How Many Former AMEs Do You Know?

By Rev. Francine Brookins, Esq.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us who have been in the AME Church all of our lives know more “former AMEs” than we can count. As part of a project for the Los Angeles North District Conference (Allen L. Williams, Sr., Presiding Elder), we conducted a survey of people who have left the AME Church. Our goal was to listen without becoming defensive.

Our listening began with a question posed on Facebook “Did you leave the AME Church, and if so, would you consider returning?” Three of us shared this inquiry and we received more than 670 public responses on Facebook alone. We also began to receive private messages from people pouring out their heartaches and hopes about the AME Church. Some who responded were not yet gone but were on the verge of leaving. Others were encouraged just knowing that someone cared enough to acknowledge they left. Some would consider returning if they were asked to do so.

A small pool of persons was invited to take part in a detailed survey. The questions were carefully crafted (by the Rev. Kirkpatrick Tyler, pastor of St. Mark AME Church, Los Angeles, California) to help us grow as a body. Broadly speaking, they covered areas such as personal demographics, the level of involvement in the church, roles(s) in the church, age when they left, whether they were helped or hindered in their spiritual development in the AME Church, and primary reasons for leaving.

We were encouraged by what we heard; and when they spoke, we listened. The majority of responders (only 15 in this first sample) were active AMEs before they left the church as adults. They served as leaders in auxiliaries or as persons called to ordained ministry. They were familiar with the Church’s history, structure, and ministries. Their decisions to leave the church were not made lightly. There are thousands of others who would take part if asked.

A majority of the small number of responders would consider returning to the church if there were some institutional and theological adjustments. Generally, people want to see less hypocrisy and more focus on Jesus than on maintaining the institution. Specifically, one our respondents said, “Get rid of the election campaigns for the episcopacy. Use that money to get health care and retirement benefits for pastors. Have a kind of “Rooney Rule” that requires the consideration of women for all appointments as pastors, stop the silence around the lives of gender non-conforming people in the denomination.”

We believe those who have left may still have something to teach us. Are we humble enough to listen? I hope that we have taken only mere baby steps in the direction of what will ultimately be connectional strides to pause and get back what the devil has stolen from us.

The Rev. Francine A. Brookins, Esq. is the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church of Fontana and the Clerk of the Judicial Council.

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6 Comments

  1. Marie Robinson-Metze, Ph.D.
    5th generation AME Charleston, South Carolina
    Great-Great Grandfather AME Minister. Buried in the historic McLeod Cemetery (McLeod Plantation) Charleston, SC
    PLEASE Send me copy of responses you received from question posted on facebook.
    Thanks. MRM 404-580-4714 cell

  2. Willie Mae James-Holloway Miss my Sister and Mothers of the AME Church I was durinf well seeing the them every FOUR years during the General Conferences I use to attend when I work, withe the help of my then Poster Linda Ellebee That what we then did back then. Any one that had the desire to Attend, We help raise the funds. The ideal of staying connected Kept the families even when they moved away though our CHURCH. Life move us all around and our families do not understand our churches are a connected CHURCH AND THEY end up going to another DENOMINATION AND THEY treat us well because they know we are well trained. That has been my take and it has hurt me over the years because I miss my loving churches coming together during the work of the LORD for the WORLD.

    • THIS REPLY IS COMING FROM MY HEART because and the LOVE of my CHURCH. I have no means or intent. LOVE YOU ALL

  3. I am a 71 year old lifelong AME, although I did affiliate with the United Methodist Church for several years in the area of my state that I have resided for the past 43 years. However, I considered myself to be an AME whenever I visited my home AME church or other AME churches in the same state. I must say I felt at home in the UMC since my father, his parents and most of his siblings were lifelong UMs. Although my parents never lived apart from the date of their marriage until his death 45 years later, my mother was a lifelong AME as well as some of my siblings. Growing up my AME church was within walking distance to attend Sunday School and regular worship whereas my Father’s church was about five miles outside of town. My mother’s father was an AME pastor and indeed his brother, my grand-uncle was my Presiding Elder during my formative years. My concern, especially in the last several years, is the movement toward non-traditional worship in the AME church that I have been a member for the last 20 plus years. Hyms found in the official AME Hymnal are never sung; for example, this past Easter 2017, not one Easter time hymn was sung by the choir, i.e., The Old Rugged Cross. We seem to be getting rapidly away from our tradition and doctrine in favor of what is seen on TV and exhibited by non-denominational churches. I have no problem with incorporating gospel or contemporary music into our worship but not to the detriment of our AME traditions. I concur wholeheartedly with issues mentioned by participants in the survey.

  4. This is a challenge across the continent. We face the same challenges in Africa and would appreciate the uestio s to the survey. Could be helpful to pilot the same exercise on this side and share experiences on how to seek the lost and cheer the fallen…

  5. Excellent article. I actually saw the question posed on the page of a friend of mine (a real one and not just Facebook friend) and found the responses quite enlightening. Some of it was difficult to read without lashing out and becoming angry, however, it was wonderful to hear the hearts of people. It was also encouraging to read some of the responses as to why they have stayed with the AME Church. Our prayer is that the survey was not an exercise in futility but instead the responses taken seriously and thoughtfully.

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