On Sunday members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination converged at Bethel AME Church to celebrate the founding of the AME Church and the 250th birthday of founder Richard Allen.
While most religious institutions are declining, Sunday’s celebration proved the AME Church is alive and well. Those in attendance included members of various churches from areas around the state, including Anderson, Bloomington, Elkhart, Gary, Hammond, Fort Wayne, Jeffersonville, Kokomo, Lafayette, Muncie, New Albany, New Castle, Richmond, Seymour, South Bend and Terre Haute.
Established in 1836, the host congregation, Bethel AME Church, is the oldest African-American congregation in Indianapolis.
The special guest was Bishop John R. Bryant, senior AME bishop and resident bishop of the Midwestern Region, which encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Canada. He is the father of television personality Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant.
The ceremony kicked off with various churches marching in with their church banners/flags. The presiding officer for the evening was Rev. Anne Henning Byfield, an elder, district superintendent and former pastor of Robinson AME Church in Indianapolis.
Byfield, along with District Superintendent Samuel Sumner, moved the evening of praise and celebration along. Edward L. Wheeler, Ph.D, president of Christian Theological Seminary, was honored and presented with the Richard Allen Legacy Award.
During the presentation of the award, Byfield and Sumner recognized that Wheeler has made many contributions to African-American religious history, and has had an impact on the training of hundreds of seminary students who are now leading churches across the country.
Bryant, the keynote preacher of the evening, took his text from Exodus 4:29-31. He preached from the subject, “We’ve Got a Reason to Worship.” Bryant hooked the congregation with his opening remark, “How did Israel get into Egypt?”
He stated that Jacob’s dysfunctional love for his son produced an environment for a whole nation of people to be displaced. Because Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons, he did more for Joseph. In this case, he bought Joseph the “coat of many colors.”
The coat so infuriated Joseph’s brothers that they became jealous and sold Joseph into slavery. Years later, when the brothers all met, they had to seek refuge in Egypt, where Joseph was living. The brothers ended up living in Egypt because of sibling rivalry. Through it all, God was with Joseph and his brothers.
Bryant noted that just as God was with Joseph and his brothers, God is also with people today.
It was appropriate for this celebration to occur in the midst of Black History Month. The AME Church was founded in 1787 in Philadelphia. Richard Allen and others walked out of St. George Methodist Episcopal Church after being rudely and forcefully pulled off their knees during worship. They left to form their own church and the rest is history.
Bryant, the featured speaker, culminated the founder’s day message by saying “We still have a reason to worship.”
He noted that Richard Allen, a Black man, who didn’t know how to read, bought his freedom from the institution of slavery.
“We have a reason to worship,” Bryant said.
Allen, it was noted, walked out of the St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in hopes of finding a spiritual home where he could worship God free of racism and class divisions.
“We have a reason to worship,” Bryant added as those in attendance became increasingly excited.
Allen started his own church that has been in existence for 225 years with churches all over the world: North and South America, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and India.
Bryant said a religious institution started in the midst of slavery and the founders of the movement had the audacity to call themselves African, when the world around them viewed Africa as the dark and backward continent.
“We have a reason to worship,” Bryant continued to loud applause.
When he finished, those in attendance rejoiced and the founder’s day event was recalled as one of the best in recent memory.
The AME Church is the first African-American Protestant movement in America. Judging by Sunday’s celebration, the church is alive, spirited and well.