Richard Allen grew up in slavery, toiling alongside parents and siblings on Stokeley Sturgis’s Delaware farm. The family was broken up before Richard became an adult. Mr. Sturgis sold Richard’s mother and three of his siblings, and Richard never saw them again. Heavyhearted, he followed a crowd into the fields one day to hear a Methodist preacher. “I was brought to see myself, poor, wretched, and undone,” he wrote. “Shortly after, I obtained mercy through the blood of Christ.”

Allen soon purchased his freedom and commenced as an itinerant Methodist evangelist. In 1786 he joined the staff of Philadelphia’s St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, the mother church of American Methodism. He conducted the five a.m. Sunday services. When his powerful preaching brought many blacks to St. George’s, white parishioners felt uneasy, and African-American worshipers were gradually denied seating, being forced to stand along the walls during services.

Still the church grew, and a building expansion became necessary. On the first morning in the refurbished auditorium, Allen took his seat in the new balcony. As the congregation knelt for prayer, he heard a scuffle. A church trustee was pulling blacks to their feet, trying to force them from the gallery. “Wait until the prayer is over,” whispered a disturbed worshiper, “and we’ll trouble you no more.” But the trustee only increased his efforts. Allen and his friends left, vowing never to return to St. George’s.

They were without a church, and Allen had no job. He hired out as a chimney sweep, then opened a shoemaker’s shop. But his spare time was devoted to preaching the gospel and serving the black community. His heroic efforts during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 so impressed the Philadelphians that tensions eased with St. George’s. With the church’s blessing, Allen assembled a group of black Christians on July 29, 1794, in a converted blacksmith’s shop. The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed, the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now known throughout the world. Allen became the first consecrated bishop in the growing movement which today is among the largest Methodist groups on earth.

Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought. (Philippians 2:2b-5)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 29. Under the title Stokeley’s Slave.

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