African Methodist Episcopal Church
African Methodist Episcopal Church a body of Christians composed entirely of colored people in the United States and Canada.
I. History. — The early Methodists labored zealously for the welfare of the Africans, both slaves and free, in the United States. Multitudes of them became Methodists, and thousands are now in the fellowship of the Methodist Episcopal Church (q.v.), which, at its General Conference of 1864, organized two new conferences, consisting exclusively of colored members. In 1816, a number of these Methodists, believing that they could be freer and more useful in a separate communion, called a convention in Philadelphia, which, in April of that year, organized the "African Methodist Episcopal Church." The Reverend Richard Allen (q.v.) was elected first bishop, and was ordained by five presbyters. He served until his death in 1831. In 1828 the Reverend M. Brown was also elected bishop. In 1836 the Reverend E. Waters was ordained bishop. The growth of the Church has been steady, and many of its preachers have been men of ability. It had, in 1888, 50 conferences, 7 bishops, and a full corps of editors, secretaries. agents, and literary and financial officers. In 1856 the Canada Conference was organized as a separate body, The civil war which broke out in the United States in 1861, and the gradual destruction of slavery, greatly enlarged the territory of this Church and added to its membership. In May, 1864, the Quadrennial General Conference of the Church was held at Philadelphia, simultaneously with the General Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church and of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The General Conference was visited by a deputation from the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and, to reciprocate this act of fraternal sentiment, appointed in its turn a committee, consisting of five members, to visit the latter body. A committee was also appointed to mature, with a similar committee appointed by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a plan of union of these two denominations, to be laid before the next General Conferences of both.
Unforeseen difficulties, however, intervened, and the plan of union was deferred. In 1888 it failed in like manner for lack of concurrence in some minor details, but the prospect was hopeful of its early realization. Meanwhile arrangements had been set on foot for the absorption of the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada and the West Indies into the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and at the General Conference of 1888 this union was declared fully effected.
On May 15, 1865, Bishop Payne reorganized the South Carolina Annual Conference of the A. M. E. Church, which was first established in Charleston, and had existed in prosperity for six years, worshipping in a house erected by themselves, when the African M. E. Church as a separate organization was overthrown, and until the breaking out of the rebellion the colored people were compelled to worship with the whites, and were brought under the pastoral care of the white pastors.
II. Doctrines. — The doctrines are the same as those of the Methodist Episcopal Church (q.v.).
III. Government. — The bishops preside in the conferences and station the ministers; they are styled "Right Reverend." The General Conference is composed of travelling preachers of two years' standing, and of local preachers delegated by the Annual Conference, in the ratio of one to every five travelling preachers. Its sessions are quadrennial. The Annual Conference consists of all the travelling preachers in full connection, and of all local preachers who have been licensed a certain period, and can pass a satisfactory examination. In other respects the government resembles that of the M. E. Church.
IV. Statistics. — From the reports made at the General Conference of 1888 on the constitution of the Church, it appears that in that year the real estate and Church property was estimated at about $5,000,000, located in the New England States, the North-western States, in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, California, the West Indies, and Africa. The latest statistics (1889) give 3,600 churches, 2,943 ministers, 4,891 local preachers, 47,000 probationers, and 390,000 members. Missions have been established in nearly all of the states above named, with a large number of missionaries. The Church had several thousand day-schools, and a corresponding number of teachers of color, educated at the various institutions of learning in the United States and Canada. Sunday-schools had been established in connection with nearly all of the meeting-houses. They were conducted by about 6,000 officers and teachers, and some 260,000 volumes of Sunday-school books were used. The highest literary institution of the denomination is Wilberforce University, which is under the control of the General Conference, and located three miles north of Xenia, Greene County, Ohio. It had, in 1888, 108 students. There are also seminaries at Baltimore, Columbus (O.), Alleghany, and Pittsburg. The school near Columbus has a farm of 172 acres. There are three religious papers, the Christian Recorder, a weekly, issued by the Book Concern at Philadelphia, the Review, and the Missionary Record.