Richard Allen: Freedom In Following Christ

What do you want to be when you grow up? When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress, a doctor, or an archaeologist, it depended on the day! Everyone in my life was excited to hear about what I wanted to do and become, and I knew I just had to choose what sounded best to me and work hard in school. 

But this is not the case with many people in the world, and it wasn’t the case for Richard Allen.  Richard Allen was born into slavery in Pennsylvania on February 14th, 1760. A farmer in Delaware named Stokely Sturgis purchased Allen and his family when he was a young boy. Shortly after, his family was split apart when Sturgis sold his mother and sister to a different farmer.  Heartbroken, Allen began seeking answers for all this injustice. 

Free from Sin and Slavery

When he was 17 years old, Allen became a Christian after he heard a traveling Methodist pastor condemn the wickedness of slavery and share the message of freedom in Jesus Christ. Allen believed in Jesus and was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Unbeknownst to Allen, around the same time that he committed his life to Jesus, his master also became a Christian!  Convicted of his sin of slave-owning, Stokely Sturgis vowed to free his slaves. However, he made his slaves pay him money before they could be free. It took Allen about three years and $2,000 (about $40,000 today) to purchase his freedom. In 1780, he began his new life as a freedman and looked for a job. He found work as a driver for a salt truck, driving everywhere from New York to Philadelphia. Filled with evangelical fervor, he used these opportunities for travel to preach the gospel of Jesus everywhere he went. Word began to spread about Richard Allen’s gift of preaching.  St. George Methodist Church invited Richard Allen to come preach at their church in Philadelphia where Whites and Blacks worshiped together. His preaching was so popular that the church began overflowing with African American parishioners. 

Free to Worship and Serve

Sadly, the White parishioners grew less and less welcoming and began to enforce segregation of pews during church services. One day, Richard Allen and his friend Absalom Jones were praying at St. George during the worship service when a White elder came up to them and asked them to leave the church immediately. They refused, saying they would leave after the prayer. The White elder began lifting Jones off his knees trying to force him to stand. At this humiliation, Jones and Allen stood to their feet and walked out of the church with heads held high. The rest of the Black congregation followed them, never to return. After this, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones together founded the Free African Society, a community center and aid society that sought to promote the welfare of Blacks and immigrants in the community. In 1794, Allen founded the Bethel Church which began in an old blacksmith shop. This church became known as “Mother Bethel” because from it came the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In addition to providing classes and social gatherings. Bethel Church was also a stop on the underground railroad for escaped slaves to hide. In 1799 Richard Allen became the first African American to be ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Then in 1816 Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen spoke out passionately throughout his life against injustice, especially against slavery. In 1830 he founded the Free Produce Society where members committed to only purchase items made from non-enslaved labor. Allen’s faithful preaching and leadership has inspired leaders for generations. When Richard Allen was a little boy, he could not have imagined that he would grow up to become one of the most famous pastors of all time. Still, he chose to be faithful in every situation and trust that God was leading him. Next time someone asks you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You can think about the story of Richard Allen and remember that whatever you become, what’s most important is that you are following God. 

Consider sharing the story of Richard Allen’s life with your children through the animated Torchlighters episode (also available to stream at Use our FREE study guides or activity pages to go deeper.