BHM 2021- Richard Allen an early American Christian pioneer and first AME Bishop

Richard Allen

"One of the first well known Black churches in America was created before the American Revolution, around 1758. Called the African Baptist or "Bluestone" Church, this house of worship was founded near the Bluestone River, in Mecklenburg, Virginia. This church is just an early example of Black Americans' religious experiences, stemming in large part from the revivalistic spirit of the Great Awakening, which lasting roughly from 1740 to 1790, witnessed the conversion of large numbers of blacks to Christianity. I first learned about the great works of Richard Allen on visits to the campus of Wilberforce University when I was a student at Central State in Ohio. The Martin Luther King Republicans(MLKR) encourage you to study more about how the Black church is considered one of the foundational and most influential institutions in Black America. And as always, please COMMENT, LIKE, and SHARE. Thank you."- Jimmy Lee Tillman, II founder, and president.

Richard Allen was born in Philadelphia. He was a Black religious leader, founder, and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

Allen was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution, Richard Allen grew up in an era characterized by the advocacy of individual rights, the growth of denominational Christianity, and the inception of the antislavery movement. Around 1768, Allen's owner, a Philadelphia lawyer named Benjamin Chew, sold him, his three siblings, and his parents to Stokely Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware. With Sturgis's permission, Allen began to attend Methodist meetings, and around 1777 he was converted to Methodism.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, Methodism increased in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. This Christian denomination emphasized a simple set of virtues that included honesty, modesty, and sobriety. Following his conversion in 1780, Sturgis agreed to let Allen hire himself to earn money to purchase his freedom for $2000. In addition to doing manual labor, Allen began to preach at Methodist churches in Delaware and neighboring states. In 1786, Allen paid his last installment to Sturgis and became free.

Absalom Jones

That same year, Allen accepted an invitation to preach at St. George's Church in Philadelphia, a mixed-race congregation of Methodists. Within a short time, Allen dramatically increased St. George's Black membership, and the building could no longer accommodate the growing congregation. White elders at St. George rejected Allen's request for a separate place of worship for African American members. Instead, they chose to construct separated seating within the church by installing a balcony. In 1787, discouraged by the fact that the Black worshippers who had helped build the balcony would be relegated to sitting there, Allen joined the Rev. Absalom Jones to found the Free African Society, a nondenominational religious association and mutual aid organization. However, Allen's Methodist enthusiasm drove him to leave the Free African Society after two years because of the organization's nondenominational orientation.

Allen's commitment to Methodism also compelled him to stay at St. George's despite the segregated seating arrangement. One Sunday morning in 1792, Jones challenged St. George's segregated seating arrangement by sitting downstairs. In the middle of the opening prayer, two white trustees forced Jones to leave. Allen and other Black members who had been seated in the balcony then walked out of St. George's. Until this incident, few Black Methodists had been receptive to Allen's call to establish an independent Black church. On August 12, 1792, members of the Free African Society founded The African Church of Philadelphia. Because of the Methodists' discriminatory treatment of Blacks, the church was consecrated as part of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and Jones became the denomination's first Black priest.

However, Allen remained faithful to Methodism and used his savings to buy a former blacksmith's shop and transplant it onto a plot of land he had previously purchased in Philadelphia. After renovations, Bethel African Church opened on February 4, 1794, and Allen was ordained its deacon. After Bethel was officially initiated at the 1796 Methodist conference, white Methodist officials attempted to gain control over Allen's church. Still, a Pennsylvania Supreme court ruling in 1807 declared that the Black Methodist congregation owned the property on which they worshiped and determined who would preach there. Following Allen's example, many Black Methodists formed African Methodist Churches in northeastern cities. Because all experienced similar challenges from white Methodists, Allen organized a convention of Black Methodists in 1816 to address their shared problems.

The leaders decided to unite their churches under the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Accordingly, they gained control over their churches' governance and placed themselves beyond white ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The attendant's elected Allen bishop of the new denomination, a position he held until his death in 1831. The AME Church immediately became a center of Black institutional life. As its leader, Allen created the Bethel Benevolent Society and the African Society for the Education of Youth. He also published articles in Freedom's Journal attacking slavery and organizations such as the American Colonization Society. Because Allen believed enslaved and free Black Americans could be best served through education and religious instruction, he opposed organizations that advocated Black Americans' migration to Africa.

Although the AME Church initiated missionary efforts in such countries as Haiti and Canada during the late 1820s, Allen kept the church focused on elevating Black Americans, especially those in the South. As he said, "We will never separate ourselves voluntarily from the slave population in this country; they are our brethren and we feel there is more virtue in suffering privations with them than fancied advantage for a season." The AME Church increased in the South after the Civil War and today has a membership of more than 1.2 million.

Reference: An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin Andrew McMickle Judson Press, Copyright 2002 ISBN 0-817014-02-0

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