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AME Church History Is a Story of Perseverance

The AME Church not only faced the obstacle that all new churches encounter -- lack of funds -- but a second barrier that proved a constant threat: racial discrimination.

Thats because the AME Church, or African Methodist Episcopal Church, was founded by black people for black people, in a time when slavery was the norm in the young United States.

Richard Allen, the founding pastor of the AME Church, was himself a former Delaware slave.

He worked in his free time cutting firewood and doing odd jobs, finally saving $2,000 to buy his freedom in 1780. Allen was 20 years old at the time. Three years earlier, his mother and three siblings had been sold to another slaveholder. Allen never saw them again.

Allen cherished his independence but found that work was scarce for free blacks. He got a job in a brickyard, and during the American Revolution, he worked as a teamster.

After the Revolution, Allen preached the gospel in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. When he returned to Philadelphia, he was invited to preach at St. Georges, the first Methodist church in America. Allen was drawn to the simple, straightforward message of Methodism, and to the anti-slavery stance of its founder, John Wesley.

Allens regular preaching drew more and more blacks to St. Georges. Allen asked the white elders for permission to start an independent black church but was twice refused.

To sidestep this bigotry, he and Absalom Jones began the Free African Society (FAS), a secular group that addressed the moral, financial, and educational needs of blacks.

A split over segregated seating at St. Georges resulted in the black members turning to the FAS for support. Absalom Jones founded St.

Thomas African Episcopal Church in 1804, but Richard Allen believed Methodist beliefs were more suited to the needs of free blacks and slaves.

Eventually, Allen was given permission to start a church, in a former blacksmith shop. He had the building moved by a team of horses to a new location in Philadelphia and it was called Bethel, meaning house