African-American Mennonite History

The Mennonite Brethren denomination was among the first known to begin work among people of African-American origin, in a mining community of Elk Park, North Carolina in 1886. The Mennonite Church baptized its first black members in 1897 in Cocolamus, Pennsylvania.

James Lark, the first black Mennonite bishop (ordained as minister 1945, and bishop 1954, Chicago, Ill.), had a vision for reaching people of African-American origin. He saw the church pouring its resources into overseas mission, and encouraged the church to greater effort in urban ministry in the U.S. His wife, Rowena, was an important partner in their outreach, as she was a gifted soloist and children’s storyteller. James’ first contacts with Mennonites were at the Rocky Ridge Mennonite meetinghouse near Quakertown, Pa. The Lark vision helped start churches in black communities in Sarasota, Florida; Youngstown, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; and Los Angeles, California, all of which became early communities of black Mennonites.

The original 13 Mennonite churches among African-Americans were:

  •  Welsh Mountain, Lancaster County, Pa., 1898
  • South Christian Street Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pa., 1933
  • Diamond Street Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, Pa., 1935
  • Andrews Bridge, Christiana Pa., 1938
  • Buttonwood Mennonite Fellowship, Reading, Pa., 1938
  • Broad Street Mennonite Mission, Harrisonburg Va., 1935
  • Thirty-fifth Street Mennonite Mission, Los Angeles, Calif., 1940
  • Bethel Mennonite Church, Chicago, Ill., 1944
  • Dearborn Street Mission, Chicago, Ill., 1945
  • Rehoboth Mennonite Church, St. Anne, Ill., 1949
  • Ninth Streeet Mennonite Church, Saginaw, Mich., 1949
  • Rockview Mennonite Church, Youngstown, Ohio, 1947
  • Lee Heights Community Church, Cleveland, Ohio, 1948

As late as 1950, the total number of black Mennonites was approximately 150. During the years from 1950 to 1980, the membership grew to a little over 1600 members in 49 black and integrated churches. Today, Calvary Christian Fellowship, Los Angeles; Calvary Community Church, Hampton; and Lee Heights in Cleveland, Ohio all merit special mention as thriving, self supporting African-American congregations. The church in Hampton in 2015 was the largest Mennonite church in the U.S.—black or white.

During the 1985-1995 decade, the Mennonite Church engaged in a concerted period of outreach and growth especially among urban areas. Today there are approximately 50 African-American integrated congregations in the Mennonite Church.

In 1983, Joy Lovett was elected as associate general secretary of the Mennonite Church.

In 1994, Stanley Green, of South Africa, was installed as president of Mennonite Board of Missions.

In 1997, Dwight McFadden, began a two-year term as moderator of the Mennonite Church.

Portions excerpted from The Black Mennonite Church in North America, 1886-1986, Le Roy Bechler, Herald Press, 1986. Used by permission.

African-American Mennonite Association

The African-American Mennonite Association (AAMA) is an associate group of the Mennonite Church USA. The purpose of AAMA is to advocate on behalf of African-American congregations and African-American integrated con