPMM and the WHFS used feminist interpretation to characterize their missionary work to Africa. They characterized Africa as the motherland, to whom they have a deep responsibility to nurture to and to bring the Gospel.

Though women's roles were increasing in the church, they were still restricted from preaching, a position of power that was valued the most in the AME Church. It was four years after the merging of the two women's missionary societues that in 1948, AME Church authorized the ordination of women. It was not until the 1980s that a women held every position in the AME church except bishop: “Clearly, during the next quadrennial, 1994-1998, women should continue to pursue another aspect of their goal of full participation in the Church’s formal polity" (Wessinger, 136).
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Another big step for women in the AME Church was with the election of AME's first woman bishop. On July 11, 2000, the AME Church appointed their first female bishop in the 217-year history in the election of Vashti Murphy McKenzie. She was the first to pastor the Payne Memorial AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland and while she served there she also sought election to become bishop. She was the 117th bishop of General Conference 2000. She made history again when she became the first woman president of the Council of Bishops of the AME Church. Vashti McKenzie represents a breakthrough for women in the AME Church. The year 2000 marks the year that a woman has served in every position of polity in the AME Church.

Vashti McKenzie Preaching

African Methodist Episcopal - Church in Mission @ FTS
Dreams of AME Women:

The present hope is to work against the marginalization of African American women by emphasizing the interpretion of the Bible through their perspective, or as it is formally named, through womanist hermeneutics. Renita Weems is an example of this because she is emphasizes that African American women are caught in between two worlds: one of the minority as a black and the other world of the majority as Western/North American. No only are feminist biblical hermeneutics marginalized but black women’s hermeneutics is even more marginalized. It is from the specificity of the experience of the African American woman that womanist hermeneutics seperates from feminist hermeneutics. Womanist theology stresses that the male/black liberation does not fully understand the experiences and marginalization of females. Certain biblical stories, specifically those related to women and their denigration should be re-read in a different manner than the historical reading. This means coming up with a new way of reading and interpreting these particular scriptures in order to shed light on the oppressive nature of certain Biblical readings as well as to find liberation in the Bible for African American women. Reading biblical stories should be done in a manner which challenges the perspective of the worldview during the writers time and re-interprets the scriptures in order to see God’s liberation activity in today’s world (Sugirtharajah, 30-33). These are the dreams for womanist theologians.

Conclusion - notes link

Mary Marjorie - Editor

The entire history of the AME Church has seen significant developments in each of the areas of studies addressed above. The reader can see that overall the AME Church is characterized with a willingness and perseverence to work for peace among everyone, with particular interest in the liberation of the African American people. Through their commitment to Biblical interpretation to liberate the oppressed as well as their focus to preserve African American identity, the AME Church remains vibrant and strong in America and across the globe. As significant development and growth is portrayed through the study above, so too does the AME Church continue to thrive and grow today. It is the hope of this study that you, the reader, will be enlightened by the knowledge shared with you, as well as encouraged to experience the AME Church by either attending a Sunday morning AME worship service, talking with a friend who belongs to an AME church or become convicted enough to stand in solidarity with the AME Church as they work for the equal rights and freedom for everyone.

Works Cited

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Affairs, 99, 183-215. - Andrea

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Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United
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1793: With an Address to the People of Color in the United States
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Angell, Stephen W. and Anthony B. Pinn, eds, Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist
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Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. 2nd ed.
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Baldwin, Lewis V. "Invisible" Strands in African Methodism: A History of the African
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Blum, Edward J., and W. Scott Poole. Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction.
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Bolger, Ryan. "Universality." Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. Oct. 2008.

Callahan, Allen Dwight. The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible. New Haven:
Yale University Press. 2006. - Andrea

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation, 2nd ed. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis. 1986.

Cone, James H. and Wilmore, S. Gayraud eds. Black Theology: A Documentary History,
Volume One: 1966-1979. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. 1979.

Costen, Melva Wilson, In Spirit and in Truth: The Music of African American Worship,
(Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 145-148. - Andrea

Cummings, Frank. The First Episcopal Districts Historical Review of 200 years of African
Methodism. Philadelphia, 1987.

Emerson, Michael O. People of the Dream. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2008.

Evans, James H. Jr., We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology.
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Gregg, Robert. Sparks from the Anvil of Oppression: Philadelphia's African Methodists and
Southern Migrants, 1890-1940. New York: Temple UP, 1998.

Knoll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Little, Lawrence S. Disciples of Liberty: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Age
of Imperialism,1884-1916. New York: University of Tennessee P, 2000.

Little, Lawrence. The African Methodist Episcopal Church media and Racial Discourse, 1880-1900”.
The North Star, Vol. 2, Number 1, Fall 1998 (

Metuchen, N.J.: American Theological Library Association; Scarecrow Press, 1983.

Payne, Daniel Alexander. History of the African Methodist Church. Nashville: AME Sunday
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Robeck, Cecil M. Modern Church History. Fuller Theological Seminary. Pasadena. April 2008.

Roberts, Samuel K. African American Christian Ethics, Cleveland, The Pilgrim Press, 2001

Stanely, Kathryn V. Our Treasured Hymnals: A Revered Publishing Tradition in Black Religious
Music, Started in 1801, Continues Today. Black Issues Book Review, Nov-Dec 2004

Sugirtharajah, R. S. ed. Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. Rev. and
expanded 3rd ed., Maryknoll N Y: Orbis Books, 2006.

Waters, Sr., Kenneth L. Liturgy, Spirituality, and Polemic in the Hymnody of Richard Allen.
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Wright, Richard R.. The Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Philadelphia: The Book Concern of the AME Church, 1947.

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