AME Church

The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s MEC pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen led a small group that resolved to remain Methodists. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because black Methodists in other Middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME.

The geographical spread of the AMEC prior to the Civil War was mainly restricted to the Northeast and Midwest. Major congregations were established in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, and other large Blacksmith's Shop cities. Numerous northern communities also gained a substantial AME presence. Remarkably, the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, and, for a few years, South Carolina, became additional locations for AME congregations. The denomination reached the Pacific Coast in the early 1850s with churches in Mother Bethel Church Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, and other places in California. Moreover, Bishop Morris Brown established the Canada Annual Conference.

The most significant era of denominational development occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Oftentimes, with the permission of Union army officials, AME clergy moved into the states of the collapsing Confederacy to pull newly freed slaves into their denomination. “I Seek My Brethren,” the title of an often repeated sermon that Theophilus G. Steward preached in South Carolina, became a clarion call to evangelize fellow blacks in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and many other parts of the South. Hence, in 1880 AME membership reached 400,000 because of its rapid spread below the Mason-Dixon line. When Bishop Henry M. Turner pushed African Methodism across the Atlantic into Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1891 and into South Africa in 1896, the AME now laid claim to adherents on two continents.

While the AME is doctrinally Methodist, clergy, scholars, and lay persons have written important works that demonstrate the distinctive theology and praxis that have defined this Wesleyan body. Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett, in an address to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, reminded the audience of the presence of blacks in the formation of Christianity. Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner wrote in 1895 in The Color of Solomon – What? That biblical scholars wrongly portrayed the son of David as a white man. In the post-civil rights era, theologians James H. Cone, Cecil W. Cone, and Jacqueline Grant who came out of the AME tradition critiqued Euro-centric Christianity and African-American churches for their shortcomings in fully impacting the plight of those oppressed by racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage.

In the 1990s, the AME included over 2,000,000 members, 8000 ministers, and 7000 congregations in more than 30 nations in North and South America, Africa, and Europe. Twenty bishops and 12 general officers comprised the leadership of the denomination.

Big Bethel

        Significant milestones have been etched into the fabric of Atlanta’s growth and development by the leaders and members of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church during its 176-year history. Prior to Emancipation, slave masters of the Methodist Episcopal Church provided a facility for our ancestors to worship at Bethel Tabernacle Church on the comer of Courtland and Jenkins Streets (now Georgia State University). However, our founders never lost sight of their vision to organize a church for self-expression, self-help, self-government, and worship. This dream became a reality when the members of Bethel Tabernacle united with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866. This year's theme is "Be Strong" Deuteronomy 31:6:4 as we celebrate One Hundred and Seventy-Six Years. 

        At last, we are coming to grips with the importance of each generation sharing these special events with one another. A warm handclasp between Rev. James Lynch, sent to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, and Rev. Joseph Wood, member of Bethel Tabernacle, in Atlanta, resulted in the 'Tabernacle' becoming united with the African Methodist Episcopal connection in 1866.

        Rev. Jesse Peck became a member of the Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons while living in Boston, he became convinced of the organization's merits. Later, while pastoring at Big Bethel AME Church (Atlanta),   established the first chapter of Free and Accepted Masons in Georgia, which became  Saint James Lodge # 4, on March 5, 1871. 

        Morris Brown College was established in 1881 when Big Bethel AME Church (Atlanta) hosted the North Georgia Annual Conference.  The first National Convention of the National Association for The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was held at Big Bethel AME Church (Atlanta) in 1920.

        One of Atlanta's Historic Landmarks is Big Bethel's "Lighted Cross" bearing the message 'Jesus Saves", the sign was installed in 1922. This blue neon-lighted sign on the church's steeple is still shining as a symbol of “Hope for the World".

        A Black Community Activist, Mr. Jesse O. Thomas, was able to convince the Atlanta City Council and the County Commission to each give $ 5,000 for rebuilding the Bethel church after it was severely damaged by fire in 1923. The reason for supporting this request was due to Bethel's capacity to hold mass meetings of a non-denominational nature in the 1920's.

       The National Convention of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity was held at Bethel AME Church (Atlanta) in 1929. The Big Bethel AME Church's "Heaven Bound Choir" was featured at the premiere of the film "Gone With The Wind", gaining an international reputation since 1930.   The morality play "Heaven Bound" was authored and produced at Big Bethel AME Church and has been performed for 91 successive years since that time.

        In 1953, Rev. Harold I. Bearden made arrangements with the first Black Radio Station in Atlanta, WERD, to broadcast directly from the church, the Sunday morning 'Worship Service" as an inspirational gospel feast for the "sick and shut-in".

       In 1967 there was a legal change in the name of the church. The name was changed from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Tabernacle to Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The October 25, 1943, issue of “The Christian Recorder" commended Big Bethel Church for raising $65,000 to clear the church indebtedness made in 1924. This article recognized the leadership of Rev. D. T. Babcock. Rev. Babcock's tenure of 14 years at the helm of Big Bethel Church has not been exceeded to this date.  The last segregated graduation ceremony for Grady Hospital Nurses of Color was held on August 16, 1965, in Big Bethel's Sanctuary.

        During the administration of Rev. Ruben T. Bussey, the church celebrated significant anniversaries and recognition of its official founding in 1847. One of the high points of his administration was the erection of Bethel Towers (a Resident Housing Facility,) erected in 1968. On August 11, 2013, the mortgage for this $3,514,700 building was burned.

       Big Bethel's "Great Moller Organ" was installed in 1924 with sixteen ranks, three manuals, and a pedal organ. In 1987, the organ was completely restored and expanded under the pastorate of Rev. McKinley Young, when the instrument was raised to thirty-two ranks. Additionally, during the Young years (1980-1992), a major renovation of the church was completed, including upgrading, upholstery of the church furniture, and carpeting added throughout the sanctuary.

         Rev. James L. Davis (now Bishop James L. Davis) was appointed as pastor of Big Bethel AME Church in 1992 until he was elected Bishop in 2004. The establishment of new and innovative ministries served as a catalyst for revitalizing "Sweet Auburn" and other communities. Some of its positive outgrowth includes the Trinity-Bethel Partnership, Big Bethel Senior Village,   acquiring the Parking Lot and Renaissance Walk. Under his leadership, he initiated the changing of the landscape of Auburn Avenue through the renovation of the church ($1.3 million dollars), property acquisition, and development with the support of (Trustees, Stewards, Floyd Baxter, Stanley Pritchett chair pro tempore respectively, Stewardship and Finance, and Church conferences). Projects were initiated to include interior and exterior renovation of the church (including installation of an elevator and upgrades to the kitchen), and the purchase of surrounding and auxiliary property around the Big Bethel Church to extensively increase the campus for future development.

          Subsequently, additional improvements included: the development of new Administrative Offices, the establishment of the Big Bethel Credit Union, the establishment of the church Endowment Fund, property purchases for the development of the now-completed Renaissance Walk, the Big Bethel Senior Village, the computer room at Bethel Towers, the Parking Lot, the Bethel-Trinity Partnership, the Youth   Retreat Station, and the Amphitheater. Special Services and New Ministries established were "Come On Home For Christmas” (Dr. Jackie Michael), the Palm Sunday Parade and the Palm Sunday Concert, the Richard Allen Outreach Recitals events for financial support),  the Philippians, the Signing ministry (Dr. Monica Jones), the Kwanza Sol dance ministry, the Signs of Praise mime ministry, the Joseph Lane (male) and Horizon of Hope (youth) Usher Boards, revitalization of the Bell Choir, the Johnson-Schofield male chorus, the inception of the Praise Team (a small choral group singing selections as a prelude to the worship service), Fishers of Men Bible Study, MOBB (Men of Big Bethel), annual Golf Tournament to raise money for scholarships (Michael Brown-Dr. Price Michael).

        Wings of Faith travel ministry (included trips to South Africa and Zimbabwe), 5th Sundays designated as “All Music Worship International Sunday” (flags),  the Sandwich and Food Pantry ministries, the Tape Ministry, the 2000 Millennial Service (New Year’s Eve relighting of the “Jesus Saves” sign), the Voter Registration initiative, the Habitat for  Humanity ministry building houses (partnered with the Cathedral of St. Philip and other churches), Exchanging Pulpits with The Cathedral of St. Philip (with the Very Reverend, Dean Sam Candler), Annual Big Bethel/Wheat Street Thanksgiving Service, the Nehemiah Project, PROCEED (Prayerfully Reclaiming Our Community Emphasizing Economic Development) Community Outreach project, Juvenile Justice Arc of Safety (which included worship at the detention center), The Family Visitation Center hosted in fellowship hall, reuniting children in foster care with their parents (Reverend Bessie Robinson Donaldson), and the Big Bethel Towers Board preparing for “expiration” of its original syndication. All these ministries were instrumental in Bishop Davis' successful campaign for Bishop 2004.

       Rev. Mark Thompson: 2004-2005 Highlights:  Seed and Proceed, History and Heritage Ministry, Computer Lab Restoration from the Canadian Group, the Babcock -Young Voices of Unity choir, inception of the Praise Team (a small choral group singing selections as a prelude to the worship service), the Bearden-Scott Youth Choir (Reverend Maurice Wright) and the Katrina Relief Project. Presiding Elder David Rhone, Jr. served as interim Pastor (several months in 2005). Additionally, the “Big Bethel Saturday Academy” was established during the Thompson, Rhone year.

        Reverend Gregory V. Eason, 2005-2013Highlights: During the administration of Rev. Dr. Gregory V. Eason, Sr. in addition to his mantra of “Radical Hospitality", FOCUS (Faithfully Obeying Christ with Unwavering Stewardship) was launched to raise funds for the church to retire the debt incurred from the parking lot repurchase.

        Radical Hospitality, the Youth Church, and the Youth Ministry Advisory Council (Reverend Nate Robinson), completion of Renaissance Walk, the Crown Ministry, the Ministry Fair, the Original Mortgage Burning Ceremony for Bethel Towers 2012, the Appointment of Steward Pro Tem, Dr. Stanley Pritchett as President of Morris Brown College, serving 12 years from 2006-2018.

       The “Save The Parking Lot” financial campaign, the addition of the contemporary “Heaven Bound” performance set on the day following the traditional performance, the Worship and Arts Ministry (an umbrella for all choirs and the dance and mime ministries), the Praise Team serving as a featured choir for the entire worship service and often as part of the Pastor's travel team for worship services, the Signs of Praise mime ministry, the Hands For Christ signing ministry, continuation of the "Heaven Bound" morality play, and the establishment of  “A Taste of Big Bethel” (organized by MOBB), the  Recitals for the Youth Talent Development of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Mrs. Azira Hill). A special conference with Congressman John Lewis with the Officials of the church and the History and Heritage ministry pursuing compensation for damage and partial destruction of the original church on Jenkins Street during the Civil War (never satisfied through several “court of claims” attempts in our history).

         In May 2013, Rev. John Foster, Ph.D, was appointed as pastor of Big Bethel AME Church. In addition to continuing the excellent programs and projects that were in progress, he launched a "New Video Ministry", the “Big Screens” becoming a reality, and the church services being streamed LIVE on the Web weekly. The latest initiative that the church has embarked upon is The Vision for Big Bethel 2020 now updated to The Seven Pillars of the Vision for Big  Bethel 2027 to be the preeminent religious presence on the Auburn/Edgewood corridor in Atlanta, GA.

        The ownership of Bethel Towers being officially under the banner of the Bethel Towers Board and church again along with the First Phase of total renovation of Bethel  Towers ($32 million dollars). The development of Phase 2 Parking Deck and Family Life Center, Phase 3 of Market Rate Housing taking space in the parking Lot, and Phase 4 encompassing the church property on Auburn Avenue.

        With the advent of COVID-19, under the Foster leadership team, the church has continued church operations with live streaming of the Worship services, including special events and funerals. Free COVID-19 testing and vaccines have been administered on-site since March of 2021.

        Other innovative ministries and services include the Social Action ministry, the Monday -Saturday 6 a.m. prayer line, the modernization and technology of various giving platforms, the Thrive Young Adult ministry “Next Shift” afternoon worship services which have celebrated five years of existence, the Big Bethel Chorale and the Remnants of Praise ensembles, revitalization of Emily’s Haven, Candidacy for Bishop, 2020-2021, Tail Gate and Parking Lot Service, and the Caregivers Ministry.  Additionally, a digital marquee was installed in front of the church and Big Bethel gained income and advertising access to major billboards along I-75 near the church.  On June 11, 2023, Rev. John Foster, Ph.D., celebrated his 10th year of service as pastor of Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

       In the 176 years of Big Bethel's history, thirty-six ministers have served as pastor -'sainted spiritual leaders' of this flock. Three of those ministers, the Reverends Harold I. Bearden (1964), McKinley Young (1992), & James L. Davis (2004) were elected from Big Bethel's pulpit and consecrated as bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In addition, three other pastors, who were spiritual leaders of Big Bethel were elected and consecrated as bishops in the AME Church, they are the Reverends Wesley J. Gaines, Joseph S. Flipper, and Isaac N. Ross.

 To God Be The Glory, Great Things He hath Done!    

Our Beliefs

The Motto "God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family" is a great summary of what the African Methodist Episcopal Church believes.

Also known as the A.M.E. Church for short, the denomination is Methodist in terms of its basic doctrine and order of worship. It was born, through adversity, of the Methodist church and to this day does not differ in any major way from what all Methodists believe. The split from the main branch of the Methodist Church was not a result of doctrinal differences but rather the result of a period marked by man's intolerance of his fellow man, based on the color of his skin. It was a time of slavery, oppression, and the dehumanization of people of African descent, and many of these un-Christian practices were brought into the church, forcing Richard Allen and a group of fellow worshippers of color to form a splinter denomination of the Methodist Church. To find the basic foundations of the beliefs of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, you need to look no further than The Apostles' Creed and The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion:

Apostle's Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead; and buried. The third day he arose from the dead he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Articles of Our Faith


There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this God-head, there are three persons of one substance, power and eternity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.


The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the God-head and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man, who suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for actual sins of men.


Christ did truly rise from the dead and took again his body with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and sitteth until he returned to judge all men at the  last day.


The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.


The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scriptures, we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

The Names of the Canonical Books:

The First Book of Samuel
The Second Book of Samuel
The First Book of Kings
The Second Book of Kings    The First Book of Chronicles
The Second Book of Chronicles
The Book of Ezra
The Book of Nehemiah
The Book of Esther
The Book of Job
The Book of Psalms
The Proverbs
Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon
Four Prophets, the Greater
Twelve Prophets, the Lesser
All the books of the New Testament as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.



The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and the New Testament, everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore, they are not to be heard, who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments, which are called moral.


Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.


The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and works to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore, we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God; by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.


We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by faith, and not by our own works or deservings; wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.


Although good works, which are the fruit of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgments: yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that they by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree is discerned by its fruit.


Voluntary works, besides, over and above God's Commandments, which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogance and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ said plainly," When ye have done all that is commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants."


Not every sin willingly committed after justification is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore, the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God, rise again, and amend your lives. And therefore they are to be condemned who say they can do no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.


The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.


The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshipping, and adoration, as well as images, as of relics, and also invocations of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant of the Word of God.


It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the primitive Church, (to have public prayer in the Church,) or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understood by the people.


Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in Him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord, in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel; being such as have partly grown out of the corrupt following of the Apostles; and partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not the like nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, because they have not any visible sign, or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; but they that received them unworthily, purchase to themselves condemnation, as St. Paul saith.


Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference; but it is also a sign of regeneration, or the new birth. The baptism of young children is to be retained in the church.


The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a Sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death; insomuch, that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.


The cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people: for both parents of the Lord's Supper, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to administer to all Christians alike.


The offering of Christ once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacraments of masses, in which it is commonly said that that priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable, and dangerous deceit.


The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God's law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore, it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.


It is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the rites and ceremonies of the church to which he belongs, which are not repugnant of the Word of God, and are ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like, as one that offendeth against the common order of the Church and woundeth the consciences of weak brethren.

Every particular Church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies so that all things may be done to edification.


The President, the Congress, the General Assemblies, the Governors, and the Councils of State, as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States, and by the constitution of their respective state and the Councils of States delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, and by the Constitutions of their respective States. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.


The riches and goods of Christians are not common as touching the right, title and possession of the same, as some do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally, to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.


As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord, Jesus Christ and James, His apostle: so we judge that the Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet's teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth.