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Exhibit Highlights AME Bicentennial Celebration

Exhibit Highlights AME Bicentennial Celebration

Posted: July 08, 2016
Florcy Morisset

Photo: Florcy Morisset

Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2016 5:01 pm

Bobbi Booker |  Tribune Staff Writer

The AME Church was founded in Philadelphia by Richard Allen and incorporated in 1816. Located at 6th and Lombard streets, Mother Bethel AME Church is the cornerstone of the nation’s oldest African-American denomination.

“We are honored to host the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference in the city that has served as the birthplace of both our nation and our beloved church,” stated Bishop Gregory Ingram, presiding prelate, First Episcopal District, AME Church, in a press release. “As we continue to impact the world through ministry, advocacy, education, activism, public service and outreach, we are especially proud to honor our visionary founder Richard Allen with a mural at our First District Headquarters at 3801 Market Street as well as a statue at the historic Mother Bethel AME Church.”

In honor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s bicentennial celebration, running through July 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and other locations throughout the city, the AME Church’s General Conference hosted a VIP Red Carpet reception on Tuesday evening at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) to preview “The Extraordinary History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” which runs in tandem with the conference being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The AME Church grew out of the Free African Society (FAS), which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church pulled Blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans.

Florcy Morisset of Vivant Art Collection guest-curated “The Extraordinary History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” on view in PAFA’s Sculpture Study Center. “The theme of the exhibition as a total is this idea of the ‘extraordinary history,’ but the question is ‘who, what, when and where?’” said Morisset. “It sounds very simple, but it begins with Richard Allen and his friendship with Absolom Jones. They were the first to do a very peaceful walkout out of St. George’s, as we know. That was a civil, political act. They didn’t know they were going to start a church; they just knew they were not going to tolerate [discrimination] there. Their medium to the objection to the way they were treated was to build this church.”

According to historical material provided, although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen led a small group who resolved to AME General Conference Release remain Methodists. In 1794, Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, formerly enslaved in Delaware, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because Black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia in April 1816 for the First General Conference and incorporated a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME Church. A significant distinction in the formation of the Church is the basis of its creation born of sociological rather than theological differences.

Morisset continued, “I think the historical relevance to this show is when you think about PAFA being the first arts museum … you’re thinking about what’s happening in the landscape of arts and culture in terms of telling the African-American and the Black stories, and to say that they want to open their space and tell the AME story is very important.”

The AME Church encompasses 20 districts, spanning 39 countries, and an estimated 30,000 participants will attend the conference. For Morisset it is an honor to help share the AME’s history. “To think of Richard Allen, Jarena Lee, Mary Stills and so many of these leaders who were thinking, not of themselves, but the future,” Morisset reflected. “To see that they were doing this for us … it is beyond me. I’m just a vessel — they laid the story out, I just put the pieces together.”

“The Extraordinary History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church” is on view through July 18 in the Sculpture Garden of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 128 N Broad St. For more information, visit 2016generalconference.org.

bbooker@phillytrib.com

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