On February 27, 2016, the United Methodist Church of Thousand Oaks hosted the unveiling of a United States Postal Service Black Heritage Stamp honoring Bishop Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
According to the USPS, “The stamp is the 39th in the Postal Service’s Black Heritage stamp series, which began in 1978 with a stamp honoring abolitionist Harriet Tubman. It coincides with the 200th anniversary of Allen’s founding of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, considered one of the most important institutions in African American life, and Allen’s election and consecration as A.M.E.’s first bishop.”
Every year, the United States Postal Service issues a commemorative postage stamp highlighting the achievements of African Americans. When it was decided that Bishop Allen would be honored this year, Larry Dozier, the current President of the Western Jurisdiction United Methodist Men who also happens to have been a USPS employee, invited the USPS to hold the special event at the church. The unveiling became part of a concert featuring the Dozier Singers Family and Friends (DSF), an African American group that sings Gospel music.
Dozier thought, “Why not have this event at a predominantly Caucasian church such as Thousand Oaks UMC? What a great opportunity to bring together Black History and the ministries of The United Methodist Church.”
Bill Williams, who serves as President of Thousand Oaks UMC’s United Methodist Men, was excited about the relationship-building, “The choir of the African Methodist Episcopal Church that came from Oxnard and our own are planning to exchange choirs soon! And, of course, we were happy to see our brothers and sisters from Sherman Oaks United Methodist Church where Rev. Garth Gilliam is the Pastor.”
Of course, the story of the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is one that brings to light the racism that was present in the mother church of The AME and UMC: The Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen was one of two black persons who were present at the “Christmas Conference” of 1784 in Baltimore which marked the founding of the Methodist Church in America. Yet, neither of them were allowed a vote at the Conference and Allen was only allowed to lead worship services that were held early in the morning.
Later on, Allen would move to Philadelphia to be a preacher at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church. There, he would not only be, once again, restricted to leading only early morning worship services, but the black worshippers would be physically separated from whites to another part of the building. Allen was ordained in 1799 by Francis Asbury as the first black minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, Allen and four other ministers formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Like any church, the UMC is not perfect. This stamp both gives a reason for us to celebrate the abolition of slavery, and the role we played in creating a society where all are considered equal, as well as to be confessional regarding our shortcomings and sins,” says Rev. Steve Peralta of Thousand Oaks UMC. “We gather together to work on being the church. We meet together to grow together as brothers and sisters who bear God’s image and deserve respect, grace, and dignity.”