A noontime ceremony this week at the historic Mother Bethel AME Church in Society Hill honored church founder Richard Allen in an event to introduce a new U.S. postage stamp in his honor.
The stamp commemorates Allen’s work as a preacher, activist and civic leader on the 200th anniversary of his founding of the African Methodist Episcopal church. He founded Mother Bethel in 1794 as a sanctuary for African Americans who were not able to worship next to white church members during the Colonial era. The AME Church was established in Philadelphia in 1815 after a nearly two-decade court battle with white Episcopalians.
Allen’s Forever stamp is the 39th in the Black Heritage stamp series.
“He’s rejoicing because the time has come to recognized his deeds from the past and being a pioneer when there were no pioneers, for making the road when there was no road, for having influence when there was no influence,” said church usher Larry Shaw, 63, of Northeast Philadelphia, who attended the event Tuesday with a host of dignitaries and church leaders. “It just shows the respect they have for this occasion. It’s historic.”
Shaw said his family has been attending Mother Bethel for three generations.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was among the dignitaries attending, as were Vernon Jordan, Washington, D.C., attorney and confidant of presidents; Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard University scholar and host of “Finding Your Roots” on PBS; Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, presiding prelate of the AME Church First Episcopal District; Bishop Reginald T. Jackson; and regional officers from the postal service.
Mother Bethel pastor, the Rev. Mark Tyler, opened the ceremony, sharing a Bible passage that had brought inspiration and comfort to Allen, who fought against institutionalized racism and oppression and prolonged infighting among church members.
“The Lord is our light and our salvation. Whom shall I fear,” Tyler said, citing a Bible text at the outset of a ceremony that brought hundreds of people through the double doors of the church at 419 S. 6th St. Allen’s remains are still entombed in the lower level of the church, down the hall from a portion of the church dedicated to a museum featuring relics from his era.