The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of the Free African Society, a mutual aid organization that Richard Allen founded in 1787. Allen, a Philadelphia-born slave who had purchased his freedom in Delaware, had experience as an itinerant Methodist preacher and associate of the famed Francis Asbury. An ugly racial incident at St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia convinced Allen to start another branch of Methodism which affirmed in practice the equality of all human beings. Though he led his followers in building Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1794, white Methodists tried to assert authority over its congregational affairs. In 1801, however, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania confirmed Bethel’s autonomy. In 1816 Allen convened black Methodists from other middle Atlantic communities to form the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. He was consecrated the first bishop of the church.
The A.M.E. Church rapidly spread during the antebellum period to every section of the United States and into Canada and Haiti. On the slave soil of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and for a time South Carolina were numerous A.M.E. congregations. During the Civil War A.M.E. ministers recruited soldiers into the Union Army and served themselves as military chaplains. Even before the war ended A.M.E. missionaries traveled into the former Confederacy to draw freedmen into the denomination. As membership swelled to 400,000 by 1880, A.M.E. leaders, both clergy and lay, sat in Reconstruction legislatures, held seats in Congress, and served in scores of other political offices.
Formal entry into West Africa in 1891 and South Africa in 1896 made the denomination a significant black institution beyond the western hemisphere. Reunification in 1884 with the previously dissident British Methodist Episcopal Church brought the denomination back into Canada, and added the Maritime Provinces, Bermuda, and parts of South America. Missionaries also pushed the boundaries of the A.M.E. Church to embrace most areas of the Caribbean including significant attention to Cuba.
Further expansion in Africa culminated in the 1990s. At the 1996 General Conference Bishop McKinley Young of South Africa and Namibia successfully petitioned for recognition of the Angola Annual Conference. Similarly, Bishop Robert V. Webster of Central Africa gained acceptance for a fellowship of congregations in Uganda to become A.M.E.s.
Also by the turn of the 20th century nearly every southern and border state and some in the north and west contained within them A.M.E. supported schools. They ranged from the secondary to the college, university, and seminary levels. Wilberforce University in Ohio, founded in 1856 and A.M.E. sponsored since 1863, was the denomination’s most prominent educational institution. In the Caribbean and Africa the A.M.E. Church similarly started schools with Monrovia College and Industrial Institute in Liberia and Wilberforce Institute in South Africa as the best known.
The two world wars which inaugurated a massive movement of the blacks from the American South to northern and western cities spearheaded another period of A.M.E. development. Numerous churches in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and other areas developed a social gospel which redefined the thrust of A.M.E. ministry. Such southern and border state clergy as Joseph DeLaine in Clarendon County, South Carolina and Oliver Brown in Topeka, Kansas, moved to end legalized segregation with court suits they initiated in their respective locales. Culminating with the famous Brown case of 1854 A.M.E. leaders like their predecessors during the Civil War helped to spearhead important changes in American society.
Women have pressed the denomination continuously to recognize their spiritual gifts. Hence, Bishop Richard Allen authorized Jarena Lee to preach in 1817. Bishop Henry M. Turner ordained Sarah A. Hughes as an itinerant deacon in the North Carolina Annual Conference in 1885. Although his successor rescinded this
action, women continued to function as evangelists, even pastoring congregations starting in the late 19th century. The marathon efforts of Martha Jayne Keys and others caused the General Conference of 1960 to authorize the full ordination of women as itinerant elders. Bishop Vashti McKenzie, who leads the 18th Episcopal District, and lived in Lesotho, South Africa, was the first woman bishop elected in the A.M.E. Church. The Woman’s Missionary Society and the Lay Organization serve the church through notable voter education, HIV/AIDS programs, and employment programs and projects.
With more than 2.5 million members in 8,000 congregations on four continents, the A.M.E. Church plays a pivotal role in sustaining the Allen tradition in numerous nations in the Americas, Africa and Europe.
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is an independent denomination that grew out of the original Methodist Episcopal Church. The formal organization of the A.M.E. Zion church was recognized in 1796 in New York City. James Varick was the first Bishop. The A.M.E. Zion Church shares a common heritage with Christians of every age and nation according to the witness and teachings of the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
Zion Methodism grew out of the merciless enslavement of our African forebears. They were kidnapped from their native land, chained and shackled, shipped as beasts in deplorable conditions to a strange and distant land, having no family, no culture and no language. Yet, our fathers and mothers were confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ, in the cotton fields and every place of the humiliation and degradation revealing to them that He would always be with them as He had been with them in the past. When Jesus, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord had descended was preached at John Street Methodist Church, they united with that fellowship. However, bigotry and oppressively cruel barriers confronted them. The spirit of the Lord led them in the establishment of Zion Chapel (which later became the Mother Church of Zion Methodism) where the gospel of His redeeming grace could be purely preached and His vindicating and liberating influences could be experienced. Taking with them the doctrines, discipline, and polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church, they proceeded in the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. They believed that God had called them out of their bondage and had chosen them to be His people and a channel of His redeeming love for all people.
We believe and understand today that, in the Divine economy, Zion Methodism is to make disciples of all persons throughout the earth, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In 1996 we observed our Bicentennial Celebration marking 200 years of our existence. The celebration took place in New York City where we had our beginning. During this celebration, we were invited back to the John Street Methodist Church for a special service. It was indeed a moving moment. To God be the Glory!
The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was organized as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, December 16, 1870, in Jackson, Tennessee, by former slaves who had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South during slavery but who, after their emancipation, realized that continued membership in the church of their former masters was neither desirable nor practical and requested their own separate and independent church “regularly established,” said Isaac Lane, “after our own ideas and notions.”
In accordance with disciplinary procedures of the times, and with careful attention to what was pointed to as the “desires of our colored members,” the 1860 and 1870 General Conference of the M.E. Church, South, provided the basic ecclesiastical, legal and practical means that enabled the colored members to, in the word of Lucius H. Holsey, establish our “own separate and distinct ecclesiasticism.” Several hundred black preachers were ordained deacons and elders; an official periodical, “The Christian Index,” began publication; five black annual conferences were established; delegates to a special General Conference empowered to set up a “separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction” were elected; the ordination of black bishops was authorized; and transfer to the new church of all properties that had been sued by slave congregations was sanctioned. On December 21, 1870, William H. Miles of the Kentucky Colored Conference and Richard H. Vanderhorst of the Georgia Colored Conference-the two black preachers elected by the delegates-were ordained bishops by Robert Paine, Senior Bishop of the M.E. Church, South. At the close of the Organizing General Conference Bishop Paine transferred Episcopal supervision to Bishop Miles with these words: “The time has come for us to resign into your hands the presidency of this body, and the Episcopal oversight of your people. And we now do it. Take this chair…. henceforth you are their guides and governs.
The CME Church rapidly emerged as one of the more influential churches in African American communities throughout the South. Beginning with approximately 78,000 members, competent leaders, several hundred congregations, and title to hundreds of pieces of church property, it had, by the turn of the century, expanded beyond the Mason-Dixon Line following black migrations to the North, Midwest and the Pacific Coast. After World War I, the CME Church was established wherever significant numbers of African Americans were located.
After World War II, as CMEs found themselves in more racially inclusive communities and the civil rights struggle intensified, the term “colored” took on the stigma of discrimination and Jim Crowism. Consequently, in 1954 the name was changed to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
The CME Church now has 886,000 communicant members and 3,000 congregations throughout the United States, and conferences in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Haiti and Jamaica. It is divided into ten Episcopal districts, has 34 annual conferences and ten active bishops. It sponsors four colleges and a Theological Seminary.
The Church of the Nazarene emerged from the 19th century Wesleyan-holiness revival after three regional bodies in the North America united in 1908: the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, stretching from Nova Scotia to Iowa; the Church of the Nazarene extending from the West Coast to Illinois; and the Holiness Church of Christ, reaching from Georgia to New Mexico. Two were products of earlier mergers. The united church’s original name – Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene-was shortened in 1919 after the term “Pentecostal” (a synonym, to the founders, of “holiness”) had acquired new meanings.
The Pentecostal Mission (U.S.) and the Pentecostal Church of Scotland united with the Nazarenes in 1915. Later accessions included the Layman’s Holiness Association (U.S.), the Gospel Workers of Canada, the Calvary Holiness Church (Great Britain), and an indigenous Nigerian body also bearing the name Church of the Nazarene.
The church’s doctrine is Wesleyan. Nazarene’s affirm the reality of original sin but emphasize Christ’s universal atonement and prevenient grace; justification by grace through faith; sanctification likewise by faith; entire sanctification as God’s gracious opportunity for believers; and the witness of the Spirit. The church practices the sacraments of baptism (by sprinkling, pouring or immersion) and the Lord’s Supper. Parents may request infant baptism, but believers’ baptism predominates. Members admitted by profession of faith agree to observe the general and special rules of the church, which include refraining from tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
Nazarene policy blends congregational, presbyterian and episcopal elements. From American Methodism the church derives its concepts of general and district superintendency, the quadrennial general meeting, and its book of discipline (called the Manual). Nazarene ordination practices also reflect Methodist roots: elders are elected to orders by peers and ordained by a general superintendent, who is joined by other elders in the laying on of hands. A congregational element is reflected, however, in the local church’s right to call its own pastor, while a presbyterian element appears in the district’s right to elect its own superintendent.
The Nazarene district assembly meets annually, electing its superintendent, receiving reports from churches, electing candidates to elder’s orders, and periodically electing equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates to General Assembly.
The General Assembly elects the general superintendents (who serve until the next General Assembly) and the members of various boards. It enacts legislation binding on churches and districts throughout the denomination.
It also elects the General Board, which meets annually and supervises, with the Board of General Superintendents, the church’s World Mission, USA/Canada Mission, Evangelism, and Sunday School agencies and the International Board of Education.
Internationalization shapes contemporary Nazarene life. The church exists in local, district, and general (international) levels, not at the national level except for certain legal purposes. The 12,598 Nazarene churches worldwide are grouped into 386 districts, one fourth of these in North America, where about half the church’s 1.4 million members live. The church is presently organized in 138 world areas. There are 13,203 ordained elders, 436 permanent deacons, 5,881 licensed ministers, and 747 missionaries.
Bible and liberal arts colleges are supported on every continent, and graduate schools of theology are located in Kansas City and Manila. The Nazarene Publishing House has operated in Kansas City since 1912 and is helping establish regional publishing houses in other world areas.
The Free Methodist Church was organized in 1860 near Rochester, New York. Arising out of the conflict within the Methodist Episcopal Church over the Wesleyan interpretation of the doctrine of entire sanctification as well as issues such as slavery, free pews, secret societies, and freedom in worship, concerned ministers and laymen in eastern New York State encouraged Benjamin Titus Roberts to lead them in forming a new church.
The church is Wesleyan in doctrine and evangelical in spirit, evidenced by membership in the Christian Holiness Association and the National Association of Evangelicals.
Episcopal in nature, the church is organized into 12 general or provisional general conferences on 4 continents, each headed by a national bishop or bishops.
The Free Methodist Church sponsors both educational and benevolent institutions in North America and overseas. With headquarters at World Ministries Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, world membership stands at 395,000 with a total constituency of 650,000. The Free Methodist World Conference coordinates the ministries of the several jurisdictions.
The Wesleyan Church (TWC) was formed through the uniting of The Wesleyan Methodist Church of America (1843) and The Pilgrim Holiness Church of America (1897) in 1968. The Wesleyan Methodist Church came into existence during the slavery abolitionist movement of the 19th century while the Pilgrim Holiness Church had its origins in the revivalism of the same period.
TWC World Headquarters offices are located in Fishers, IN (The Greater Indianapolis area). One general superintendent, elected quadrennially, provides spiritual and administrative leadership for the denomination. Four executive directors and the chief financial officer assist the general superintendent in the leadership of the various ministries of the Church.
The Wesleyan Church emphasizes scriptural truth concerning the new birth, the sanctification of the believer, the personal return of Christ, and church planting and global evangelism. At the same time the Church speaks to the social, moral, and political issues through a Denominational Task Force on Public Morals and Social Concerns. It joins with World Hope International in providing compassionate ministry around the world.
The Wesleyan Church exists in 100 90 nations of the world. The development of national Wesleyan Churches into fully responsible church bodies is encouraged. All national and regional churches maintain relationship with each other through an International Board and Conference. Two national churches have risen to the level of general conference: The Wesleyan Church of the Philippines and The Wesleyan Church of the Caribbean.
Five college and/or universities are owned and operated by the Church in North America and many Bible colleges and ministerial institutes as well as hospitals and clinics in other countries. The Church operates a publishing house which publishes prints and distributes books, literature, and Sunday school curriculum to many denominations in both English and Spanish.
There are over 5000 churches and/or missions in the world with a baptized membership of over 370,000 and a constituency of over 500,000. The Immanuel General Mission of Japan and Yeon Hap Korean Methodist Church of Korea are affiliate member denominations.
Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Ind., and a seminary foundation, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY, provide for the ministerial graduate education of ministers along with five other denominationally endorsed seminaries.
The Wesleyan Church is a member of the World Methodist Council, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the American Bible Society.