Written by Betty Miller Buttram
There is a dedication of Christian duty among the congregation of Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church. To know about its religious, cultural and educational accomplishments, one can turn the pages of their documented church history books and find the source—Richard Allen.
Richard Allen was born of slave parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 14, 1760. He managed to obtain his freedom in 1780. He had attended Methodist classes and meetings while still a slave and surrounded himself with those of a like faith.
He was a deeply religious man who made a living by cutting cordwood, working in a brickyard as a day laborer and working at various other odd jobs. He spent several years as an itinerant preacher in communities throughout Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
One Sunday in November 1787, Richard Allen and other Black worshipers who attended St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia were refused a request for a prayer room. They were pulled from their knees while praying. They were asked to leave the church, which they did in body. However, Richard Allen did not lose faith in Christianity. Instead, he began to organize a new congregation, The African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The founding of the Turner African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana was in 1849. The church’s first place of worship was the building formerly used by the congregation of St. John’s Reformed Church at the corner of Washington and Webster Streets. Rev. George Black was the first pastor.
The church building was purchased from St. John’s Reformed Church in 1869 and the building was moved to 801 East Wayne Street on June 17, 1869. In 1888, a new church was built on the East Wayne Street site. This was the first church building erected by a Black congregation in Fort Wayne. Turner Chapel was named in honor of Henry McNeal Turner, the first Black chaplain during the Civil War. Turner later became a Bishop in the A.M.E. Church.
The church membership steadily grew, and in 1965, the congregation moved into its present location at 836 East Jefferson Boulevard.
Rev. Kenneth C. Christmon is the current pastor.
There have been many service ministries in Turner Chapel. The largest and most extensive community-wide ministry is the “House of Sharing” food pantry that has been operating now for nearly 35 years. For the past several years, the “Peanut Butter ‘N’ Jelly” ministry has been serving hot meals twice a month to all who are hungry. The church once operated a Day Care Center for low to moderate-income families.
Time moves on and things do not always remain the same.
Dedicated and beloved parishioners have made their transition to the other side. Others have serious health issues and are confined to home care and nursing facilities. Others have retired and moved to warmer climates; and some of the parishioners have moved away to other cities because of employment opportunities; however, a new member has joined the church and its name is CHANGE.
CHANGE has challenged Turner Chapel A.M.E. to refocus and move forward with faith, hope and love.
CHANGE has challenged the church to look at the underutilized space left with the closing of the Day Care Center. Today, that area has been transformed into the Richard Allen Cultural Center and the Henry McNeal Turner Library.
CHANGE has established a Book Discussion Group and Movie Nights for church members and the community.
CHANGE has challenged Turner Chapel A.M.E. to offer good health discussions in their Nutrition Center led by community advocates.
CHANGE has empowered the church members and the community to come together and develop “Vision Boards” to enable them to focus on what they would like to accomplish in the next year. It’s a time of good fellowship and a process of knowing just who you are and where you are going.
CHANGE has instilled in the church a new energy.
On Thursday, March 29, 2018, the church observed Maundy Thursday and had Good Friday service on March 30, 2018. On Easter Sunday morning, the children will perform their Easter play. CHANGE will not be needed during Holy Week, but come the following Monday morning, it will be back within Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church.
Research for this story was pulled from Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church historical documents and from the Black Heritage Collection.