Abyssinian Baptist Church celebrates 200th anniversary – WABC

May 17th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

Leaders will go to Ethiopia on pilgrimage to celebrate.

New York – When the Abyssinian Baptist Church was founded, Thomas Jefferson was president. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born yet. Blacks were still enslaved, and would be for decades more. (more…)

Leaders will go to Ethiopia on pilgrimage to celebrate.

New York – When the Abyssinian Baptist Church was founded, Thomas Jefferson was president. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born yet. Blacks were still enslaved, and would be for decades more.

A group of Ethiopian sea traders in lower Manhattan refused to participate in segregated church services and formed their own congregation, naming it for their homeland and taking many free blacks from other churches with them.

Two hundred years later, the church is going back to its roots – literally.

Come September, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III will lead a pilgrimage of about 200 church members and dignitaries on a pilgrimage to Ethiopia to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the church.

The trip, he says, will highlight an observance that begins on Tuesday and will end in November 2008, the actual 200th anniversary of the church’s origin.

“It was the first ‘mega church’ of 2,000 members in the country,” Butts said in an interview. “We want to celebrate what that experience means, we want to talk about community development, spiritual renewal, and of course the history of Abyssinian Baptist as the primary and premier religious institution in Harlem.”

Overall, Butts said, the bicentennial is intended to commemorate the spiritual, social and cultural history of the black community, and in particular “the significant role played by the churches as that community’s oldest and strongest institutions.”

Jefferson, president from 1801-1809, never visited the church, as far as is known, but Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson did, as did Jimmy Carter as a candidate. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also made one appearance there in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Butts said.

The Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, pastor at the time, “was known then as ‘Mr. Civil Rights,’ but he acknowledged Dr. King,” he said.

Butts said the planned pilgrimage to Ethiopia has several purposes, including “fellowship with the Ethiopians,” missionary work, the creation of an orphanage for the offspring of AIDs victims, and a ceremony at the grave of Ethiopia’s legendary Emperor, Haile Selassie, who died in 1975, age 81, after a lifetime of defying invaders and seeking independence for his and other African nations.

The platform guest list for Tuesday’s kickoff included Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Charles Rangel. While not expected to be present, Mayor Michael Bloomberg prepared a proclamation declaring Abyssinian Baptist Church Day.

Others on the program were Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who has written a Mass composition for the celebration; Cornel West, professor of religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, and Howard Dodson, chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which will present a special exhibit for the bicentennial.

West and Maya Angelou are among five co-authors of a book, “Witness,” that traces the Abyssinian church’s two centuries of history.

The church occupied at least two different sites in lower Manhattan before Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., moved it uptown to Harlem in 1923, according to Tai Foster, a church spokesman.

Today, the congregation is about 4,000, the largest black congregation in New York state. It is one of several Harlem churches whose dynamic, music-filled Sunday services draw crowds of European tourists.

“They come out of curiosity, and then they tell their friends back in Italy, France and Israel, and we welcome them as well,” Butts said.

  1. | #1

    A verey good job,It will be nice to see the oldest historical place in religen and man kind history on earth.
    You have done a long time stragle to save the church in such a difficult time.
    I seen abit of the problem in my (37)years in America,you are brave to stay this long.
    God bless you and the church.

  2. hailye
    | #2

    It is great to hear such interesting news in the name of Abyssinya. But the name of the church and the name of the persons mentioned in relation with the church is not as such interrelated.

    All in all, it is nice to keep the home of God as safe as possible in the future too.

    May God bless all you take part in the celebration!

  3. | #3

    As an Ethiopian, I respectfully submit the following:
    The Abyssinian Baptist Church that is located in popular Harlem celebrates its bicentennial anniversary this year. Twenty decades in world history is surely brief but in this case it represented a momentous period for blacks that had previously carried rigorous life, as they were, among other things, required to worship Almighty God in a segregated church.
    In 1808, a group of Ethiopian traders cooperated with their black brothers and sisters to protest segregated services in that Manhattan church to which they belonged. They abandoned the old church and formed, one year before Abraham Lincoln’s glorious birthday, their own congregation in the same borough. Today, that Church enjoys a membership of at least 4,000 worshipers and just as Ethiopia prepares to celebrate the beginning of Year 2,000 next September,the Honorable Pastor Calvin O. Butts III, is to lead pilgrimage to the ancient land to mark the double events: Ethiopia’s New Year that reaches 2,000 years within a short three months and the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. It is a decisive combination of harmony that becomes a brilliant feat and a momentous achievement ensuring the eloquent action of Ethiopians and African Americans in the attaninment of common ends.
    Members of the Ethiopian Baptist Church who journey to Ethiopia please visit Lalibela, the holiest city in the country and travel to Aksum to observe the town’s famous stelae. You will, of course, pay a visit to “Lucy,” a hominid skeleton 3.5 million years old, at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. My very best wishes to all of you as you prepare to fly home and visit historic Ethiopia in September. Girma Abebe

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