Mon 3 Apr 2006
I went to the West St. AME Zion Church for my second religious site visit. The AME, African, Methodist, Episcopal led me to expect a regular Protestant church service. The service was Methodist, it included a lot of singing and congregants got involved. The organization of the church is Episcopalian, it follows a main church, the head AME. What shocked me first before learning what the acronym stood for was that all members were African American. Walking in with my white friend was awkward at first, but congregants were very forthcoming. When we entered the church, we had to walk up a flight of stairs into a congregation room that looked somewhat like that of aProtestant church. We saw wooden pews with hymnals shelved in them.
The altar stood out. It was very small and understated and adorned with flags with symbols I couldn’t recognize. The service was very communal and informal, similar to that of the Unitarian church I visited in February, however almost identical to that of a Methodist church service. The preacher, an African American male read scriptures and inserted jokes during transitions in the service. He gave a sermon on brotherhood, tying it in with God’s recognition of man’s imperfections.
Music during the mass was played on an organ instead of by an instrumental group or a choir, and wasn’t necessarily religious, but about civil rights and brotherhood. Many parishioners at the church are freemasons, which struck me as odd. I saw “the masonic square and compasses” downstairs in church brochures. I wasn’t sure about the connection between the two and didn’t know that freemasonry coincided with religion. My guess would be that the meeting area is also a freemason lodge. I wasn’t sure about whether or not to ask a congregant given the secrecy of freemasonry (my grandfather was a freemason and disclosed nothing).
The AME church was founded by African Americans in protest to slavery in 1816. The AME Zion church broke off from the Methodist Church in 1821. Overall I experienced something new, different and enjoyed it.