The History of United African Methodist Episcopal Church
United A.M.E. Church has a long and interesting history that can be divided into four periods, each encompassing and important aspect of the history and growth of the church.
First Period: St. John A.M.E. Church Established
The first period of church history began when a prayer group was formed in West Xenia, about a year before it was admitted to the Ohio Annual Conference, Western District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, held September 14, 1833 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Rev. Thomas Lawrence was appointed the first pastor by Presiding Bishop Rt. Rev. Morris Brown. Worship services were in a frame (likely log) structure on Xenia’s West Third Street (now Market Street) and the only record of its first members was the intimation that they were very poor.
This church was part of the Hillsboro Circuit in 1833 and became the third organization of
African Methodism west of the Allegheny Mountains; Quinn Chapel, Chillicothe being the first, May 30,1821; and Allen Temple, Cincinnati, the second, February 4, 1824. In 1842, the Xenia church was known as the green County Mission and through love, perseverance and hard work, grew from 25 to 52 members. Circuit riders were common in those days as they visited churches in the Hamilton Circuit; Xenia, Lebanon, Middleton, mason, Palmyra and Harveysburg.
Most of these early circuit riders have not received the historical recognition they deserve; others have become legends in A.M.E. history. The third pastor, William Paul Quinn later became a Bishop and is honored as one of the “Four Horsemen” and for his westward expansion of African Methodism.
In 1850, trustees John Roberts, Wesley Roberts, William Brandon, George Boyd, Charles Smith, Jessie Divine and Rev. David Smith purchased a lot on West Market Street, in the vicinity of what used to be Kmart. This modest building lacked a floor and Rev. Smith got boards and laid one. A man by the name of Radar constructed the brick walls and roof and the Roberts provided financial security for the materials. This was the first church among black Xenians. The members were building this small structure when they learned that the Dayton-Xenia-Belpre Railroad had been granted the right way through their property. Although discouraged, they sold the above real estate to the railroad for $1,100 on September 21, 1853.
In a few months the abandoned German Reformed Church on the corner of back and Monroe (Church and Monroe) Streets and across from the prestigious Xenia Female Academy was offered to the membership. This lot contained a brick church, 40 x 50, and a house which was purchased December 21, 1853 for $1,200, by the following officers: John Roberts, George Boyd, William Brandon, David Smith and Wesley Roberts. This was recorded April 11, 1854.
The second period, 1855-1912, was the tranquil phase of the church. Pastor Davis Smith, 1855-57, petitioned the Annual Conference to make Xenia a separate station, as the Hamilton Circuit was so large. and this was done. the congregation was pleased with their new location and the church was enlarged in 1867 to accommodate its increasing membership.
In 1876, Xenia hosted the Ohio Annual Conference. This conference featured an address by the beloved Daniel A. Payne, the first president of Wilberforce University and founder of Payne Theological Seminary. During this meeting the name of the church was changed to St. John. Members were especially active in both local and connectional affairs. they supported Wilberforce University, bought a parsonage on east Market Street, celebrated a Golden Jubilee and committed themselves to a new site.
Around 1910 the church building became unusable and was condemned. there had been extensive repairs in 1867, but there is no record of subsequent maintenance or repairs. The congregation began plans to rebuild under the direction of Rev. S.P. West. West organized the membership into six fund raising “Tribes of Israel” and raised $5,000; enough to obtain a bank loan to construct the church. However, some members were not interested in purchasing and already existing building at the corner of Columbus and Market Streets which had been purchased by church members at a sheriff’s sale.
This proposal was not accepted by a majority of the membership and after attempts by the church conference and even court litigation; a unifying agreement was not reached. At the 1914 Annual Conference, Bishop Cornelius Thaddeus Shaffer ruled they function as separate churches, which pleased both factions.
Third Period: First A.M.E. Church Established
In 1915, the opposing faction bought the First Reformed Presbyterian Church building, located on the corner of Market and Columbus Streets. This then became First A.M.E. church. From 1914 through 1917 members of the St. John group built on its original site at the corner of Monroe and Church Streets.
On April 3, 1974 a devastating tornado struck Xenia, destroying both churches. First A.M.E. church met at the home of Mrs. Mildred Johnson, and St. John A.M.E. church met at Winfrey, later McLin (now Porter-Qualls & Dunlap) Funeral Home.
Fourth Period: The Birth of United A.M.E. Church
Plans for a church structure located on the grounds of 286 East Church Street were submitted by the Merger and Building Committees and approved August 18, 1974. This new location, originally the Xenia A.M.E. church, had been purchased in 1967 from Wilberforce University by St. John for a building site.
A Merger Worship Service was held at Martin Luther King Memorial Hall, Wilberforce, Ohio, on September 1, 1974 with many in attendance. Bishop Harold I. Bearden appointed Rev. D.W. Patterson, pastor, and Rev. F.H. Shipes, associate pastor of the new organization, United A.M.E. Church, which was placed in the Ohio Annual Conference.