St. John History | AME History

History of St. John A.M.E. Church

St. John African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, originally called the Methodist Colored Society, was the result of the missionary work of a white transient minister named, Rev. Jacob Blakmere, from Bluefield, West Virginia. Rev. Blakmere conceived the idea of forming the increasing number of free Negro slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line into societies of the Methodist religious dogma. In 1819, he organized such Methodist Societies in Cincinnati, Springfield, Columbus, Xenia, Wilmington, Selma, South Charleston, Ironton, Zanesville, Piqua, Bellefontaine, and Lima, Ohio. It is said that he later visited them riding horseback and singing his favorite hymns.

Literacy among Negroes during that period was rare, which probably accounts for there being very little written documentation of how Methrican Methodist Episcopal Church through the efforts of Rev. Blakmere did form the backbone of the oldest Negro churches of this denomination in Ohio.

Meager information acquired from A.M.E. Church archives reveal that in 1819 there were fewer than 300 free Negroes in the vicinity of Columbus, Zanesville, and Springfield. Those religiously inclined gathered regularly in their humble homes, barns, sheds, or other available places for worship.

Negroes, as members of the African American community were referred to in those years, who resided in the Worthington area worshipped with the Columbus Methodist Society for years. Since the founding of Worthington in 1803, the church doors of all historical denominations have been opened to African-Americans.

As the population of free black people increased in the Worthington community, so did the desire for a church of their own. At first, prayer meetings were held from house to house, and later both church and Sunday School services were conducted in the home of Mrs. Millie Alston (circa. 1890).

In 1896, Peter Banks (grandfather of Mrs. Martha Todd and great-grandfather of Mrs. Janet Wallace) felt the need to organize a church for black people in Worthington. Under his leadership he attracted four men, D.H. Taborn, Charles B. Kiner, J.T. Horton, and James Burkhead, who worked diligently to provide a home church for Worthington’s black residents. The church growth under these founding fathers was so rapid that a larger meeting place was soon needed. Thus, the Worthington Town Hall served as a meeting place in 1897.

Later, on September 24, 1897, a lot was purchased from Mrs. Millie Alston for $50. A building was moved to the lot and converted into a church, which was then named Bethel A.M.E. Church. It was to be a community church, but in order to get ministers, the church had to belong to a Conference. Reverend W. T. Maxwell of Mt. Vernon A.M.E. Church of Columbus, Ohio came to help. By then, there were many black families residing in the community.

By 1914, the membership had outgrown the old church which led to the construction of the current chapel – built by Mr. Hard, a local carpenter. The new structure was dedicated the same year and renamed St. John A.M.E. Church.

For many years, the church used oil lamps for lighting and coal stoves for heat. Over the ensuing years, several improvements have been made to the original building structure. The most prominent was the inclusion of a full paneled and tile floor basement, which features a kitchen, two bathrooms and an eating area. Central air and heating were installed, and the upstairs are was remodeled to add new lighting fixtures, padded pews and carpeting. The church has continued to grow in its membership, many of whom have made great contributions to its structural design. The most notable was Mr. Louis Butler, who installed the wiring for the electricity.

In most recent years the church purchased three additional properties; three houses located on the same street as the church. The first home purchased in 1995 is adjacent to the church on the south side. It is currently used as an annex, equipped with state-of-the-art office equipment and is often used to host various church related activities as well as Sunday school classes. The second and third houses, located across from the church and adjacent to the annex purchased in 1998 and 2001 respectively, are temporarily being rented as investments until more specific plans are identified for their use.

St. John A.M.E. Church has always been an active church with a dedicated membership and pastoral staff and has never, at any time, had its doors closed. For many years, it was on a circuit with Hilliard, Westerville, and Plain City; all of which have now closed; the last being Westerville in 1962.

Some of the former pastors of St. John A.M.E. Church are: Reverends Thomas Page*, D. V. Moses *, Thomas E. Liggins, Herman Perkins*, Floyed Alexander, Vance Milligan*, Winston Hill, Ralph Newell, Wilfred Bristol, McCoy Ransom*, Richard Cox, Earl Thompson, James M. Tate, Jr.*, Robert Hunter, William Callian, and Hurdie Billingslea, Jr.

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History of the A.M.E. Church

Timeline:

1739 Methodism founded in London, England

1758 First Black person to be baptized by John Wesley

1760 Birth of Richard Allen

1777 Conversion of Richard Allen

1782 Richard Allen licensed to preach at the age of 22

1786 Richard Allen organized a class of African-American people

1787 The beginning of the Free African Society, and withdrawal from St. George Methodist Church, Philadelphia

1790 Slavery abolished in Pennsylvania

1791 Richard Allen purchased lot for Mother Bethel

1794 Mother Bethel Church erected from a blacksmith shop o n the oldest piece of land continuously owned by Blacks in America

1800 Richard Allen ordained as Deacon by Bishop Asbury

1808 Insurance Society was started in Philadelphia by Richard Allen

1816 The A.M.E. Church organized; Richard Allen was consecrated our first Bishop


The African Methodist Episcopal Church

Richard Allen was born a slave on February 14, 1760, on the plantation of a Philadelphia lawyer named Benjamin Chew. Allen, his three siblings, and his parents were sold to Stokely Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware. After teaching himself to read and write, and with the permission of Sturgis, Allen began to attend Methodist meetings, and around 1777 he was converted to Methodism. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Methodism proliferated in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. This Christian denomination emphasized a simple set of virtues that included honesty, modesty, and sobriety. In 1780 Sturgis agreed to let Allen hire himself out in order to earn money to purchase his freedom for $2,000.00. In pursuit of this goal, Richard held a variety of odd jobs, continued his ministry and began to preach at Methodist churches in Delaware and neighboring states; and converted his owner to the Methodist faith. In 1783, Richard bought his and his brother’s freedom.

After purchasing his freedom, Allen moved back to Philadelphia, where he established himself as a minister. He preached throughout Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware.

Allen accepted an invitation to preach at St. George’s Church in Philadelphia, a mixed race congregation of Methodists. Within a short time, Allen dramatically increased St. George’s black membership, and the building could no longer accommodate the growing congregation. White elders at St. George rejected Allen’s request for a separate place of worship for African American members and chose instead to construct separated seating within the church by installing a balcony. Allen was discouraged by the fact that the black worshippers who had helped construct the balcony would be relegated to sitting there. It was during this time that Allen met his future associate, Absalom Jones.

In 1787, while kneeling in prayer at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Allen looked up to find a church trustee trying to wrench Absalom Jones to his feet. The devout Jones replied, “Wait until the prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.” Then another trustee came and tried to pull William White from his knees. As a result of this action, Allen and Jones organized, on April 12, 1787, the independent Free African Society. An organization dedicated to serving all humanity which denounced slavery, and spearheaded the establishment of an “African Church”.

In 1797, Allen established what was known as the Blacksmith Shop Meeting House when he purchased an abandoned blacksmith shop from a man named Sims and moved it to a plot of ground on 6th Street between Lombard and Pine Streets. This building was dedicated as a church in 1794 by Bishop Francis A. Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

From July 1805, Allen conducted services in the “Roughcast Church”. This had been the first brick church erected on American soil by people of color. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was organized in Philadelphia in 1816. Richard Allen was consecrated as its first Bishop at the General Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 10, 1816. In 1841 the red brick church was built to replace the old roughcast one, and remained in use until the present church (dedicated in 1890) was erected in its place on the original plot of ground.

Because of the Methodists’ discriminatory treatment of blacks, the church was consecrated as part of the Protestant Episcopal Church and Jones became the denomination’s first black priest. Allen, however, remained faithful to Methodism and used his own savings to buy a former blacksmith’s shop and transplant it onto a plot of land he had previously purchased in Philadelphia. After renovations, Bethel African Church opened on April 9, 1794, and Allen was ordained its deacon. After Bethel was officially initiated at the 1796 Methodist conference, white Methodist officials attempted to gain control over Allen’s church, but a Pennsylvania Supreme court ruling in 1807 declared that the black Methodist congregation owned the property on which they worshipped and that they could determine who would preach there.

Following Allen’s example, many black Methodists formed African Methodist Churches in northeastern cities. Because all experienced similar challenges from white Methodists, Allen organized a convention of black Methodists in 1816 to address their shared problems. The leaders decided to unite their churches under the name of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Accordingly, they gained control over the governance of their churches and placed themselves beyond their ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Attendants elected Allen bishop of the new denomination, a position he held until his death in 1831.

The AME Church immediately became a center of black institutional life. As its leader, Allen created the Bethel Benevolent Society and the African Society for the Education of Youth. He also published articles in Freedom’s Journal attacking slavery and organizations such as the American Colonization Society. Because Allen believed enslaved and free black Americans could be best served through education and religious instruction, he opposed organizations that advocated the migration of black Americans to Africa.

From 1797 to his death on March 26, 1831, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railway for escaping slaves. This work was continued by Bethel Church until the Emancipation.

Bishop Allen was married to Sarah Bass Allen. He was the father of six children: Richard Jr., James, John, Peter, Sarah, and Ann.

Richard Allen  – 1760-1831

 

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St. John AME Church Rt. Reverend McKinley Young, Presiding Prelate Rev. Betty W. Holley, Ph.D., Presiding Elder Rev. Jermaine D. Covington, Pastor
Contact: Office: 614-888-0894 Fax: 614-888-8145 Church Hours: Tuesday through Friday 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

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