8 April 2016 marks exactly 200 hundred years since the first General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was called into session and one of the oldest historically Black churches in the United States was founded – its incorporation confirmed by the gathering of five congregations and the election and consecration of Bishop Richard Allen. This gathering marked a culmination and continuation of an ecumenical struggle for justice since Allen’s and Absalom Jones’s principled departure from St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church and the establishment of the Free African Society in 1787 with the help of Philadelphia’s Quakers amidst social challenges such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Yellow Fever Epidemic, women called into ministry and full status in church and society, and, generally, Black churches in a burgeoning America. In different ways and at different paces, these social challenges became opportunities for social witness.
I was tremendously honored to be asked by Rev Jennifer Leath to create a series of 4 images for a bicentennial program at the legendary Mothel Bethel Church in Philadelphia (the congregation Bishop Allen founded). My job was to illustrate the four themes to be explored at the conference by speakers Albert Jordy Raboteau, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Dennis Dickerson, Richard Newman, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Yvette Flunder, M. Jocelyn Elders, Tef Poe, Traci Blackmon, Jamla Rogers, Jamal H. Bryant, William Watley, Monica Coleman, Stephen A. Green, Bettye Collier-Thomas, and Anthea Butler.
Theme 1: The historical challenge of slavery and and the contemporary challenge of mass incarceration
Theme 2: The 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic and 19th Century health crises, and related 21st Century challenges of poverty, race, and illness.
Theme 3: The historical and contemporary call for Black Churches to be focused on social justice agendas and the movements for Black lives.
Theme 4: AME history of women in ministry and contemporary challenges of gender and sexuality facing Black churches including the AME Church