Sc Micro R 1183
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library.
515 Malcolm X Boulevard
New York, NY 10037-1801
©2002 The New York Public Library.
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. All rights reserved.
This inventory is one of several prepared under the auspices of the Preservation of
the Black Religious Heritage Project of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black
Culture. The project identifies, acquires, and preserves research materals essential
for the documentation of African-American religious life.
The originals in this collection are owned by the Zoar United Methodist Church,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and have been microfilmed by the Schomburg Center with
grant funds provided by the Lilly Endowment.
Zoar United Methodist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, traditionally the oldest
African American congregation within the United Methodist Church, was founded in
1794 by eighteen free African-Americans, fifteen men and three women. The founders
had separated themselves from the white-dominated St. George's Methodist Episcopal
Church but chose to remain in Methodism with its traditions of early opposition to
slavery, evangelical style of preaching, and ministering to social needs. The early
members first worshipped from house to house, then met in an abandoned butcher shop
at Brown and Fourth Streets in the Campingtown area of Philadelphia. Originally
known as African Zoar, a church was constructed near the site and dedicated on
August 4, 1796 by Bishop Francis Asbury.
Although Zoar was mentioned as a separate church in the records of the Philadelphia
Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church as early as 1811, it was administered
by St. George's, which supplied its pastors. Zoar established two mutual aid
societies, the Beneficial Philanthropic Sons of Zoar and the Female Beneficial
Philanthropic Society of Zoar in 1826. During this period, a number of members left
Zoar to join Richard Allen in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1832, a “plan of separation” from St. George's was adopted
to take effect in three years. In 1835, the “Covenant of
Assumption” made possible the assignment of Zoar's first African-American
pastor, Rev. Perry Tilghman, who served until 1844. Zoar was chartered by the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on June 14, 1837. During the 1830s and 1840s, the
Church was presumably a link on the Underground Railroad along with other
African-American Methodist churches in Philadelphia.
A series of conferences of Colored Local Preachers held at Zoar in the 1850s and
1860s resulted in the creation of the Delaware Annual Conference by the 1864 General
Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Delaware Conference was comprised
of twenty-one African-American Methodist churches from Philadelphia, New Jersey,
Delaware, and Maryland. Its creation allowed for the ordination of local preachers
and travelling elders and gave African-American congregations greater control over
their own affairs.
The records of the first meeting of the Delaware Conference list 140 members of the
Zoar congregation. As the membership grew throughout the 1870s and 1880s, larger
facilities became necessary. At a sheriff's sale in June 1883, a benefactor, Joseph
M. Bennett, purchased the red brick Reformed Episcopal Church at Twelfth and Melon
Streets for $3200 and donated it to the congregation. Zoar Methodist Church was
incorporated in 1885. The title to the property was still subject to the payment of
ground rents, a perpetual lease often held and assigned by a separate owner. By
1889, however, Zoar purchased the ground rents from Girard Life Insurance Company
and its title became free and clear. In 1896, it purchased a building at 1310
Parrish Street for use as a parsonage. The Parrish Street house was replaced by one
at 3849 North 18 Street (purchased in 1945) and was sold to tenants in 1956.
The first Usher Board was organized in 1886. Under Charles H. Dorsey, it became a
model for other congregations and a forerunner of the National Church Ushers
Association, founded in 1919. In 1897, under Pastor James H. Richardson, the Church
underwent extensive remodelling, financed by a mortgage and loans from the Methodist
Church Board of Home Missions and Church Extension. The first Layman's Association
and Missionary Society were organized at about that time. After a period of internal
dissension and financial difficulty, final payment was made on the mortgage in 1917.
Four houses at the rear of the Church, 1203-09 North Street, were purchased in 1920
for Church use as well as rental income. Additional remodelling and modernization of
the Church and the addition of a community center took place in 1926.
During the 1920s, Zoar began a Day Nursery, a Mothers and Babies Clinic, Parents
Association, and a Mother's Club and Welfare Foundation. A Zoar Community Building
and Loan Association was organized in 1924 to provide mortgages for African
Americans unable to obtain them from banks. The Armstrong Association (Urban League)
worked out of the new community center. The onset of the Depression resulted in a
decrease in the Church's income although it contributed to unemployment relief for
With the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South,
and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939, the African-American conferences were
organized into a separate unit, the Central Jurisdiction. The Jurisdiction existed
until the mid-1960s when it was dissolved into the mainstream geographical structure
of the United Methodist Church. The churches of the Delaware Conference, including
Zoar, were transferred to the Newark, Philadelphia, and Peninsula Conferences of the
Northeast Jurisdiction in 1964 at the centennial meeting of the Conference held at
Zoar's longtime pastor Rev. Joshua E. Licorish (1911-1987) was Secretary of the
Conference. He served as pastor of Zoar from 1957 to 1981 and played a role in urban
renewal and civil rights issues in Philadelphia during the 1950s and 1960s. Licorsh
participated with the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in the late 1950s boycotts of
Philadelphia corporations and subsequent meetings to end discriminatory hiring
practices. He also oversaw additional renovations of the Church in 1959 and the
organization of the Zoar Community Development Corporation in preparation for the
construction of low income housing. During Licorish's administration, the membership
of Zoar numbered about 900. Licorish was succeeded by Rev. Clyde Henry, who was
succeeded by Rev. Ralph Banks in 1985.
The trustees of Zoar also acted as trustees for the St. John's Methodist Church of
Spring Lake, New Jersey. The Church, founded in 1887 and open only in the summer
months, served members who were employed at the resort hotels of Spring Lake or as
domestics for summer residents.