Being totally immersed in AME space last weekend took me back to my first substantive encounter with the African Methodist Episcopal church. Rev. C. Garnett Hennings. Rev. Hennings was a dominant figure in the faith community during the 1980s as well as in the broader social justice movement. He was involved in many community issues and his home church St. Paul AME Church was a hub of activity. Its doors were always open for community events and actions.
If you don’t know the story of Richard Allen and the AME church, it’s worth your time to research. I do believe the AMEs are the only black folks who didn’t just criticize the racism in their respective denomination but asserted their independence and split from the Methodist Church. They put their Afrocentricity at the center of their religion and were bodacious in maintaining Africa in their name. Names are important.
This year the AMEs are in the throes of a big, big celebration—their 200th birthday. Last weekend’s Social Justice Forum was a prelude to the Bi-Centennial in July 2016. The festivities will include the unveiling and dedication of the Richard Allen mural and courtyard.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath was a driving force behind the Social Forum where the assembly was guided to tackle issues such as sexuality, mass incarceration, womanism, etc. Tef Poe, Pastor Traci Blackmon and I were invited to participate in a panel on Ferguson. It was clear from listening to the panels that there definitely was shakin’ and wakin’ to move the church to live up to its high ideals and values. I was especially encouraged by the numbers of young people from seminaries, especially women, who also participated in the challenges to re-view and re-work the thinking and practices of the church.
The Forum was held at Mother Bethel AME Church, the first AME Church in the country. Its current leader is the dynamic Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler who took me and Tef on a tour of the museum located in the church. The remains of Allen, his second wife Sally and Bishop Morris Brown are all entombed on the premise.
My weekend was capped off with the theatrical production of “Sarah’s Song” written for this special year and lifted up the life of Sarah Bass Allen. The production was part of an awards lunch that honored women in the district conference who embodied the strength and character of First Lady Allen. I was impressed that the luncheon was held at the sizeable banquet hall of the AME First District HQ. The AME owns their building. That’s right—keeping the money in the family.
I met many good folks, even some who once lived in St. Louis/Ferguson or who have meet me in other spaces.
Look out Philly—this summer it’s gonna be raining AMEs!