Richard Allen is a man who is constantly on the move. Allen is constantly moving from Baltimore, Radnor, Lancaster and Philadelphia from 1785-1786. Where ever Allen went, it was a priority that He was preaching the Gospel. Allen joined a Rev Richard Watcoat to preach on the Baltimore circuit and when he moved into Pennsylvania, Allen joined with a Rev Peter Morratte and Irie Ellis along the Lancaster circuit.
In 1786, Allen is in Philadelphia and begins preaching from time to time at St. George’s Church to which he became a member. Allen had only intended to remain in Philadelphia for about two weeks, but God had a different plan. Allen saw a great need to preach to a great many of Africans in the city, therefore he began conducting open air preaching twice a day. Morning and evening and sometimes four to five times a day, Allen was out, in the public declaring the Word of God, unashamedly. As many began to gather, Allen began discipleship of African believers, established prayer meetings, ministering with at least 42 individuals. It was at this point that Allen realized these believers needed a place to gather and worship.
Richard Allen planned this to be a two week trip and it became a labor for the glory of Christ. He saw a great need for ministry. He labored daily to see Christ formed in people. Here was a free slave, going abroad executing the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Here we see the move of the Holy Spirit upon a believer to do a work for the glory of God and the joy of believers. Overall we continue to see the compelling, unfettered desire to preach Christ. Let us all pray to the Lord to stir our hearts, to leave our pews, our home fellowships, to declare the glory of the Gospel of Christ to men in the public square.
Brother Allen forms a bond with three other African American men at St Georges; Rev Absalom Jones, William White and Dorus Ginnings. The four sought support within their local church, St Georges to establish a place of worship for the African believers but were vehemently denied. Yet the group remained faithful.
Allen records that, “We felt ourselves much cramped; but my dear Lord was with us, and we believed, if it was his will, the work would go on, and that we would be able to succeed in building the house of the Lord. We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavours, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren, and that they were destitute of a place of worship.”
What example do we see in this body of believers? They kept their eyes fixed on Christ. They continued to do the works of the ministry, equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The believers followed the example of the early Church of Jerusalem, continuing “ steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers… Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”(Acts 2:42,47).
The African American believers experienced an unfortunate event during corporate worship at St George that would encourage their faith in Christ through suffering. In the midst of prayer time, Absalom Jones was told to move in the middle of prayer because he was in the seating reserved for Whites. Absalom Jones requested to move upon the completion of prayer. Two members of the church rejected his request and proceeded to drag him on his knees out of the church. Reverend Allen remembers this as the critical event in the birth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
"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. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigor to get a house erected to worship God in.”
Out of this unnecessary and unconceivable incident, Allen saw this as an opportunity for his people to move forward to worship God unhindered.
The African American believers gathered some money and purchased a storage room to meet in. The believers were threatened and told they would be publicly disciplined if they would not cease their gatherings. Allen and the believers would eventually receive some support from one Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston of whom Allen states, “I hope…will never be forgotten among us.”
So Allen has been in Philadelphia since 1786 and been ordained by God to establish a local fellowship for African American believers. Receiving opposition from within their own local church, St. George and without, they continued steadfastly trusting in Jesus Christ.
It is on or about 1794 and the Methodist Conference sends and elder Mr. J-M- to demand the African American believers to stop raising money to build their own place to worship. Two separate times this meeting occurs, and on the last meeting, God’s sovereignty is manifested. The African American believers declared to the elder,
“We told him we had no place of worship; and we did not mean to go to St. George's church any more, as we were so scandalously treated in the presence of all the congregation present; "and if you deny us your name, you cannot seal up the scriptures from us, and deny us a name in heaven. We believe heaven is free for all who worship in spirit and truth." And he said, "so you are determined to go on." We told him--"yes, God being our helper." He then replied, "we will disown you all from the Methodist connexion." We believed if we put our trust in the Lord, he would stand by us.”
What did they elevate as primary? Who did they see as the only one who would gain them entrance into heaven? Who did they see as their only sufficiency? They saw Christ as their only sufficiency. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God… And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”(2 Cor 3:5, 9:8). They declared only Christ as the one who provided entrance to Heaven. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die… I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 11:25-26, 14:6).
Finally, they elevated Scripture as the final authority! “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works”(2 Tim 3:16-17).
In 1794, after raising a enough money to purchase a plot of land in Philadelphia, Bethel AME was officially opened with Richard Allen as the first pastor. Allen once again looks to God, giving Him the glory. “My dear Lord was with us, so that there was many hearty Amen's echoed through the house. This house of worship has been favored with the awakening of many souls, and I trust they are in the kingdom both white and colored.” The first African American church was birthed and more importantly, Christ was magnified.