Around the same time Allen, Jones and the other early members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church were establishing the foundations of their throng; James Varick was making similar moves in New York to establish the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ). The AMEZ also began under very similar circumstances in New York: as a safe place for people of African descent to worship, without the burden of racial discrimination and/or European American religious paternalism. New Yorkers were not immune to racist notions and assumptions as modern historical narratives might suggest, Africans in the Northern colonies struggled constantly against ignorance and hatred. As such, Varick and the AMEZ faithful developed out of the struggle against the merciless enslavement and racist oppression of African people. Again, the period of independence for early America underscores the efforts of Varick and his keen understanding and awareness of exactly what freedom means for those whose freedom was marginalized.
Varick’s story begins in 1750 near Newburgh, New York. His mother may have been enslaved by the Varicks but his father was born free in New Jersey. James received his early education in New York City while working to support himself and his family. He became heavily involved in the Methodist Church sometime in the mid-1760s and quickly became a community leader for Black members of the John Street Methodist Church. Varick was an integral element of the John Street church despite the fact that he could not be ordained as a minister because of his race, he led meetings and worked diligently to establish a space for Black people to worship freely. To this end, in 1800 he organized what would become the first AMEZ Church however he would not be ordained as a minister for a number of years. As such the Zion Church was initially led by white ministers despite having all Black congregations. In spite of allowing Black people to organize and develop their own space for worship White paternalism ruled the early foundation of the AMEZ.
Use of the term Zion for the AMEZ church is focused around the need for a Zion-esque safe-space for worship. Meaning, visionaries like Varick understood the necessity of spaces for black people to worship apart from the European religious gaze. Religious self-segregation is very necessary with in a community or colony that is centered on the exploitation of the downtrodden. It is a means of survival for the oppressed and not to be confused with the self-segregating efforts of white supremacists and xenophobes. The notion of Zion within the structure of the AMEZ church suggests it was a place beyond the gaze of white religious normality and the reach of dehumanizing racism. Moreover, Zion’s freedom was not just focused on cultural independence but religious and historical identity as well. Meaning, the Zion faithful had no interest in being engulfed by Allen and the AME; the AMEZ had to have its own identity. To this end, in 1820 the decision was made to strongly pursue the ordination of Black ministers in order to solidify the purpose and direction of the AMEZ movement, and on September 30th the congregation elected Varick and Abraham Thompson as the first elders of the organization which allowed them hold communion services, instead of only prayer meetings, a critical rite for Methodists. Further, the foundation of the movement was concretely solidified in June of the following year with two major developments: the inaugural convention of the AMEZ and the official ordination of Abraham Thompson, Leven Smith and James Varick.
AMEZ worship and religious structure is very similar to that of the AME. In fact, the only qualities separating the denominations are their respective locations of founding and the term Zion. Where they differ most is in their particular histories. For example, with the founding of the AMEZ there was not the same drama as with the walk-out staged by Allen. Carter G. Woodson remarks, “[Varick and his faithful] had not been disturbed in their worship to the extent experienced by Richard Allen and his coworkers in Philadelphia, but they had a ‘desire for the privilege of holding meetings of their own, where they might have an opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts among themselves, and thereby be more useful to one another.’" The need for autonomy was no less pressing for Varick, however Allen and his group definitely had to endure a more Southern reaction to their presence in the early stages of AME’s development. Regardless, Varick’s effort laid the path for religious choice for African American New Yorkers as well as a separate identity for the AMEZ faithful apart from the AME.
Furthermore, in discussing the early development of the Black church, particularly in the North, there are issues of self-segregation that color the conversation. That is to ask, is there an issue with timing that that Varick and Allen (and African Americans generally speaking) should have considered when immersed in development? Self-segregation is an extremely important issue for oppressed peoples. At times the conversation gets warped into the need to comfort the oppressor, to not move too fast or ask for too much. To be clear, it is not the responsibility of African people (or any oppressed persons) to consider the feelings of white people when calling-out the problem of racism, brutality and subjugation. Moreover, regarding the problem of white comfort with the when and how of Black people’s efforts for freedom, it must be noted that historically white Christians are known to vacillate with African American concerns regarding freedom and racism within its own walls. Varick faced many challenges in developing the AMEZ, not the least of which came from well-meaning whites who supported his ideas but believed he needed to step lightly for the comfort of white church leaders.
Appropriately, Varick’s only concern was the spiritual well-being of his community not the emotional comfort of white Americans. The fundamental value of a church, mosque or any other religious body in any given community is the maintenance of the spiritual well-being of that community. Therefore, the organizations, movements, temples and congregations of that community are obligated to address those needs. Otherwise, they are exploitive. Varick’s effort with the AMEZ reflects the need for safe spiritual spaces within a hostile environment. Additionally, together the AME and the AMEZ churches are direct products of their time and critical examples of the spirit of independence in America at the turn of the 19th century. As religious organizations they represent both the freedom to worship and the necessity of independent autonomous worship. Moreover, the efforts of Allen and Varick are critical examples of African people choosing the what, why and how of free worship: what form of worship or denomination would best suit the needs of the community; why they worship; and how or in what manner does worship take place? To have these choices suggests a level of autonomy that most African American would not be able to experience or enjoy well into the 20th century. Yet, Varick, Allen and their respective ilk developed entire religious bodies based on these choices over a half-century b
 African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Website: http://www.amez.org/our-church. Accessed June 2017.
 Carter G. Woodson. History of the Negro Church. (Associated Publishers, 1921), 78.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 79.
 Kunnie, J. E. "Black Churches in the United States and South Africa: Similarities and Differences." Afro-Christianity at the Grassroots: Its Dynamic and Strategies (1994), 81.
 Carter G. Woodson. History of the Negro Church. (Associated Publishers, 1921), 82.
 Ibid., 78.
 Albert Raboteau. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Regardless of whether the issues of autonomy was with the development of churches in the North or creating space for a hush harbor on Southern plantations, European Americans constantly demonstrated their lack of comfort with African spiritual independence.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2000). The essence of King’s text is centered on white Christian complicity in racist oppression through deliberate inaction.