Editor’s note: Volusia County is home to dozens of churches with predominantly Black congregations. Only a limited number can claim to have stood the test of time for 100 years or more. Mass Communication students at Bethune-Cookman University visited some of these churches to find out what makes them special. This is one in a series of stories about the iconic religious institutions.
BY DESMOND WALDEN AND CHRISTIAN PAYNE
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES
Fear of a bear led to the founding of Allen Chapel A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church more than a century ago in Daytona Beach’s Midtown community.
The church was founded in 1910, according to its history, by then members of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church after they encountered a bear on their way home. At the time, Mt. Zion was the only A.M.E. church in the city.
Following that encounter, a committee was formed and plans were laid for starting a second church, closer to the members’ home. The presiding bishop granted the request and thus the groundwork was laid, church history states.
Barn to boulevard
Allen Chapel was organized on March 8, 1910 under the leadership of the Rev. J.W. Allen, its first pastor. The members held their first service in an old barn. Four years later, they laid a cornerstone for the church on then Second Avenue, near what was then Bethune-Cookman College.
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman was a member of the church from 1914 until 1923 when she transferred her membership to the United Methodist Church.
According to the church’s website, her son, Albert Bethune Sr., now deceased, is a former member. Several of her grandchildren and great-grand-children are active members.
‘Growing and Glowing’
Allen Chapel stayed on Second Avenue for more than seven decades before relocating to its current site at 580 George W. Engram Blvd. Bethune-Cookman purchased the old 626 S. Second Ave. church edifice and property in 1993.
Due to its long stability, the church has been able to impact countless lives. Its congregation numbers around 400 people. Its theme is “A Growing and Glowing Church Family.’’
“Allen Chapel has been my church home away from home, especially when things get hard at school. There is no better place to be on a Sunday to solve your problems,” said Lladro Taylor, a B-CU student.
The Rev. Dr. Nathan Mugala, a native of Zambia in southern Africa, has been the pastor since 2007. Mugala came to the United States to attend college at Edward Waters University in Jacksonville.
“Well, to be honest with you, I never intended on being a pastor. I move to Jacksonville and I majored in accounting with aspirations to create my own accounting firm,” said Mugala, who served at several churches in Florida before coming to Daytona Beach.
“I kept running away from my calling, but I talked to a wise man that I knew very close and he told me it was time…. and that’s when God began to open doors for me and my career,” he said.
One of any pastor’s challenges when he goes to a new church, Mugala said, is getting the congregation to fall in line behind him while also being mindful of the rich history of the new church.
For a church to be stable and strong, according to Mugala, it is important to have a strong religious foundation as well as the practice of social justice and equality.
“In order for the church to stay solid and rooted in Jesus Christ, there has to be a strong religious foundation as well as attacking social justice and any adversity that comes,” he said.
The ‘right message’
Throughout the week, pastors or Christian leaders must find the “right message” to present to the congregation, which for Mugala, is simple.
“As I prepare my messages throughout the week I always see and find out the problems that are happening with the people in the church,” he said.
“I also rely on Methodist literature and scriptures to help mold the right message for the right people…. God has to be a priority in everything you do. Not when times are hard or your back is against the wall, but all times.”
Remembering the past
Area resident Jeanette Merritt has been a member of Allen Chapel for most of her life.
The 90-year-old said she attended the church faithfully except for a 10-year period when she lived and worked in Bartow.
Merritt grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church. “I am AME and I am not a person to jump from church to church,” she related.
Her father, the late Rev. L.M. Moore, served as pastor at Allen for several years starting in 1941 before he was eventually elevated to state superintendent of Sunday Schools for the A.M.E. church.
Merritt, who was a child when her father moved the family here, said the church has survived more than a century because of the commitment of the people in the congregation to make sure it survives, come what may.
The Rev. Janice Mallory, associate pastor of the church, said she has been a part of the Allen Chapel family for most of her life as well – from age 12.
Mallory said her parents were living in Ocala during the time but she spent much of her summer break in Daytona Beach visiting an aunt.
“My mother grew up in this church,” she said, noting that the church was formerly located on Second Avenue, now Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard. The space is now home to a parking lot.
The family eventually moved back to Daytona Beach.
Being that close to Bethune-Cookman had advantages, she said. As the college grew, so did the church.
“We always had good pastors and always had good musicians,” she said.
Sunday services are church school at 8:30 a.m. and morning worship at 9:45 a.m.
There’s a noon Bible study on Wednesdays, prayer service at 6 p.m. and Bible study at 7 p.m.
The church can be reached at 386-255-1195.