History – The Beginning Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church traces its roots as far back as 1796. It was then that Peter Williams, Christopher Rush, James Varick, and other African Americans left the white John Street Methodist Church in New York City, to protest the discriminate practices of its white dominate leadership. In 1800 the first church edifice was erected, and called, ‘Zion’. ‘Zion’ became an official part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church name in 1848. James Varick was elected as the first Bishop of the (A.M.E. Zion Church), also known as the ‘Freedom Church’ because of its efforts to help slaves escape from their masters. Prominent members of Zion included the likes of Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, and Sojourner Truth who actively participated in religious freedoms as a part of the underground railroad.
Since its inception, the African Methodists Episcopal Zion Church, the Freedom Church has played a critical role as the center of religious, cultural, and political life of the African American Community. To this connection the First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of South Bend, Indiana has a very rich and detailed history. Many lives have been touched by this church and its many members, as they continue to improve on the legacy of church and community.
In 1907, Rev. A.M. Taylor, a former Pastor of Olivet A.M.E. Church, and a small group of former Olivet members felt the inspiration to organize a church on the Northeast side of South Bend, Indiana. After discussion with Bishop J.S. Caldwell, of the (A.M.E. Zion) church, a decision was made to organize “Taylor’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, which was a split from (Olivet A.M.E.) church. From there Taylor’s Chapel was founded by erecting a new structure with an attached shed, and the church held major meetings at the Perley School, then located at the corner of Arthur and Campeau, near the church.
Taylor’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church was founded to provide worship opportunity for Negroes that anticipated locating to the Northeast side of South Bend, so in 1914, a new cinder block building was constructed. A major change took place between 1923 when a decision was made to construct the current building. Because of the racial discrimination, local vendors banned the project. As a result, all building materials for the erection of the (First AME Zion) church had to be brought in by wagons from Chicago, IL. The Ku Klux Klan threatened to burn down the construction site. However, the University of Notre Dame provided students to help guard the property from any vandalism and destruction. In 1924, upon completion, came the creation of a worship and community center. During the dedication service in 1925, “Taylor’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church” was renamed First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,” under the same management: ‘God.’
The church was dedicated and was erected primarily to care for the spiritual, social and recreational needs of the Negro, constituency of this community. A recreational hall for games, provided a social connection, and with the game section, shower baths, were installed. Much has been done, many lives have been blessed, the original purpose and vision have been accomplished and much remains left to do. First Church as it is affectionately known, continues to be a light on the corner of a thriving community. God be praised for watching over His Church.
The Following Pastors Have Served at First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church:
A.M. Taylor, G.W. Henly, W.H. Taylor, L.P. Powell, S. Samuels, B.F. Gordon, H.R. White, J.W. Moore, J.W. Crockett, H.V. Hutcherson, L.C. Weddington, J.C. Hunter, L. Baptise, C. Gordon, W.A. Crockett, W.A. Rosebourgh, H.L. Marsh, G.A. Stewart, H.D. Bolton, T.A. Rouse, J. Johnson Jr., Michael Rouse, and current Pastor, Rev. Emanuel A. Smith Jr.,
FIRST AMEZ Church is a staple to the thriving community of South Bend, Indiana and with each passing year, new opportunities continue to make it a viable part of this Northeast side of the community. We continue to look for new ways to flourish as a church community. I am thankful to this congregation who so graciously serve this church and endeavor to be steadfast in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has tried to ravish our community. Despite all odds, under the leadership of Rev. Emanuel A. Smith Jr., who was appointed by Bishop, Darryl B. Starnes, in 2019, we have used the resources we have had to remain steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding in the work of our Lord. As a result, we have restored the church edifice, refurbish the kitchen area in the lower auditorium, installed handicapped accessibility into the church, reinstated ministries and look to growing other church ministries. To God be the Glory.
As, C. W. Buford stated at the dedication of First Church, “Much has been done, many lives have been blessed, and the vison remains.” Many more accomplishments leave room for more to be done, and greater work to do. As older generations pass on, it is our prayer as a church that we pass the spiritual torch to the next generation. There is still work to be done until his coming again. First Church indeed has a rich heritage, and a people who, loved their God, love one another, and love their community! As a result, our Church Motto has developed. “Knowing Christ, Loving People, and Serving the Community"
Our Mission Statement:
The Mission of The First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, of South Bend, Indiana, is to be representatives of our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ. Our calling in Zion is to increase in our love to God, and to help meet the needs of humanity. By loving the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with our entire mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, this, is how we fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ exemplified it best in scripture, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. “And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37–39) The Mission is simple; we give back to God all the gifts and talents he has richly and graciously extended to us. We share our ministry gifts relationally with our neighbors, leading in love, and serving with humility, changing the lives of those we meet as we apply the word to our daily lives.