AME stands for African Methodist Episcopal. The AME Zion or AMEZ is sometimes confused with the AME Church. Both were started around the same time and under similar circumstances, and for a while both used the same name (African Methodist Episcopal). Later, one group added “Zion” to its name to distinguish itself from the other and because Zion is a frequent designation for the place of God’s dwelling in Scripture (e.g., Joel 3:17).
The AME Zion Church is “Methodist” in that the church sprang from Methodist roots and subscribes to Methodist doctrine, worship, and spirituality. It is “Episcopal” in that church leadership is structured according to the episcopal model—that is, the church is ruled by bishops who oversee a hierarchy of other leaders.
The AME Zion Church is “African” because it was founded by people of African descent. Many African Americans had attempted to enter into full fellowship with Methodist churches but often experienced discrimination (as was the case in churches of many denominations). In 1796 a group that had faced discrimination at the John Street Methodist Church in New York City left to form a new church, which also pulled people of African descent from other Methodist churches. This newly formed church was still part of the Methodist denomination and was at first called “African Chapel” but later called “Zion.” By 1800, the congregation was able to build their own building. It was the only African-American church in New York City at the time.
In 1820, the church was discouraged with the continued discriminatory practices of the Methodist Episcopal denomination and withdrew from that organization, forming the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Conference. This new denomination began to incorporate religious expression that was more appealing to black congregations, and affiliate churches began to spring up. The original church in New York is still known as the Mother Church.
After the end of the Civil War, representatives from the AME Zion Church spread into the South to minister, and AME Zion churches were planted there as well.
Today, the AME Zion Church accepts people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds but is primarily black. It is ruled by twelve bishops and has churches in Canada, England, Africa, India, South America, and the Caribbean. The church emphasizes ministry and social change. The church’s doctrinal positions are generally evangelical, in keeping with historic Methodism.
For more information, please visit the official website of the AME Zion Church at https://amez.org/.