Queen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church celebrates its 150th anniversary this week.
The second oldest institution on Hilton Head Island – next to its neighbor First African Baptist Church – faces the challenges of many churches today. It needs more young families and children involved to take advantage of its strong foundation.
Queen Chapel has a most unusual foundation, one that is important to local and American history.
The church would not still be tucked under the live oaks of Beach City Road if not for a slave uprising, a storm blowing missionaries ashore, and one of America’s first experiments with freedom in the nearby village of Mitchelville.
The slave uprising of 1822 in Charleston did not succeed, but organizer Denmark Vesey’s ties to the African Methodist church there led to its destruction. The church rebuilt but had to go underground when black churches without white supervision were outlawed in 1834.
And that’s what brought the missionaries this way. They came in 1865 to revive the African Methodist church in Charleston, which they did. They named it Emanuel, meaning “God with us.” But before they could get to Charleston, a storm forced them to take refuge on Hilton Head. A worship service they led under an oak tree at Mitchelville was the beginning of Queen Chapel AME Church.
Today, the mission of Queen Chapel remains the same as those stormy days of war and oppression.
“Our mission is to minister to the social, spiritual and physical development of all people,” said its pastor, the Rev. Edward B. Alston.
The AME church has always stressed social activism.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Ridgeland was pastor at Emanuel AME Church, but also a state senator, when he and eight members were gunned down during a Bible study at church this June. Pinckney called his work in the senate “an extension of my ministry.”
The AME church has always stressed education, with colleges named for early leaders Richard Allen and Morris Brown.
“From the beginning, Queen Chapel has ministered not only to the spiritual needs but to the whole person,” Alston said. That has involved roles in education, criminal justice, sustenance and health care.
One of the missionaries who held that fateful meeting under the island oak was the Rev. Richard Harvey Cain. He knew that the church in 1865 was charged with uplifting an entire race. He said that its ministers and teachers must by “a thorough education, prepare the colored youth for the high duties of a citizen, a merchant, a lawyer, or millionaire.”
Source: The State | DAVID LAUDERDALE