The history of the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church goes back to the origins of the black church in Philadelphia when rebel clergymen Richard Allen and Absalom Jones led movement for black church independence free of racial prejudice.
The story begins on June 16, 1820, when a group of members from Bethel Church ( Mother Bethel) founded by Bishop Allen organized a new congregation. Services were held at several nearby locations in Old City until the group obtained a lot on the north side of Lombard Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. A carpenter shop on the property was converted into a house of worship and the Rev. Joshua Blue was the church’s first pastor.
The congregation soon began an affiliation with a newly formed Zion organization in New York that was separate from the African-American Episcopal Church denomination founded by Allen. The New York group was the foundation of the African-American Episcopal Zion Church.
Wesley hosted the Second Annual Conference on the new denomination on May 16, 1822. The Congregation was incorporated as the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church on May 31, 1826. As a member of the AME Zion denomination, the church was identified as the Wesley AME Zion Church.
The congregation remained at Fifth and Lombard Streets until 1885, when Wesley Church moved to the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Lombard Streets under the leadership of the Rev. J.P. Thompson.
Spiritually and numerically, the membership grew with God’s blessings. In the ensuing years, however, there were many changes and challenges. A fire destroyed part of the church which forced the congregation to worship at the Horticultural Hall on Broad Street, adjoining the Academy of Music. There were many ministers who lead the church and it was during the leadership of the Rev. Tillman that the members decided to build a more modern church building. Services were held at Tindley Temple Church on Broad Street below Fitzwater Street while a new building was being erected at Fifteenth and Lombard Streets.
During the tenure of Rev. Fred Douglas;, disagreements arose within the church about denomination membership and the conference’s power over the church. A group of members decided that they would prefer to be an independent church, which they believed would protect the incorporation status of the congregation as The First Colored Wesley Methodist Church. The members voted to leave the conference and the building at Fifteenth and Lombard Streets. In 1936, they began meeting as The First Colored Wesley Methodist Church at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Building at Fitzwater and Mole Streets.
The congregation met at the cathedral building for seven years, first under the leadership of the Rev. J.R. Kellam and later, the Rev. Arthur E. Mann.
God richly blessed the church on Nov. 21, 1943. The congregation purchased the current building at Seventeenth and Fitzwater Streets.
The Rev. John H. Larkins was named pastor in 1945 and served until 1971. The Rev. Robert B. Peyton followed Larkins, serving until 1979. The Rev. Harold Stith served briefly until the Rev, James R. Hearst, Sr. and the Rev. Canon Thomas Logan presided until the Rev. Charles Fenwick was elected pastor in June of 1988. He continues to serve as pastor emeritus of the congregation. On Sunday, March 25,2012 the church elected its first female pastor the Rev. Ralinda Golback.
God has richly blessed us – and we rejoice!