Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Early Black Church

On the Early Black Church: In April 1787, Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones co-founded the Free African Society (FAS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As two of the earliest African Americans to become ordained Christian priests, Allen and Jones used the FAS as a community outreach organization to help black Philadelphians satisfy some of their basic needs with education and employment opportunities. But after the turn of the nineteenth century, the FAS grew into separate African-American church groups. Jones and many FAS members joined the Episcopal Church, while Allen considered starting an independent Protestant denomination of his own. In 1816, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Pictured above is the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, which served as the first black church in the United States. It specifically appealed to Afro-Christian free men and women who understood Allen's theology as a force of liberation. In other words, Allen saw his purpose in the pulpit as two-fold. First, he advocated abolition in his weekly sermons, and second, he spoke against the vitriol in antebellum race relations, especially in cities such as Philadelphia. Across town at the African Church of St. Thomas, Jones too condemned the evils of slavery in his sermons. In fact, Jones' congregation even petitioned Congress about the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which kept runaway slaves living in constant fear of being re-enslaved.

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