African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Not to be confused with African Methodist Episcopal Church.
For the Church of Zion in South Africa, see Zion Christian Church.
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Classification Protestant
Orientation Mainline Methodist
Polity Connexionalism
Origin 1821
New York, New York
Separated from Methodist Episcopal Church
Members 1,400,000+

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or the AME Zion Church or AMEZ, is a historically African-American denomination based in the United States. It was officially formed in 1821 in New York City, but operated for a number of years before then.


The church can be traced back to the John Street Methodist Church of New York City. Following acts of overt discrimination (such as black parishioners being forced to leave worship), many black Christians left to form their own churches. The first church founded by the AME Zion Church was built in 1800 and was named Zion. These early black churches were still part of the Methodist Episcopal Church denomination, although the congregations were independent.

The fledgling church grew and soon multiple churches developed from the original congregation. These churches were attended by black congregants, but ministered to by white ordained Methodist ministers. In 1820, six of the churches met to ordain James Varick as an elder, and in 1821 he was made the first General Superintendent of the AME Zion Church. A debate raged in the white-dominated Methodist church over the possibility of black ministers. This debate concluded on July 30, 1822 when James Varick was ordained the first bishop of the AME Zion church. The total membership in 1866 was about 42,000.[1] Two years later it claimed 164,000 members.[2]

Black churches played an increasingly powerful role in the African-American civil rights movement. AMEZ remained smaller than AME because some of its ministers lacked the authority to perform marriages, and many of its ministers avoided political roles. Its finances were weak, and in general its leadership was not as strong as AME. However it was the leader among all Protestant denominations in ordaining women and giving them powerful roles.[3] One influential leader bishop James Walker Hood (1831-1918) of North Carolina. He not only created and fostered his network of AMEZ churches in North Carolina, but he also was the grand master for the entire South of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, a secular organization that strengthen the political and economic forces inside the black community.[4]


The AME Zion Church is not to be confused with the similarly named African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was officially formed in 1816 by Richard Allen and Daniel Coker in Philadelphia. The denomination was made up of AME churches in the Philadelphia region, including Delaware and New Jersey.

Key features and early structure of AME Zion Church

John Wesley AME Zion Church (est. 1847), located in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The newly formed AME Zion Church had a separate meeting place and time apart from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Autonomy was key for the newly formed church.

A general conference is the supreme administrative body of the church (s. 1988). Between meetings of the conference, the church is administered by the Board of Bishops. "The Book of Discipline is the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which the AME Zion Church governs itself."[5]

Today the denomination operates Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and two junior colleges. In 1906 the religious studies department of Livingstone College came to be known as the Hood Seminary. Hood remained a department of the College until 2001. On July 1, 2001 the Seminary began operating independently of the College, and in March 2002, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the College’s accrediting agency, acknowledged that the Seminary was a separate institution, sponsored by the A.M.E. Zion Church independent of the College.

The AME Zion missionaries are active in North and South America, Africa, and the Caribbean region (s. 1988). In 1998, the AME Zion Church commissioned the Reverend Dwight B. and BeLinda P. Cannon as the first family missionaries to South Africa in recent memory. These modern-day missionaries served from 1997 through 2004. Dr. Cannon is now Administrative Assistant to Bishop Richard K. Thompson, who oversees the work of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

The AME Zion Church has performed mission work in the countries of Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, England, India, Jamaica, St. Croix-Virgin Islands, Trinidad, Tobago, and others.

The Church today

The church grew rapidly with the ordination of black ministers, but was mostly confined to the northern United States until the conclusion of the American Civil War. In the first decade after the war, together with the AME Church, it sent missionaries to the South to aid freedmen. The two African-American denominations gained hundreds of thousands of new members in the South, who responded to their missionaries and organizing efforts.[6] Today, the AME Zion church has more than 1.4 million members,[7] with outreach activities in many areas around the world. An individual member is sometimes referred to as being a "Zion Methodist".[8]

The AME Zion church has been in negotiations for many years to merge with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church into a tentatively named Christian Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The plan was originally for unification by 2004. The AME Zion church has insisted on continuing to have "African" in the name.[9] AME Zion church is very similar in doctrine and practice to CME church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.


In May 2012, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church entered into full communion with the United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Union Methodist Protestant Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, in which these Churches agreed to "recognize each other’s churches, share sacraments, and affirm their clergy and ministries."[10]

See also


  1. The Annual Cyclopedia: 1866," (1867) p 492
  2. The Annual Cyclopedia: 1868," (1869) p 481
  3. Canter Brown, Jr. and Larry Eugene Rivers, For a Great and Grand Purpose: The Beginnings of the AMEZ Church in Florida, 1864-1905 (2004).
  4. David G. Hackett, "The Prince Hall Masons and the African American Church: The Labors of Grand Master and Bishop James Walker Hood, 1831–1918." Church history 69#4 (2000): 770-802. online
  5. "Statement of Commission on Discipline Codification", in the Book of Discipline of the AME Zion Church, 2008:ii.
  6. "The Church in the Southern Black Community", Documenting the South, University of North Carolina, 2004, accessed 15 Jan 2009
  7. "2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Archived from the original on 28 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  8. The Book of Discipline of the AME Zion Church, 2008:¶47.
  9. "Two black Methodist denominations moving toward union". Worldwide Faith News.
  10. Banks, Adelle M. (7 May 2012). "Methodists Reach Across Historic Racial Boundaries with Communion Pact". Christianity Today. Retrieved 11 November 2012.

Further reading

External links

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