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African Methodist Episcopal Church

AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH

AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH (AMEC), the first separatist African American denomination. Many Methodist churches, especially in Philadelphia, had large numbers of black members whose growing hostility to racial discrimination within the church prompted Richard Allen, a licensed Methodist preacher, to lead a mass withdrawal from St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, in 1787. Allen subsequently helped to organize the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Philadelphia. In 1816, five black congregations came together to create the African Methodist Episcopal Church, with Allen as its first bishop.

The AMEC's strength resided in its benevolent associations—the Free African Societies—which concerned themselves with racial solidarity and abolitionism. Bethel Church was a station on the Underground Railroad and many members of First AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were involved in the Denmark Vesey slave uprising of 1822. AME churches sought to provide both social services and education. Bishop Daniel Payne spearheaded the campaign to establish Wilberforce University, the first institution of higher education founded by African Americans, in 1856. The AMEC grew from 20,000 members in 1861 to 400,000 in 1896, a process aided by expansion into the Caribbean and Africa.

Church structures and doctrines were modeled after the original Methodist Episcopal Church. AME bishops tend to have greater power than among the United Methodists, and the Church places a great emphasis on social service, for which congregations have a host of auxiliary organizations to accomplish their objectives. The Church is run by a General Conference that meets every four years, but has no established national headquarters. It supports five colleges and two seminaries and began to ordain women in 1948.


Associated with the AMEC, though a separate denomination, is the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZC). In 1796, Peter Williams led a group of black Methodists out of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City. This group established Zion Church, which was incorporated as an African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1801, with the provision that membership be limited to those of African descent. Zion Church retained a close relationship with the African Methodist Episcopal Church until 1820, when a conflict arose over AMEC preachers sent to New York by Richard Allen. The first bishop of the AMEZC was James Varick, who had helped establish Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper in the United States. The AMEZC grew to 350,000 members by 1896. Two of its more prominent members were Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Like the AMEC, the AMEZC is run by a General Conference, but its bishops have considerable autonomy in interpreting Church regulations. There is no court of appeal for episcopal decisions and the traditions of a local church may override aspects of church teaching. The Church maintains one college and one seminary, both in Livingston, North Carolina. In 1891, it became the first black denomination to permit the ordination of women.

In the twentieth century, the AMEC showed an increasing interest in black liberation theology, pentecostalism, and political activism. Floyd Flake, pastor of Allen AME Church in Queens, New York, won several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1999, the African Methodist Episcopal Church had 2,500,000 members and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church had 1,276,000 members.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gregg, Howard D. History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: The Black Church in Action. Nashville, Tenn.: AMEC, 1980.

Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.

Little, Lawrence S. Disciples of Liberty: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Age of Imperialism, 1884–1916. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.

Walls, William J. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black Church. Charlotte, N.C.: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974.

JeremyBonner

See alsoAfrican American Religions and Sects ; Denominationalism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation .

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African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Methodist denomination. It was founded in 1796 by black members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City and was organized as a national body in 1821. The church operates in the United States, Africa, South America, and the West Indies and maintains Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. The U.S. membership of the church in 1998 was about 1.2 million, making it one of the largest African Methodist bodies.

See D. H. Bradley, A History of the A.M.E. Zion Church (2 vol., 1956–70).

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African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist denomination (see Methodism). It was established in 1816 in Philadelphia with Richard Allen as its first bishop. In 1991 there were about 3.5 million members in the United States.

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AMEZC

AMEZC African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

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