Our Name – African Methodist Episcopal Church
The word African means that the church was organized by people of African descent and heritage. It does not mean that the church was founded in Africa, or that it was for persons of African descent only.
The church’s roots are of the family of Methodist churches. Methodism provides an orderly system of rules and regulations and places emphasis on a plain and simple gospel.
Episcopal refers to the form of government under which the church operates. It means that the church is governed by bishops. The chief executive and administrative officers of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination are the Bishops of the church.
The Mission of the AME Church is to minister to the social, spiritual, and physical development of all people.
At every level of the Connection and in every local church, the AME Church shall engage in carrying out the spirit of the original Free African Society, out of which the AME Church evolved: that is, to seek out and save the lost, and to serve the needy. It is also the duty of Church to continue to encourage all members to become involved in all aspects of church training.
The ultimate purposes are:
1. make available God’s biblical principles,
2. spread Christ’s liberating gospel, and
3. provide continuing programs which will enhance the entire social development of all people.
In order to meet the needs of every level of the Connection and in every local church, the AME Church shall implement strategies to train all members in: (1) Christian discipleship, (2) Christian leadership, (3) current teaching methods and materials, (4) the history and significance of the AME Church, (5) God’s biblical principles, and (6) social development to which all should be applied to daily living.
“God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer,
the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family.”
Bishop Daniel A. Payne proposed to the 1856 General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church convening in Cincinnati, Ohio that the episcopal seal should include the denominational creedal statement, God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother. This declaration of A.M.E. faith identity became the denominational motto until 1908, when a surge of pentecostalism in 1906 in Los Angeles at the Azusa Street mission, the former site of First A.M.E. Church, convinced African Methodists to alter the motto. Hence, the 1908 General Conference meeting in Norfolk, Virginia placed on the published minutes, God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Ghost Our Comforter, Man Our Brother.
The 1912 General Conference convening in Kansas City, Missouri retained the altered statement of A.M.E. belief. The centennial General Conference of 1916 meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, however, made no reference to new the A.M.E. motto, and since that time Bishop Payne’s original formulation of the motto appeared on all denominational documents and published materials.
At the 2008 General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri an inclusive motto was adopted and now declares God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family. The evolution of our motto demonstrates that African Methodists engage in ongoing assessments of our theology and how God speaks to us in changing circumstances.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a connectional organization. Each local church is a part of the larger connection.
The Bishops are the Chief Officers of the Connectional Organization. They are elected for life by a majority vote of the General Conference which meets every four years. Bishops are bound by the laws of the church to retire upon the General Conference nearest their 75th birthday.
Presiding Elders are the assistants, like middle management, whom the Bishops appoint to supervise the preachers in a Presiding Elder’s District. A Presiding Elder District is one portion of an Annual Conference, which in turn is one part of the Episcopal District over which a Bishop presides. In the Presiding Elder District, the appointed Presiding Elder meets with the local churches, that comprise the District, at least once every three months for a Quarterly Conference. The Presiding Elder also presides over a District Conference and a Sunday School Convention in his or her District. At the end of an Annual Conference year, the Presiding Elder reports to the Bishop at the Annual Conference and makes recommendations for pastoral appointments.
Pastors receive a yearly appointment to a charge (church), on the recommendation of the Presiding Elder and with the approval and final appointment of the Bishop. The pastor is in full charge of the Church and is an ex-official member of all boards, organizations and clubs of that Church.
The Motto “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family” is a great summary of what the African Methodist Episcopal Church believes.
Also known as the A.M.E. Church for short, the denomination is Methodist in terms of its basic doctrine and order of worship. It was born, through adversity, of the Methodist church and to this day does not differ in any major way from what all Methodists believe. The split from the main branch of the Methodist Church was not a result of doctrinal differences but rather the result of a time period that was marked by man’s intolerance of his fellow man, based on the color of his skin. It was a time of slavery, oppression and the dehumanization of people of African descent and many of these un-Christian practices were brought into the church, forcing Richard Allen and a group of fellow worshippers of color to form a splinter denomination of the Methodist Church. To find the basic foundations of the beliefs of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, you need look no further than The Apostles’ Creed and The Twenty Five Articles of Religion:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead; and buried. The third day he arose from the dead’ he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s MEC pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen led a small group who resolved to remain Methodists. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME.
The geographical spread of the AMEC prior to the Civil War was mainly restricted to the Northeast and Midwest. Major congregations were established in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, and other large Blacksmith’s Shop cities. Numerous northern communities also gained a substantial AME presence. Remarkably, the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, and, for a few years, South Carolina, became additional locations for AME congregations. The denomination reached the Pacific Coast in the early 1850’s with churches in Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, and other places in California. Moreover, Bishop Morris Brown established the Canada Annual Conference.
The most significant era of denominational development occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Oftentimes, with the permission of Union army officials AME clergy moved into the states of the collapsing Confederacy to pull newly freed slaves into their denomination. “I Seek My Brethren,” the title of an often repeated sermon that Theophilus G. Steward preached in South Carolina, became a clarion call to evangelize fellow blacks in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and many other parts of the south. Hence, in 1880 AME membership reached 400,000 because of its rapid spread below the Mason-Dixon line. When Bishop Henry M. Turner pushed African Methodism across the Atlantic into Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1891 and into South Africa in 1896, the AME now laid claim to adherents on two continents.
While the AME is doctrinally Methodist, clergy, scholars, and lay persons have written important works which demonstrate the distinctive theology and praxis which have defined this Wesleyan body. Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett, in an address to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, reminded the audience of the presence of blacks in the formation of Christianity. Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner wrote in 1895 in The Color of Solomon – What? that biblical scholars wrongly portrayed the son of David as a white man. In the post civil rights era theologians James H. Cone, Cecil W. Cone, and Jacqueline Grant who came out of the AME tradition critiqued Euro-centric Christianity and African American churches for their shortcomings in fully impacting the plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.
Today, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has membership in twenty Episcopal Districts in thirty-nine countries on five continents. The work of the Church is administered by twenty-one active bishops, and nine General Officers who manage the departments of the Church.
To learn more about the AME Church, visit any of these AME websites:
AMEC 5th District
AMEC Publishing House
Christian Education Department