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Richard Allen: Founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

February 10, 2012

Mother Bethel A.M.E. (courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)

Richard Allen was born enslaved on a plantation owned by Benjamin Chew in February 1760. He and his family were sold to Stokely Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware.  Allen began attending meetings at the local Methodist Society and due to a spiritual experience converted at age 17. Allen worked to hire himself out and ultimately earned enough to purchase his own freedom from Stokely Sturgis.

Having taught himself to read, Allen became a preacher at St. George’s, America’s oldest Methodist church located in Philadelphia. As the congregation’s black membership increased, the segregation dismayed Allen. He and his friend Absalom Jones led their fellow black worshipers out of the church in protest.

Richard Allen (courtesy of http://www.christianitytoday.com)

Because he wanted to remain a Methodist, Allen founded Mother Bethel and became the minister. He preached throughout the region in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Multiple congregations combined with Mother Bethel to form the new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen was elected the first bishop of the A.M.E. Church and what started as a regional phenomenon has become a worldwide faith community.

Allen’s impact extends well beyond religious institutions. He founded benevolence societies and his tireless demands for equality and equal treatment helped pave the long road for civil rights for African Americans.

In describing Mother Bethel, W.E.B. DuBois the founder of the NAACP once noted that it was “By long odds the vastest and most remarkable product of American Negro civilization.”

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