A Christian Methodist denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church started as the Free African Society (FAS). The FAS was established by Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and others in Philadelphia, PA in 1787. Focused on creating the AME was the African-American Methodists, after being discriminated against in St. George’s MEC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as they journied out to find religious freedom.
Hence, the AME became the first church in the Western world that originated from sociological rather than theological differences. Additionally, it was the first African-American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. Although it may appear that the AME grew from dissent, in reality the Methodist church founder, John Wesley, was an abolitionist.
The church first grew geographically throughout the northeast and Midwest prior to the Civil War. Despite slavery, the church also made inroads into Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana and South Carolina. By the early 1850s, AME had stretched its ministry to the west coast with churches in Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco and other California cities.
The website of the AME says :
Denominational development came during the reconstruction after the civil war. Newly freed slaves were recruited into the AME with permission from the Union army officials from the collapsing confederacy’s states. “I Seek My Brethren” This sermon was often preached in South Carolina by Theophilus G. Steward. This initiated a call to get blacks evangelized in the southern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and more. The membership base rose to 400,000 in 1880 due to the expansion below the Mason-Dixon line. Helping to spread the word was Bishop Henry M. Turner from the Atlantic coast to Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1891. By 1896, the AME had spread into South Africa and AME had spread to another continent.
The roots of AME is methodist and can be described in the Apostle’s Creed / 25 articles of religion and the bylaws of the AME church. The AME stresses that people of any ethnic background or nationality will be included in their church. Dispite the name of the church, “does not mean that the church was founded in Africa, or that it was for persons of African descent only.”
AME churches do not stand alone. There is a larger organization that includes a general board, judicial council, council of bishops, board of incorporators, and a general conference. The bishops act as chief officers and are elected by the general conference “for life”. The general conference meets every four years, to vote on bishops. A majority vote is required for each bishop to serve. Their church law requires each bishop to retire after they turn 75. This law was inherited from episcopal church, also helping to define the African Methodist Episcopal name.
The church motto is a source of unity within the church and contains a history of its own.
According to the AME site: Bishop Daniel A. Payne proposed to the 1856 General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church convening in Cincinnati, Ohio that the episcopal seal should include the denominational creedal statement, God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, Man Our Brother. This declaration of A.M.E. faith identity became the denominational motto until 1908, when a surge of pentecostalism in 1906 in Los Angeles at the Azusa Street mission, the former site of First A.M.E. Church, convinced African Methodists to alter the motto. Hence, the 1908 General Conference meeting in Norfolk, Virginia placed on the published minutes, God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Ghost Our Comforter, Man Our Brother.
“God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family” is the current motto that was changed in 2008 by the general conference after years of using the first and original motto that they re-adopted in 1916.
Educational programs for African Americans are sposnored by the AME through various colleges and theological seminaries.