Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dark Salvation: The Second Great Separate: The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

When our White brethren, the Ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, found that we were determined upon becoming a separate body, or society, they appointed the Rev. John McClaskey, at their General Conference, who was one of the stationed Elders for the Methodist Episcopal Church in the City of New York, to make arrangements . . . in order that the spiritual part of the government might be under the direction of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church from time to time, and so keep the two Churches or Societies in union with each other. . .  (Rush, p. 13).

In studying the two black offshoots of the Methodist Episcopal Church, one must remember that the  mother church in Philadelphia is referred to as Bethel, and those in New York City are referred to as Zionites. It was Rev. John McClaskey who negotiated for both groups with the parent Methodist Episcopal Church; but, the negotiations for Zion proved more amicable. . . perhaps because Methodism had already emerged from their first struggle.
The Trustees were successful in raising funds for the new church. Two lots were purchased on the corner of Church and Leonard streets, a frame building, 45 x 35 feet, was erected, and first services were held in September 1800. . . . The Reverand John McClaskey helped the new church to work out two legal arrangements, one a charter under the state of New York, and the other an agreement with the General Conference of the Methodist Church (Bradley, pp. 50-54).
The basic agreement gave the black church the rights of ownership of church property and direction of local activities, but would maintain the Methodist tradition under the governance of the General Conference, the spiritual life of the church being directed by an appointed Elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The biggest problem with this agreement was that it did not address the primary matter at heart. . . the ordination of black preachers.

At this point, I began to wonder about the charters for the AME Zion churches in Township 5 registered with the State of North Carolina. 
Today I made two inquiries of both 
local and state repositories.

After twenty years of appealing to the General Conference for ordination of black preachers or for autonomy,  the members of the Zion congregation elected Abraham Thompson and James Varick elders on October 1, 1820. On November 12th of the same year, the elders elect administered the Lord's Supper, and for the first time an African preacher administered a sacrament (Rush, pp. 56-58; Bradley, pp.92-93). 

Another area of interest for me was the Zionite stand against slavery and the mobilization of their missionaries in northern and western New York 
particularly in the region around the cities of Jamestown, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Buffalo. This area was one of the main sections of the "Underground Railroad"...
The author states that it is difficult to pinpoint the actual year when Zion became an autonomous entity as it was a gradual process, so that by 1860, two distinct offshoots of the Methodist Episcopal Church existed:  the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and the African Methodist Zion Church of New York. They had their own Books of Discipline,
but they had been adapted from the parent white church and differed mainly on points of organization and polity. In faith, doctrine, and patter of Christian life they were thoroughly Methodist and faithful followers of Wesley.
 For additional reading:
David H. Bradley, History of the AME Zion Church, Part I, 1796-1872 (1950)
Christopher Rush, A Short Account of the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal [Zion]    Church of America (1843)
John Jamison Moore, History of the AMEZ Church in America: founded in 1796, in the city of New York (1884)
Bishop James Walker Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or The centennial of African Methodism (1895)

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