African American Church Celebrates 200 Years

By Lawrence Nzuve, Kevin Rate and Katarina Delgado

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church founded in 1816 is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary on April 7, 2016.

The church was formed in Philadelphia when the founder of the AME, Richard Allen, was restricted from praying at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen and his followers started their own church, Dr. Zebulon Miletsky, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Stony Brook University, said

“The church is the oldest African American church,” Miletsky said. “It’s a proud tradition which has connections all around the country.”

The church has 2,510,000 members, 3,817 pastors and 7,000 congregations according to The World Council of Churches.

Long Island is home to 14 AME churches—seven existing in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Some of the churches such as AME Copiague celebrated their 200th anniversary last year in October.

“The [accomplishment] that we are most proud of is we are erecting a statue to Richard Allen; the founder of African Methodism [in Philadelphia],” Rev. Gregory Leonard, the presiding Pastor at the Setauket church, said. “In the city of Philadelphia, they have statues of everyone but not one from Africa.”

In Setauket, Bethel AME church is celebrating its 169th year of existence in October 2016, although  the bicentennial celebration of the mother church will be in April.

Bethel AME church in Setauket has been experiencing varied attendance over the years.

“It grows, and then it grows, and then it grows,” Willie White, a church orderly at the Setauket church, said. “Because the younger people that are part of a congregation, once they go away to college, they don’t come back because they can’t afford to live here in this community, it varies, it doesn’t really drop off heavy, but it varies.”

Although the Setauket church is not preparing for any specific celebration, history is still an important sentiment to the people of the church.

“We’ve been having small services with prayer, Bible studies, and stuff like that, and we have some programs, we just had a program on black history month and that was a really great month for us”, White said. “We finished up with a very strong celebration, a lot of people came from different places to be with us”.

There is a feeling of satisfaction for a community which inhabits a piece of property sitting on a protected area.    
“The community is doing a wonderful job, but there aren’t a lot of afro-americans in the area, just the few that are here,” White said. “It makes me feel wonderful to be a part of this, looking forward as our celebration continues throughout this year.”