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African Methodist Episcopal Church (15710 hits)

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Background and Summary

The African Methodist Episcopal church, usually called the AME church, is a Christian denomination founded by the Bishop Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1816. The motto of the church is: "God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother."

The church’s name, broken down, is as follows: African—the AME church was organized by people of African descent. The church was not founded in Africa, nor is it only for persons of African descent. The church is open to people of all races; Methodist—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, and Episcopal—the AME church operates under an Episcopal form of church government. The denomination leaders are Bishops of the church. Episcopal, in this sense, refers to the form of government under which the church operates.

The AME church has a unique history in that it is the first major religious denomination in the Western world that had its origin over sociological rather than theological beliefs and differences, and is the first Black organized and incorporated denomination in the U.S. The AME church also sponsored the first independent historical Black college/university: Wilberforce University in Ohio. The church was born in protest against slavery, against dehumanization of African people, brought to the American continent as free labor. This fit well with the Methodist church's philosophy since its founder John Wesley had once called the slave-trade "that execrable sum of all villanies."

Modest Beginnings

The AME church grew out of the Free African Society, which Allen, Absalom Jones and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. The church was organized by Black members of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church. The incident that led to their separation and subsequent establishment of the AME sect was the removal of Jones from St. George's while he was in the act of prayer by the trustees of the church. The congregation supported the trustees’ actions, and Allen and Jones led Black members out of St. George's together in protest. Allen went on to form the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in 1793.  They adopted the doctrines and form of government of the Methodist Episcopal church. Jones affiliated with the Protestant Episcopal church and would go on to become the first Black priest in the Episcopal church.

When officials at St. George’s literally pulled Blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far White Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against Blacks. Hence, these former 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 serving as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence and protect against interfering Methodists, Allen, once a Delaware slave, successfully sued for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and then in 1815. Because Black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities were encountering racism and desired religious autonomy as well, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination that would be the AME.

While the AME is doctrinally Methodist, clergy, scholars and lay persons have written important works that demonstrate the distinctive theology and praxis that have defined the 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. And then, in the post civil rights era, theologians James Cone, Cecil W. Cone and Jacqueline Grant, who all came out of the AME tradition, critiqued Euro-centric Christianity and Black-American churches for their shortcomings in fully impacting the plight of those oppressed by racism, s*xism and economic disadvantage.

Building the Religion

The AME motto, "God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother," reflects the basic beliefs of the AME church. The basic foundations of the beliefs of the church can be summarized in the The Apostles' Creed and The 25 Articles of Religion.

The Mission of the AME church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and environmental needs of all people by spreading Christ's liberating gospel through word and deed. At every level of the connection and in every local church, the AME church shall engage in carrying out the spirit of the original FAS, out of which the AME church evolved: that is, to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy through a continuing program of: First, preaching the gospel; second, feeding the hungry; third, clothing the naked; fourth, housing the homeless; fifth, cheering the fallen; sixth, providing jobs for the jobless; seventh, 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, and lastly, encouraging thrift and economic advancement.

The General Conference is the supreme body of the AME church. It is composed of the Bishops, ex-officio presidents, according to the rank of election, and an equal number of ministerial and lay delegates, each elected by each of the Annual Conferences and the electoral colleges of the Annual Conferences. Other ex-officio members are: the general officers, college presidents, deans of theological seminaries and Chaplains in the regular armed forces of the U.S. 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 general oversight of the church during the interim between General Conferences. The Council of Bishops meets annually at such time and place as the majority of the Council determines and also at such other times as may be deemed necessary. The Council of Bishops holds at least two public sessions at each annual meeting. At the first, complaints and petitions against a Bishop are heard, and at the second, the decisions of the Council are made public. All decisions are in writing.

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 is, in many respects, the administrative body and is comprised of various departmental commissions made up of a secretary-treasurer, the general secretary, the general treasurer and the members of the various commissions, as well as one Bishop who is the presiding officer with the other Bishops associating.The Judicial Council is the highest judicatory body of the AME church. It is an appellate court, elected by the General Conference and is amenable to it.

The AME church estimates around 5,000,000 members worldwide, 2.5 million in America, 9,000 ministers, and 7,000 congregations in more than 30 nations in North and South America, Africa and Europe. Twenty bishops and 12 general officers comprise the leadership of the denomination

The AME church is a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ and the World Council of Churches. It should be noted that the AME church is not the same as the U.A.M.E. church founded in Delaware by Peter Spencer in 1813, nor the AME Zion church, founded in New York by James Varick.



The AME church has been one of the forerunners of education within the Black community.

Former Colleges & Universities of the church:


Junior Colleges:

Theological Seminaries:

Sources:; Hill, Samuel S., Encyclopedia of Religion in the South; The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church 2000; The AMEC Book of Worship;Gregg, Howard D.,  History of the AME Church: The Black Church in Action; Cone, James H., "God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother: A Theological Interpretation of the AME Church." AME Church Review, Volume CVI, No. 341, 1991;;; style="background: #f8fcff">

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