Tacoma, Washington’s Oldest Black Church, Allen A.M.E., Celebrates 125 Years of Service In Community

The Rev. Spencer Barrett joins with the choir during a service Thursday at Allen A.M.E. Church in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood. The church celebrates its 125th year this month. PETER HALEY
The Rev. Spencer Barrett joins with the choir during a service Thursday at Allen A.M.E. Church in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. The church celebrates its 125th year this month. PETER HALEY

Over 125 years, Tacoma’s oldest black church has nurtured souls, fed the needy and stood up against injustice, from its humble beginnings in a basement to its home in the heart of the Hilltop.

Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church will celebrate a milestone anniversary Sunday (Oct. 19) and a legacy of community involvement.

Over the decades, ministers and members spoke out and marched for civil rights and ending discrimination. In 1988, the congregation took a stand against drug dealing and gang violence by moving to an area surrounded by those problems.

Today, it runs a twice-weekly food pantry and gives out toys and clothes to families at Christmas. Next month, the congregation plans to open a thrift store near the church offering new and used clothing.

“I think Allen has done so much for Tacoma,” said Victoria Woodards, a Tacoma City Council member and a member of Allen A.M.E. Church. “Allen has always been a real advocate for change in the city and a supporter of the city.”

A four-day celebration for the 250-member congregation will culminate with two services Sunday.

At a rousing revival service Thursday evening, about 60 people sang and swayed with the choir’s music, raised their arms in worship and walked forward to be prayed for at the end of the nearly two-hour event.

The Rev. David Brown, the guest minister, congratulated the church on its longevity and said Tacoma is a better place because of Allen A.M.E. Church.

“125 years is a long time to do anything,” said Brown of Tacoma.

The Rev. Spencer Barrett, Allen A.M.E. Church’s pastor since 2009, said the anniversary is “a testimony to God’s goodness to this church and to the African American community in the Tacoma area.” It’s a recognition of “125 years of identifying injustices in our community and bringing them to light to the larger community,” he said in an interview.

Jim Walton, a former Tacoma city manager, described Allen A.M.E. Church as a “beacon.”

“I think of Allen A.M.E. as one of the bedrocks of our spiritual life in Tacoma over this time,” Walton said. “It has served as a rallying point for many of the African American pioneers who moved through this area.”

The church’s outreach includes:

• Allen’s food pantry has operated for more than 20 years, said Mary Barrett, who runs the pantry at the church and is married to Spencer Barrett. In 11 months through June, the pantry helped 6,203 households, including repeat visitors.

• Christmas House, a program providing needy families with toys and clothing in mid-December, also has been a community staple for more than 20 years. Last year, 390 families received help.

• Last Thanksgiving, the church gave out 139 baskets with turkeys and trimmings.

Allen A.M.E. Church also started Allen Renaissance, a separate community organization that planned to develop a community center to give middle school students increased access to new technology and performing arts facilities.

The project ran out of money, Mary Barrett said. What remains is the afterschool Computer Clubhouse of Tacoma, which includes a robotics program for students.

Kimberly Sales, who attends Allen A.M.E. with her husband and two children, said the church’s outreach follows Jesus’ words: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing.”

“When you have a love for Christ, it shows in everything you do,” said Sales, 52. “Everyone just embraces each other. They support each other. It’s a family.”

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SOURCE: The News Tribune
Steve Maynard