Richard Allen 1760-1831)
Photo by Gary Reed Mother Bethel AME 1999
Allen was a freed slave who had a religious awakening and became a member of the Methodist denomination while in bondage. After Allen purchased his freedom he became an itinerant preacher spreading the gospel as he traveled.
Allen was drawn to the doctrines of the new domination of Methodism, founded by John Wesley in 1784. Methodism denounced the enslavement of humans and exhibited principles of faith that were simple and forthright. One did not have to be intellectually sophisticated to comprehend the word of the Lord, for the sermons which were preached could be understood by all.
The style of Allenís fiery preaching manner was the impetus for St. George Methodist church, the mother of American Methodism, in Philadelphia, to invite him to preach in their pulpit. Every Sunday, Allen preached at the uncomfortable hour of 5:00 a.m. to a congregation of his own ethnicity. He also preached at various times during the day to accommodate the increasing populace of blacks around the city. St. George, alarmed at the growth of the conversion of blacks, decided to build galleries for the overflow of the black congregation. The irony is such that the blacks of the congregation contributed substantially with their labor and monies to the addition that was meant for the segregation of whites and non-whites. The black congregation honestly thought they were building upper galleries for the influx of parishioners.
Allen and three other parishioners arrived late for service ion November 5,1787 at St. George and were asked to go to the new seating area after taking seats in the rear of the sanctuary. A physical confrontation ensued between a trustee and one of the parishioners, Absalom Jones, because he refused to be escorted to the gallery as prayer was going forth. The quarrel continued and Absalom Jones remarked, ìWait until the prayer is over and I will trouble you no more.î The legendary words led to an immediate exodus of most of the blacks from St. George.
The Free African Society founded by Richard Allen was established in order to express dissent at the discrimination of blacks. The society provided mutual aide for widows the sick, and the poor.
Four years later Allen purchased real estate for the first African American church. Unfortunately the parcel of land that Allen had made a deposit for at Sixth and Lombard Streets was not favored by the Free African Society. It was felt another location four blocks away was a more commodious parcel of land. Because Allen had entered into a good faith business transaction for the land at Sixth and Lombard Streets he did not want to forfeit on the deal and thus acquired the 1and or his own.
While construction of the first African church was being built, Allen was given official support from the Methodist church to build an edifice on the land at Sixth and Lombard Streets because of his heroism during the yellow fever epidemic of1793.
Under the guise of securing the right to receive the legacies (legal affiliation and all rights and doctrines associated) of the Methodist church Bethel was incorporated into the Methodist conference. Unaware of the legalities of being incorporated in the Methodist conference Allen was tricked in the forfeiture of his church. After years of an estranged relationship with St. George there was a legal separation of religious affiliation after a Supreme Court ruling in Bethelís favor. An independent denomination called African Methodism is established in 1816.
Richard Allen remarked ìWe deemed it expedient to have a form of discipline, whereby we may guide our people in the fear of God in the unity of the Spirit, and in the bonds of peace.î They adopted the Episcopal form of church government, meaning they would be under the authority of bishops who were ordained by officials within. At that meeting Allen was elected the first Bishop by the people of newly established AME churches in the surrounding states. Please link to Jones Tabernacle AME Church.
Richard, Allen. The life Experience and Gospel Laborer of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abington 1960
Klots, Steve. Richard Allen. Religious Leader and Social Activist. New York. Chelsa House Publishers, 1991
Wesley, Charles H. Richard Allen. Apostle of Freedom. Washington . Associated Publishers, 1968