African Union Methodism
African Union Methodism
African Union Methodism is the common name shared by those churches stemming from the movement founded by the Maryland ex-slave Peter Spencer in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1805. In its contemporary usage, it refers to the African Union Methodist Protestant (AUMP) Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal (UAME) Church, the only two remaining bodies with roots in the Spencer tradition.
In June 1805 Spencer and William Anderson led some forty African Americans out of the predominantly white Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington. Racial discrimination and the desire for black religious independence figured prominently in the secession. The dissenters immediately formed Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church, designed to function as a black "mission church" under the auspices of Asbury Church and the Methodist Episcopal Conference. A second secession occurred in 1813, mainly because of the arbitrary exercise of power against blacks by white elders and disputes over seating arrangements. On September 18, 1813, Spencer took the lead in organizing the Union Church of Africans, also known variously as the Union Church of African Members, the African Union Church, the African Union Methodist Church, and the Union Methodist Connexion.
The new denomination remained essentially Methodist in its articles of religion, general rules, discipline, and multiple conference system. However, the episcopacy, the itineracy, and the strong connectional system of the Methodists were rejected in favor of a more democratic style involving lay elders, elder ministers, deacons, licensed preachers, local congregational autonomy, and the stationed pastorate.
Beginning in the 1850s, a series of schisms interfered with the growth and development of the Spencer churches. In 1855 to 1856 conflict in the Union Church of Africans over the authority of elder ministers resulted in the formation of a rival body known as the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1866 the remaining congregations in the Union Church of Africans merged with the First Colored Methodist Protestant Church of Baltimore, Maryland, resulting in the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, also called the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. A serious rift occurred in the UAME Church in 1935 when three candidates ran unsuccessfully for the episcopacy. This schism culminated in the organization of the rival Reformed Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, a body that no longer exists.
From their founding, the AUMP and UAME churches have remained regional due to insufficient resources, poor missionary outreach, the lack of strong connectional systems, numerous schisms, and a dearth of vigorous, educated leadership. In 1990 both the AUMP and the UAME churches reported fewer than ten thousand members located in congregations in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. Since the late 1970s the UAME Church has also struggled to build congregations in parts of the West Indies.
Both the AUMP and the UAME churches remain significantly smaller and less socially active than the larger national branches of black Methodism, such as the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church.
Baldwin, Lewis V. "Invisible" Strands in African Methodism: A History of the African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal Churches, 1805–1980. Philadelphia: American Theological Library Association, 1983.
Baldwin, Lewis V. The Mark of a Man: Peter Spencer and the African Union Methodist Tradition. Lanhan, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.
Russell, Daniel J. History of the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. Philadelphia: Union Star, 1920.
lewis v. baldwin (1996)