VICKSBURG, MS — The brick church at the corner of Monroe and First East streets holds a history older than its years.
But Saturday night at 6 that history will come alive as the members of Bethel A.M.E. Church, their guests and local officials observe the 153rd anniversary of the formation of the first African Methodist Episcopal church in Mississippi.
“We’re going to honor the trailblazers — the oldest members of the church — and we’re going to give a presentation on the history of the church,” said Clarence H. Jones, a member of the church’s trustee and steward boards. “One of our pastors, Hiram Revels, was a U.S. senator during reconstruction and became president of Alcorn College.
“We are the mother church of African Methodism in Mississippi,” he said. “We had the first black college in Mississippi owned by blacks. It’s the home of the Prince Hall Masons. The Rev. T.W. Stinger, one of our pastors, founded the masonic lodge at Bethel in 1867.”
Being the mother church of African Methodism in Mississippi, Jones said, puts the church’s history in the forefront.
“We have maintained the same way we do things as they did back in the old days. Where some churches are changing and they’re trying to figure out how to bring new people in using different things, and we’re not; we’re just continually doing what we’ve been taught to do over the years. We’re still a traditional A.M.E. church.”
Jones said a lot of people wonder why the church is called African Methodist Episcopal church. “They think it has something to do with Africa, which really it doesn’t.”
He said the history of the A.M.E. church goes back to the 1700s in Philadelphia at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church, a white church that welcomed slaves, former slaved and free men to its services.
A.M.E. founder the Right Rev. Richard Allen became a preacher at the church, and was allowed at morning services.
“He brought so many black people to church they had to change the way they did services.” Jones said.
The black congregation formed it own church, but was not allowed to ordain ministers, and the district bishop conducted services. The group eventually separated and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church so they could ordain their own ministers and maintain the Methodist Episcopal teachings founded by John Wesley.
SOURCE: John Surratt
The Vicksburg Post