Saturday, January 10, 2015

James Varick, Founding Bishop of the AME Zion Church

(The following is one of the hagiographies I contributed to For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations, Second Edition.  Edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson.)
James Varick, founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was born in Orange County, near Newburgh, New York in 1750.[1] His mother had been a slave of the Varicks before being freed. Richard Varick, James’ father, was baptized in the Dutch church of Hackensack, New Jersey, where he was born in 1720. Later, he and his family moved to the City of New York.[2]  

James received an elementary education in New York City. At sixteen, he joined the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church.[3] It was the first Methodist Church to be erected in the City of New York. By 1796 the John Street Church contained a large number of members of African descent. However, they experienced caste prejudice keeping them from participating in the sacrament until after all of the white members had been served. In addition, they were denied various other church privileges. Thus, the organization of an African Methodist Church seemed to be needed.[4]  

In 1796 James Varick led the organization of the very first African Methodist Episcopal Church. The first African Methodist Episcopal Church building was erected in 1800. It was named Zion. Later, out of respect for her, the connection took the name, Zion, as well. Thereby, the denomination became known as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.[5]  

In 1821, in the Zion Church, the first annual conference of the AMEZ Church was held. The meeting was presided over by the Reverend William Phoebus of the Methodist Episcopal Church. On June 17, during the conference James Varick, along with Abraham Thompson and Leven Smith, were ordained by white Methodist elders. Varick became Supervisor (later called bishop) of the denomination on July 30, 1822.[6]

In addition to his role in the AMEZ Church, Varick ran a school in his home, later moving it to the church. He became the first chaplain of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, and he was a vice-president of the African Bible Society. Varick was also involved in petitioning the state for the right of Blacks to vote. Bishop James Varick died at his home on July 22, 1827.[7]
[1] McMickle, Marvin Andrew. “From slavery to bishop, James Varick.” An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage. Judson Press, 2002. The African American Registry. 26 May 2006. < bishop_James_Varick.>.
[2] Wheeler, Benjamin F., The Varick Family. Mobile, AL., 1907, pp. 43-5.
[3]“July 30, 1822: James Varick Became the First Bishop of the Zion Methodists.” Staff or associates of Christian History Institute. 1999-2006. Christian History Institute. 5 June 2006. <>.
[4] Speaks, Bishop Ruben L., “African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.” World Methodist Council Handbook of Information. 1997-2001. p. 29 Lake Junaluska, NC: The World Methodist Council.
[5] Mead, Frank S. Revised by Samuel S. Hill. “African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Handbook f Denominations In the United States. 10th Ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.
[6] McMickle.

No comments: