"The Church Without Walls"

AMEZ History

The John Street Church was the first Methodist Church erected in New York City. There were several colored members in this church from its first organization. Between the years 1765 and 1796 the number of colored members largely increased, so much that caste prejudice forbade their taking the Sacrament until the white families were all served. This and the desire for other church privileges denied them, induced them to organize among themselves, which they did in the year 1796. Among the leaders of this movement were James Varick and Richard Allen, the latter who subsequently moved into Philadelphia and set up a similar organization called Bethel. Varick’s was the first African Methodist Episcopal Church of which we have any account and we attribute its founding to James Varick, who was the first Bishop. In the year 1800, they built a church and called it Zion. This church, unlike the other colored Methodist churches formed about the same period, was, as regards its temporal economy, separate from the Methodist Church, from its first organization. They drew up articles of agreement with the Methodist Episcopal Church, under which supplied them with ministers for about 20 years. So that Zion, the oldest church of the Connection, that has by general consent taken her name, must be conceded to the oldest Methodist Organization separate from the Methodist Episcopal Church in this country. As we have shown, the Connection is generally called Zion out of respect to that first church. But the style and title of the church, as the founders tell us, is the African Methodist Episcopal Church. And if there is any body of Methodists in the world has a pre-eminent right to the title, it is the Zion Connection, for she assumed it before there was any other to assume’ it.

In that same Connection it is interesting to know that after our Connection was founded the Asbury Churches under William Miller, Abraham Thompson, and James Varick later joined it. William Miller issued a statement pointing up to the plight of our Negro preachers if they were to stay in the white Mother Church. He listed color, limited access to privileges, hindering of Negro preachers’ usefulness, and lack of provisions made for them to travel throughout the connection to promulgate the gospel and be supported while doing so.

Under these circumstances they believed that an itinerant plan ought to be formed and the establishment of a conference for the Negro preachers who are not united with any other church or conference. In this they felt that the inconsistencies mentioned above would be corrected and further, that men may be brought forward to be ordained to preach the gospel to the best of their judgment. They felt it would also induce many of the brethren to attend divine worship, who were careless about their eternal welfare and prove effectual in the hands of God to awaken and convert souls to the truth! Attached to this address were the names of Abraham Thompson, James Varick, and William Miller.

From the very outset, the Zion Church has been in the forefront in the battle for full citizenship and freedom in this country. This note of protest coming from the Fathers of our Connection gives the cue continually for us to keep up the fight with all our might, God being our helper. Thus we have the A.M.E. Zion Church under which Shiloh was organized.