15. Mother Bethel AME
As is the case with our first stop on this tour, St. George’s UMC, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is deserving of a special visit of its own. Members of this congregation still provide tours of their church building upon request. The church’s museum is one of the best of any church in the city.
Rather than recount the stories of Mother Bethel’s founding years in the 1790s which is featured in the church museum, we will instead talk a bit about how the African Methodist Episcopal denomination grew after its establishment as a distinct denomination in 1816. In its first decade, the AME denomination grew from just a handful of churches in the region and a thousand members to one of 10,000 people spread across the Mid-Atlantic region. In 1822 the second largest AME congregation in the world was even in the heart of the slave South, in Charleston, South Carolina. By the mid-1820s an AME church was getting established in Canada and Bishop Allen was looking across the ocean for possibilities.
Although too old to go there himself, Bishop Allen encouraged African Americans to emigrate to Haiti as president of the Haitian Emigration Society of Philadelphia. He also carried on a lively correspondence with the president of independent Haiti, Jean-Pierre Boyer. His motivation for doing so was not solely out of a desire for church growth; white hostility toward blacks in Philadelphia was growing in the 1820s and the black republic of Haiti was a place where Bishop Allen believed freedom could be attained more fully.
In the summer of 1824 Bishop Allen agreed to permit fifty members of Mother Bethel AME to go to Haiti. His own son, Richard Jr., also traveled to Haiti and lived there for a number of years. It didn’t take long for AME churches to be established in Haiti with missionaries approved by Bishop Allen to care for them.
Visit Mother Bethel's website for more information.