Niagara Gazette

Columns

July 14, 2014

HIGGS: It all began in 1906 with another small group of worshippers

Niagara Gazette — It seems I keep repeating myself as I reflect on another one of our early congregations and their spiritual, physical and financial efforts to establish a house of worship to call their own. But that is how things were done in the history of our city and no doubt many others. As Margaret Mead once stated: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This statement has been my personal guide for several years and has worked more often than not for me.

It worked for a small group of committed persons who met back in 1906 in private homes in the south end of Niagara Falls and at the end of that year, the group leaders requested that an African Methodist Episcopal mission be established in our city. Their petition resulted in the Rev. A.L. Wilson’s arrival to take charge and the group was incorporated as St. John’s AME Church around November of 1906. Things moved along slowly for the next 18 years but the group persevered by meeting in private homes, in garages and rented halls.

We need to have a time out for a word or two about this particular church denomination. The African Methodist Episcopal Church usually called the A.M.E. Church is a predominately African American Methodist denomination based in the United States. It was founded by the Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1816 from several black Methodist congregations in the mid-Atlantic area that favored independence from the traditional Methodist Church. Allen was consecrated its first bishop in 1816.

Wikipedia states: “The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) has a unique history as it is the first major religious denomination in the western world that developed because of a sociological rather than the theological differences. It was the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the U.S. The church was born in protest against racial discrimination and slavery.” Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and other free blacks were members of the Free African Society (FAS) which was established in Philadelphia in 1787 and they left St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church because of discrimination. Both preachers, they were limited to black congregations and blacks were made to sit in a separate gallery as their numbers grew in size.

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