To speak of the history of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church is to tell the story of its people...The year was 1834 and there were just a few of them - God's servants, filled with the vision to lay the spiritual foundation for a church in Jamaica, New York. From house to house they met and they prayed. In the early 1840's when much of the nation was choosing sides in the abolitionists' debates regardiing the enslavement of Blacks, in then quite a rural part of Jamaica, (Washington and South Streets, now 160th Street and South Road) a place of worship was built. The original edifice, an 18x30 foot structure was constructed in 1842 and called Allen.
Very little information is available relating to the church that existed throughout the era of the Civil War. Much of what has been discovered was taken from a few handwritten documents of unknown authorship. An excerpt of a note from an unidentified trustee alludes to the fact that the original church structure was enlarged in 1869. That facility occupied 30x40 feet of space. The Rev. W. Davis was the first pastor, and the Rev. Henson Davis was the pastor when the second structure was built. What can be determined however is that the community of faith called Allen stood its ground through the turbulence of the North/South struggle.
At the turn of the century, the membership of Allen grew quite quickly. Many of them migrated from the southern states, especially the Carolinas. The Rev. Joseph Stiles was named as pastor in 1900. During his tenure, the Senior Choir, Stewardess Board, Usher Board, Board of Trustees and the Willing Workers auxiliaries were organized. A small home organ was purchased to further enhance the quality of music during worship services. Shortly thereafter, again in response to the growing congregation, a hand pump organ was installed in the rear of the sanctuary.
The life of the church throughout the early 1990’s was characterized by both “mountain” and “valley” experiences. The blessings of God were apparent during the pastorates of men such as the Revs. Walter Mason, C.E. Wilson, Tom G. Clarke, George Coverdale, Joseph Stiles, S.W. Gumbs, and G.P. Coles, as the congregation grew numerically and spiritually.
The church also experienced serious financial hardship during that time. The members came to fully understand what it meant to “walk by faith and not by sight.” Eminent foreclosure was avoided by the personal sacrifice of a few members who gave of their resources to keep the doors of God’s house open.
A new pace was set during the post-Depression and pre-World War II years. Allen experienced a revitalizing surge in the Sunday School Department and more emphasis was placed on worship and programming for youth. This gave rise in 1933 to the founding of the Children’s Youth Choir, the sponsoring of Girls and Boys Day, and many athletic activities.
In 1944, the Allen Church suffered a devastating fire, which brought total destruction to the sanctuary. The fire, however, did not have the capacity to destroy the faith of the many who, with the determination of the prophet Ezra, set out to “rebuild the temple”. With the help of God the congregation was able to raise the necessary funds needed to rebuild the church. The Rev.William McKinley Dawkins who is remembered for the spiritual fervor that he brought to the church, led the congregation during this period of rebuilding.
As the body grew, new clubs and organizations came into existence. A fourth stewardess board was added as well as the Allen Goodwill Circle, the Flower Guild, the Get Together Club and the Helping Hand Club. Their primary function was to raise funds so that the church would avert the possibility of another financial crisis.
With the dawning of the 1950’s, Allen continued to grow and prosper in ministry and outreach. The Rev. Emmer Henri Booker led the congregation in its purchase of land on the corner of Merrick Boulevard and Sayres Avenue, and in 1964 the Rev. Donald G. Ming shepherded the membership as construction began for the new edifice. The new building was completed in April 1968 and the people marched from the old to the new praising and glorifying God all along the way. Approximately one year later the newly constructed church was firebombed, causing considerable damage. The Allen Family, whose history speaks of determination and commitment, went forth once again and soon reestablished the beauty of the sanctuary.
Great strides were once again made by the Allen Family and its leaders during the late Sixties and early Seventies. The membership increased to 1,200 and the church’s influence and impact on the community was notable. The mortgage for the new edifice was liquidated. Seeing the need to address the welfare of the senior citizen population, in 1974 the Rev. Ming spearheaded the founding of the Allen Community Senior Citizens Center, Inc. and laid the ground work for a building project that would provide safe and comfortable housing for the seniors of the community. In July of 1976, during the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rev. Ming was elected to the office of Bishop.
Yet another divine action took place in July of 1976. A young man (31 years of age), was whisked from the position of Dean of the Chapel at Boston University to become the 35th pastor of the Allen A.M.E. Church. The Rev. Floyd Harold Flake, who also served as the Congressman of the Sixth Congressional District, along with his partner in life and ministry, the Rev. Margarett Elaine McCollins Flake, has led the church in attaining heights heretofore thought impossible, in light of the socioeconomic challenges of the Eighties and Nineties. Pastor Flake continued with new fervor and unfailing commitment to God the legacy of our Founder, Richard Allen. Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church has become known across the country as a most vibrant example of God’s people addressing the needs of those around them – “Expressing the glory of God’s presence” indeed!
The Black church has historically been the focal point of the Black community, most often being the articulator of the Black experience. As the Rev. Floyd Flake states, “the success of the church is vitally connected to what is transpiring within the community it serves.”
More than 60+ clubs and organizations function cooperatively to manifest the truth of the phrase “The Allen Family”. In addition to the internal programs and systems which touch the lives of Allen men, women and children, the outreach is extended through additional avenues; such as a street ministry, Prison Ministry, Cancer Support, An Ear to Hear (ministry to persons affected by HIV/AIDS), and the Spiritual Life Counseling Ministry.
Without a doubt, the Allen of today would not exist without the foundational labors and works of the divinely inspired leaders of the past. Praises ring out from the people of Allen for the richness of that past. The legacies of their hard work and trust in God will forever linger.
Over two hundred years ago, African American worshippers at St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia were pulled from their knees during prayer by white worshippers. Richard Allen, one of the African Americans, asked that they be allowed to finish prayer and they then would leave and trouble St. George's no more. Prayer ended before the commotion did and Richard Allen led the African Americans out of St. George's Methodist Church. The year was 1787. In the days that were to come, Richard Allen and those few men and women founded the church that became the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The new concregation worshipped in a blacksmith's shop that Allen purchased with his own money. Allen, who later became Bishop Richard Allen, preached in the blacksmith shop, with an anvil as his pulpit, a doctrine of self-help. He taught the people that they should rely on God and their own resources to make a difference in their lives, their church and their community.
Today, the legacy of Richard Allen continues with new fervor and unfailing commitment in the Reverend Floyd H. Flake as he pastors this church named for the founder: The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York.
The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, founded in 1834, continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to God and to God's people. Pastor Floyd H. Flake and Co-Pastor Elaine M. Flake have led the congregation to unparalleled heights through obedience to God's vision, praise and worship, Christian education, basic education, economic empowerment and political and social action.
God, through His servant, is transforming people into God's image, the church into a place of salvation, power, health and wholeness, and the community into a village; a good place to live because of people who care.