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African Methodist Episcopal Church
African Methodist Episcopal Church
God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, usually called the A.M.E. Church or AME, is a predominantly African-AmericanMethodist denomination. It is the first independent Protestant denomination to be founded by black people. It was founded by the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1816 from several black Methodist congregations in the mid-Atlantic area that wanted independence from white Methodists. It was among the first denominations in the United States to be founded on racial rather than theological distinctions and has persistently advocated for the civil and human rights of African Americans through social improvement, religious autonomy, and political engagement. Allen, a deacon in Methodist Episcopal Church, was consecrated its first bishop in 1816 by a conference of five churches from Philadelphia to Baltimore. The denomination then expanded west and south, particularly after the Civil War. By 1906, the AME had a membership of about 500,000, more than the combined total of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, making it the largest major African-American Methodist denomination. The AME currently has 20 districts, each with its own bishop: 13 are based in the United States, mostly in the South, while seven are based in Africa. The global membership of the AME is around 2.5 million and it remains one of the largest Methodist denominations in the world.
The AME Church was created and organized by people of African descent (most descended from enslaved Africans taken to the Americas) as a response to being officially discriminated against by white congregants in the Methodist church. The church was not founded in Africa, nor is it exclusively for people of African descent. It is open and welcoming to people of all ethnic groups, origins, nationalities, and colors, although its congregations are predominantly made of up Black Americans.
The church's roots are in the Methodist church. Members of St. George's Methodist Church left the congregation when faced with racial discrimination, but continued with the Methodist doctrine and the order of worship.
Derived from Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne's original motto "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother", which served as the AME Church motto until the 2008 General Conference, when the current motto was officially adopted.
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. Sixteen representatives, from Bethel African Church in Philadelphia and African churches in Baltimore, MD, Wilmington, DE, Attleboro, PA, and Salem, NJ, met to form a church organization or connection under the title of the "African Methodist Episcopal Church" (AME Church).
It began with eight clergy and five 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.
AME put a high premium on education. 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. By 1880, AME operated over 2,000 schools, chiefly in the South, with 155,000 students. For school houses they used church buildings; the ministers and their wives were the teachers; the congregations raised the money to keep schools operating at a time the segregated public schools were starved of funds.
After the Civil War Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) was a major leader of the AME and played a role in Republican Party politics. In 1863 during the Civil War, Turner was appointed as the first black chaplain in the United States Colored Troops. Afterward, he was appointed to the Freedmen's Bureau in Georgia. He settled in Macon, Georgia, and was elected to the state legislature in 1868 during Reconstruction. He planted many AME churches in Georgia after the war.
In 1880 he was elected as the first southern bishop of the AME Church after a fierce battle within the denomination. Angered by the Democrats' regaining power and instituting Jim Crow laws in the late nineteenth century South, Turner was the leader of black nationalism and proposed emigration of blacks to Africa.
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 race 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.
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, criticized Euro-centric Christianity and African-American churches for their shortcomings in resolving the plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.
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 four years. The AME church also follows the rule that a minister of the denomination must retire at age 75, with bishops, more specifically, being required to retire upon the General Conference nearest their 75th birthday.
1918 A.M.E. Church, Cairo, Illinois
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.
preaching the gospel,
feeding the hungry,
clothing the naked,
housing the homeless,
cheering the fallen,
providing jobs for the jobless,
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,
encouraging thrift and economic advancement., and
bringing people back into church.
Colleges, seminaries and universities
The African Methodist Episcopal Church has been one of the forerunners of education within the African-American community.
The General Conference is the supreme body of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is composed of the Bishops, as ex officio presidents, according to the rank of election, and an equal number of ministerial and lay delegates, elected by each of the Annual Conferences and the lay Electoral Colleges of the Annual Conferences. Other ex officio members are: the General Officers, College Presidents, Deans of Theological Seminaries; Chaplains in the Regular Armed Forces of the U.S.A. The General Conference meets every four years, but may have extra sessions in certain emergencies.
The Council of Bishops is the Executive Branch of the Connectional Church. It has the general oversight of the Church during the interim between General Conferences. The Council of Bishops shall meet annually at such time and place as the majority of the Council shall determine and also at such other times as may be deemed necessary in the discharging its responsibility as the Executive Branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Council of Bishops shall hold at least two public sessions at each annual meeting. At the first, complaints and petitions against a Bishop shall be heard, at the second, the decisions of the Council shall be made public. All decisions shall be in writing.
Board of Incorporators
The Board of Incorporators, also known as the General Board of Trustees, has the supervision, in trust, of all connectional property of the Church and is vested with authority to act in behalf of the Connectional Church wherever necessary.
The General Board
The General Board is in many respects the administrative body and comprises various departmental Commissions made up of the respective Secretary-Treasurer, the General Secretary of the AME Church, the General Treasurer and the members of the various Commissions and one Bishop as presiding officer with the other Bishops associating.
The Judicial Council is the highest judicatory body of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is an appellate court, elected by the General Conference and is amenable to it.
AME Connectional Health Commission
The Connectional Health Commission serves, among other tasks, to help the denomination understand health as an integral part of the faith of the Christian Church, to seek to make our denomination a healing faith community, and to promote the health concerns of its members. One of the initiatives of the commission is the establishment of an interactive website that will allow not only health directors, but the AMEC membership at-large to access health information, complete reports, request assistance. This website serves as a resource for members of the AMEC, and will be the same for anyone who accesses the website. Additionally, as this will be an interactive site, it will allow health directors to enter a password protected chat room to discuss immediate needs and coordinate efforts for relief regionally, nationally and globally.
It is through this website that efforts to distribute information about resources and public health updates, and requests for services may be coordinated nationally. This will allow those who access the website to use one central location for all resource information needs.
Bishop Vinton Randolph Anderson (1927-2014), first African American to be elected President of the World Council of Churches, headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (served January 1991 - December 1998); author of My Soul Shouts and subject of an edited work (Gayraud Wilmore & Louis Charles Harvey, editors), A Model of A Servant Bishop; first native Bermudian elected a bishop in any church/denomination.
Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant (1971- ), founded Empowerment Temple (A.M.E. Church) in Baltimore in 2000 with a congregation of 43 people. Today more than 7,500 members attend weekly services at this large influential congregation.
Rev. Daniel Coker (1780-1846), born "Issac Wright" in Baltimore, Maryland to mixed-race parents. Famous preacher and abolitionist. Ordained deacon in the new Methodist Episcopal Church by Bishop Francis Asbury in 1802 in Baltimore. Led Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. Participated in the organization of the national A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia in 1816. By 1820, sent as missionary to Sierra Leone, British colony in West Africa and considered founder of national Methodist Church there.
The Rev. Dennis C. Dickerson, Ph.D., Director of the Research and Scholarship and Professor at Vanderbilt University (retired).
Bishop William Heard (1850-1937), A.M.E. minister and educator. Appointed by the U.S. government as "Minister Resident/Consul General" to Republic of Liberia, (1895-1898).
Rev. Dr. Frank M. Reid III (1951- ), Pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore from 1988-2016. Rev. Reid started The Bethel Outreach of Love Broadcast; Bethel was the first AME Church to have an international TV broadcast. Was selected as the 26th most influential person in Baltimore by local regional publication, Baltimore Magazine. His congregation's members include the mayor and city comptroller of Baltimore. He consulted for the TV show Amen, and guest starred several times on the popular HBO cable TV series The Wire. As of 2016, he was elevated to episcopal service as the 138th bishop of the A.M.E. Church.
The Rev. Dr. Calvin H. Sydnor III, the 20th Editor of The Christian Recorder, the official newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (www.the-Christian-recorder.org)
Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835-1923), author of An Apology for African Methodism (1867), editor of the Christian Recorder, AME publication, and founder of the AME Church Review. As a bishop, presided over AME parishes, first, in Canada, Bermuda, and the West Indies, later, in New England, New York, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania.
Jarena Lee (1783-1864): First woman preacher in the A.M.E. church given the blessing to do so by founder, Richard Allen. The First African American Woman in the United States to have an autobiography published.
The AME Church is active regarding issues of social justice and has invested time in reforming the criminal justice system. The AME Church also opposes "elective abortion". On women's issues, the AME has supported gender equality and, in 2000, first elected a woman to become bishop. In 2004, the denomination voted to prohibit same-sex marriages in its churches, but did not establish a position on ordination. However, bishops of the church have stated that openly LGBT persons are not ordained. There are openly gay clergy ordained in the AME and "the AME Church's Doctrine and Discipline has no explicit policy regarding gay clergy". In 2019, the Council of Bishops decided to allow a proposal to allow same-sex marriages in church to be considered at the General Conference in 2020.
During the 2016 General Conference, the AME Church invited Hillary Clinton to offer an address to the delegates and clergy. Additionally, the AME Church voted to take "a stand against climate change".