African Methodist Episcopal Church
- USA: 2,120,000
- Africa: 375,000
- Caribbean: 15,000
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, a global Wesleyan body, emerged out of the Free African Society (FAS) in Philadelphia, PA. Founded in 1787 as a mutual aid society with a strong religious identity, the group developed into two black congregations, one African Methodist Episcopal and the other Protestant Episcopal. The FAS founder Richard Allen, a former slave who had been since 1783 a Methodist preacher, was enlisted by Philadelphia's St George Church to preach to local blacks. His increased following stirred St George officers to accost black members while praying and compel them to start separate congregations. The AME Church was formed in Philadelphia in 1816 and Richard Allen became the nation's first black bishop. The church spread rapidly throughout the North and Midwest. Bishop Allen believed that in emphasizing Methodist doctrine and discipline and a vigorous social witness, the AME members became better heirs to Wesleyanism than their white counterparts. He codified black folk religion and musical patterns in a hymnal for the denomination in 1818. He denounced slavery, opposed the removal of free blacks from the United States to Liberia, and presided over the national session of the black convention movement.
The AME Church did not ignore the slave and vulnerable status of its many parishioners. Several congregations served as schools, as stations for the legendary Underground Railroad, and as forums to condemn the black bondage and violence against those who were supposedly free. The church's efforts to protect and attain freedom for its constituents were reflected in the founding of the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856 on the free soil of Canada, the purchase of Wilberforce University in 1863, and the enlistment of AME clergy as Civil War chaplains and AME members as Union Army soldiers. Its rapid rush into the South after the Civil War, to evangelize among ex-slaves, began an era of unprecedented growth in areas where the denomination had never existed before. Hence, in 1880 the AME Church boasted 400,000 members and numerous schools and colleges to educate clergy and train teachers to improve the lives of African Americans. Nationalist sentiments in the 1890s expressed in the Afro-centric writings of several AME leaders coincided with expansion into West Africa in 1891 and South Africa in 1896.
The massive movement of African Americans from the agrarian South to major urban and industrial areas focused AME congregations on articulating a social gospel relevant to city challenges faced by black migrants. This orientation extended to civil rights activism and the filing of lawsuits against school segregation that culminated in the landmark "Brown decision" of 1954. At the turn of the 21st century the church has episcopal districts in over 30 countries on four continents (six in Africa and one in Latin America/Caribbean). It operates programmes in global ministry, publishing, Christian education and public information. In recent years the church has expanded to Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin. There are headquarters facilities in Washington, DC and in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. Several schools, colleges and seminaries operate in the United States, the Caribbean and in Africa.