St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church is in the South Birmingham-Huntsville-Bessemer District of the Northwest Alabama Conference of the Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church was the first major religious institution for African Americans. The church was founded by Bishop Richard Allen in 1787 in Philadelphia. The church began as a protest against racial injustice to worshipers of African descent at St. George’s Methodist Church. The first organization was known as the Free African Society. In 1816, the church held its first General Conference and elected Richard Allen the first Bishop. Today the church has millions of members and twenty Episcopal Districts in North and South America, England, and Africa.
The Ninth Episcopal District consists of the state of Alabama and the presiding bishop is the Right Reverend James Levert Davis. The Ninth District was originally the Seventh Episcopal District. It was officially formed at the General Conference of the AME Church in 1868. Bishop John W. Brown was assigned as the first bishop. Between 1868 and 1920 the district was geographically reorganized several times and at different times Alabama was attached with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In 1920, Alabama became the Ninth District. Currently he District has five (5) conferences.
Bishop Henry McNeil Turner organized the North Alabama Conference, beginning with Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Florence, AL, in 1878. The North and West Alabama Conferences were combined and the Presiding Elder Districts realigned under the leadership of Bishop James L. Davis. St. John is in the South Birmingham-Huntsville-Bessemer District of this conference. The current Presiding Elder is Reverend Oliver Allen, Jr.
St. John Huntsville was organized by Dr. William Hooper Councill and others in 1885. The first church services were held in a barber shop on the corner of Miller and West Holmes Streets and Dr. Councill was ordained an elder in the A.M.E. Church. In addition to organizing St. John and serving as the first Pastor, Dr. Councill was the founder and one of the most distinguished presidents of Alabama A&M University. In 1900 the first church building was erected on Church Street. Ministers serving St. John besides Dr. Councill include Reverends Patterson, Shelton, Goodlow, Williams, Todd, Brooks, Newell, Evans, Hill, Brice, Douglas, Cook, Thompson, Scott, Oliver, Woods, Lamar, White, Hughes, Howard, Stone, Dennis, Foxx, Hereford, McCall, and our present pastor, Reverend Patrick Claborn.
In 1971 the church moved into a newly erected facility at 229 Church Street. From this strategic location at the corner of downtown Huntsville, St. John opened its doors to the community. The many civic and cultural events hosted by St. John include NAACP meetings and programs, inaugural prayer service for the President of the City Council of Huntsville, graduation for the Phoenix program, Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship and Interdenominational Ministerial Spouses Association services, voter registration, Alabama Democratic Conference meetings, Race Unity programs, and the originating point for the NAACP Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March.
St. John continues to have a strong affiliation with Alabama A&M University through its members, outreach to students and financial support. Transportation is available for students who desire to attend worship. Five of the eleven presidents of Alabama A&M University have been members of St. John; the founder and first president, Dr. William H. Councill, the eighth president Dr. David B. Henson, the ninth president, Dr. John T. Gibson, Sr., and the eleventh president, Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr.
St. John has active ministries for members and the community. The church purchased 53 acres of land in northwest Huntsville in 2008 and an expansion committee is making plans for future use of this property. Strong emphasis is placed on the WORD - through preaching, teaching and Christian living. St. John’s motto is “A People in the Word- - serving people in the world.”