LIFT EVERY VOICE and SING
In HONOR of the BICENTENNIAL of the
AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
This land which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds and the gospel is free.
Founder and First Elected and Consecrated
Bishop of the AME Church
February is Black History Month. During this time, the second Sunday is observed as Founders’ Day within the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This year, 2016, marks the Bicentennial of the formal coming together of a circuit of congregations dotting the Eastern seaboard who defined, and declared, themselves to be the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest Black religious denomination in the United States.
The history of the AME Church has always been a tremendous source of pride for me. I wear it as a badge of courage. “Most religious groups had their origin in some theological, doctrinal, or ideological dispute or concern. But the A.M.E. Church originated as a protest against the inhuman treatment which the helpless people of African descent were forced to accept from the white people belonging to the St. George…[Methodist Episcopal] Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This fact says to us that the organization of the A.M.E. Church was the result of racial discrimination…”¹
Founders’ Day is an annual commemoration. Congregations the world over observe this event to rekindle the memory, and affirm their connection to, the vision of Richard Allen. AME’s, honor the history, heritage, and legacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a reminder of the journey on which our forebears embarked, more than 229 years ago, in their quest for freedom from enslavement and recognition as heirs to the rights and privileges of citizenship ordained and articulated in the text of the Constitution of the United States of America, and its amendments.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea,
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
The first Quadrennial Convocation of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was held in April 1816. Two hundred years later, people of color in general, and African Americans, in particular, remain embroiled in an ongoing struggle for our dignity, civil, and equal rights for we ARE citizens of this country. The wealth, and industry, of the US was built on the backs of our ancestors. We stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants who contribute to this nation’s economy – men, women, children, and teenagers whose desire to become legal residents is continuously thwarted by xenophobia, racism, intolerance, and an appalling lack of knowledge of the true history of the United States. We are compelled to remember, appreciate, and give thanks for the grit, wisdom, and determination of every generation of AME’s who preceded us. Their lives mattered as much during their lifetimes as the health and wellbeing of our extended community matters today.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
This year AME’s celebrate the Bicentennial of a religious institution which has served, suffered, survived, and thrived. This year we honor an indomitable body of believers which remains viable, and respected, in a technology-driven, increasingly secular society dominated by every imaginable idol; where spirituality and religiosity are confused, conflated, and disingenuously insinuated into the fabric of our everyday lives. This year we take time to rejoice in, and reflect on, a denomination which has contributed to, and witnessed, the evolution of the modern world from the late eighteenth century. This year we acknowledge the enduring spirit, and strength, of a religious entity which has been an integral part of this nation since the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. The African Methodist Episcopal Church has kept its doors open for refuge, prayer, worship, fellowship, and community activism through wars, social and political upheaval, and the administrations of forty presidents, from James Madison to Barack Hussein Obama Junior. This year AME’s across the globe gratefully affirm the vision of Richard Allen and recognize the tireless efforts of our episcopal, connectional, conference branch, clergy, women’s missionary society, and lay leaders over the past two hundred years.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way,
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.²
Two hundred years of serving, giving, shepherding, encouraging, and providing support – this is the history of the AME Church. And those of us who call ourselves AME are the voices, faces, and the future of African Methodism. We reaffirm who we are and where we’ve come from. We commit ourselves to Kingdom building as proud members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. We are AME’s!!!
¹ White, Andrew, Know Your Church Manual, 1965.
² Lift Every Voice and Sing, Poem written by James Weldon Johnson, melody composed by John Rosamond Johnson
Learn more about the African Methodist Episcopal Church at www.ame-church.com.
The Story of Lift Every Voice and Sing
“Many people are surprised to learn that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem. Created by James Weldon Johnson, it was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, FL. The poem was set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson, and soon adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song. Today “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is one of the most cherished songs of the African American Civil Rights Movement and is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.” (Excerpted from: http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/black-authors-spoken-word-poetry/lift-every-voice-and-sing/…)