Trinity AME, the Oldest Black Church in Waukegan, IL, Is Celebrating 109 Years of Faith and Service

Members of Waukegan's oldest black church are celebrating 109 years of faith, service and pride in the nearly 200-year-old African Methodist Episcopal denomination which aided slaves escaping to freedom.

Worshipers exit Trinity AME's 109th anniversary service on Sunday, Sept. 8. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
The first national black church in the United States, AME was founded by former slave, activist and abolitionist Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1816 and other members who broke away from St. George's Methodist Church in protest of racial discrimination. In Waukegan, Trinity AME was established in 1904 by a small group including the first pastor, Rev. Harry Johnson, and in 1913 it built it's first church at 541 Oak St. on the city's South Side.

Forty-three years later, the burgeoning congregation, at its height an estimated 600 families, built a new church at the current location, 210 South St.

"There was a time when blacks couldn't go anywhere else and hold a meeting," said Barbara Gordon, longtime Trinity AME member and historian. "This was the place that you could come to."

Trinity AME is called "the mother of all 'Negro' churches," in Lake County because numerous other churches, including Shiloh Baptist, Mt. Zion Baptist and Eternal Flame, as well as dozens of pastors sprang from its membership. A leader of the Civil Rights movement in Lake County, the church is surrounded on two sides by the Barwell public housing project.

Volunteers from the church help run a free weekly farmers market for Barwell residents in August, the same month it holds CaresFest, its annual back-to-school event that includes a giveaway of 1,000 backpacks stuffed with supplies. Beginning in the 1970s, the church's community center provided social services to the neighborhood including free meals, a food bank, counseling and child care and the church was known for its stirring and heavily attended annual Easter Pageant.

Other outreach efforts by various church groups over the years included support of orphanages in South Africa and other overseas missions, the adoption of a Hurricane Katrina family, clothing drives for students at nearby Carman-Buckner school and residents of a battered women's shelter, HIV/AIDS awareness, recognition of aging veterans, Habitat for Humanity, visits to the sick and homebound, health and wellness and much more.

"We're the African Methodist Episcopal church, but more importantly we're the church of Jesus Christ, which means anybody and everybody is welcome to come here as a desire to find their purpose in life," said Rev. Janice Brazil Cummings, who officiated during an anniversary service on Sunday, Sept. 8. The service was followed by an outdoor marker dedication at the site of a buried time capsule that will be unearthed in September 2035.

The church's first female pastor, Cummings replaced Rev. Dr. Reginald Blount, who led the congregation for more than a decade.

Source: Chicago Sun Times | Judy Masterson
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