PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The African Methodist Episcopal Church kicked off its bicentennial conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Wednesday. It’s the oldest Protestant church in the world founded by Black people.
“They are here, men and women, young and old, from all across the world,” said Senior Bishop John Richard Bryant.
Bryant officially opened the bicentennial conference, welcoming more than 20,000 bishops, delegates, elders and others from the AME Church. Founded by Richard Allen as an act against religious racism, the original church began with a handful of members in 1816.
“Poor, ex-slaves, former slaves who came together,” says Bryant, “they didn’t have a business plan all they had was a vision that God would give them a church.”
Today there are more than 2.5 million AMEs in 39 countries and growing.
“There’s a resurgence of people coming back to church,” says Gregory Ingram, host Bishop, who also runs the First District here in Philadelphia. Terrorism, sex trafficking, mass incarceration and of course, police brutality, are said to be on the agenda during this seven-day conference as AME church works to help identify solutions for the disadvantaged and forgotten.
“Our church has historically been a bedrock of all of that,” says Ingram.
On their minds is the most recent case in Baton Rouge, where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot at close range by police officers.
“Even seeing it on the television, we know that does not mean somebody will be held accountable,” says Bryant.
Speakers on the conference agenda include, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Past speakers include First Lady Michelle Obama.