Rev. Richard Allen was one of the foremost founding fathers of the African American independent churches. Born a slave in 1760, to Benjamin Crew of Philadelphia, Allen came to salvation in Christ around age twenty. He then traveled extensively, preaching the Gospel in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In February, 1786, he preached at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Thinking that he would be there one or two weeks, ministry needs led Allen to a settled place of service in Philadelphia.
Concerned for the wellbeing of African Americans in this parish, he explained that:
“I established prayer meetings; I raised a society in 1786 of forty-two members. I saw the necessity of erecting a place of worship for the coloured people.” However, only three brethren united with him, including the equally-important African American founding father, the Reverend Absalom Jones. Their little band met great opposition, including “very degrading and insulting language to us, to try and prevent us from going on.”
The Lord blessed their endeavors, as they established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, with many coming to Christ. Their growing congregation, still without a building, often attended services at St. George’s Church. When the black worshippers became more numerous, the white leaders “moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall.”
The Founding of the First Independent African American Church
It was at this juncture that one of the most noteworthy events in African American Church history occurred. Taking seats that they thought were appropriate, prayer began.
“We had not long been upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H— M—, having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘Wait until prayer is over.’ Mr. H— M— said ‘no, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I force you away.’ Mr. Jones said, ‘Wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’”
By the time the second usher arrived, prayer was over, and:
“We all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct.”
As a result, they birthed the first independent Black Church in the North when they hired a store room and held worship by themselves. Facing excommunication from the “mother church,” they remained united and strong.
“Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue to worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. . . . Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.”
Join the Conversation
What can you learn from Revs. Allen and Jones’ example? How similar or different are race relations today among Christians than in the day of Revs. Allen and Jones?
Note: This series for Black History Month is excerpted from Beyond the Suffering:Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care. To learn more and to read a sample chapter visit Beyond the Suffering.