The rest of the black Philadelphia Methodists, however, found themselves in a bind as they struggled to renegotiate the paternal relationship they had heretofore enjoyed with the white Methodist elders. In an attempt to gain autonomy, a black parishioner named Richard Allen converted a blacksmith's shop into a Methodist church. Bethel Church was dedicated on July 29, 1794 - just twelve days after Jones' Episcopal congregation. The city's presiding Methodist elder, however, wouldn't recognize them. Since Allen wasn't ordained, and the church had no money, they relied on a series of visiting white preachers. In 1799, Allen became a deacon. Although he was finally able to pastor Bethel himself, he remained under the authority of white presiding elders, who had varying levels of tolerance for the idea of a black man running a Methodist-affiliated church.
Allen's leadership extended beyond the walls of the church. He founded the African Masonic Lodge and organized societies to promote education for children of African descent. He vigorously opposed the program of resettling free blacks in Africa. In 1830, shortly before his death, Allen presided over the first Convention of the Colored Men of the United States. Twenty-seven elected delegates from seven states attended. The convention, held at Bethel AME Church, was a harbinger of such organizations as the NAACP and the Urban League.
In the history books, Allen should go down as both the father of the AME Church, and the first national black leader.