170 Years of Service: Ward Chapel AME Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of the Free African Society, an organization started by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and others in Philadelphia in 1787. The Free African Society formed after a group of African-American parishioners, led by Richard Allen, left St. George Methodist Church when church officials refused to let them pray at the altar. In 1794, Bethel AME Church (known today as “Mother Bethel”) was dedicated. The AME Church currently has 20 districts in 39 countries and five continents.
Ward Chapel AME Church was organized in 1846 by Rev. Phillip Ward and ten members, including William Gray, a valuable member who was a local preaching steward and janitor. Ward Chapel’s first meetings were held in homes, then in a small rented schoolhouse on Walnut Street. In 1850, a circuit composed of churches in Peoria, Bloomington, and Galesburg was organized with Rev. William Brooks as pastor and William Gray serving as the local preacher.
Rev. William J. Davis was appointed as pastor in 1853, and the congregation obtained a small-frame church on Chestnut Street. In 1866, a wooden structure was purchased on the corner of Fifth and Munson, which was torn down and replaced with a brick building in 1889. Ward Chapel moved into a new building at 511 N. Elliott Street in 1956, where it still remains today. In honor of the AME Church’s founder, the street name was changed from Elliott Street to Richard Allen Drive.
Several famous personalities have visited Ward Chapel including Booker T. Washington, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, and Mahalia Jackson.
Ward Chapel’s mission is to minister to the social, spiritual, and physical development of all people. Its purpose is to make available God’s biblical principles, spread Christ’s gospel, and provide programs that enhance the social development of everyone.
Some of the programs provided by Ward Chapel include:
- Bible Study – 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday
- Breakfast Outreach Ministry – 7 a.m. free breakfast every Saturday
- The Missionary Society (WMS) – meets monthly
- The Young People’s Division (YPD) – meets monthly
- The Prayer Support Line – 8 a.m. Tuesday and 8 p.m. Thursday, a call-in program
- Sunday School — 9 a.m. Sunday
Ward Chapel AME Church continues to serve the community, and will celebrate its 170th Church Anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 29. All those who wish to join the celebration can call the church office at 309-676-1348 for more information.