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Green Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

It could be said that America is the land were religions come to get weird.This is the birthplace of Mormonism, the land where Pentecostals speak in tongues and dance with snakes, where the ISKON cult first took hold, and the nation where Jehovah Witnesses frolic freely from door to door in search of converts who [...]

It could be said that America is the land were religions come to get weird.

This is the birthplace of Mormonism, the land where Pentecostals speak in tongues and dance with snakes, where the ISKON cult first took hold, and the nation where Jehovah Witnesses frolic freely from door to door in search of converts who no longer feel up to celebrating holidays anymore.

This is all alright by America — well, mostly — as this land was founded on religious extremes. A quick look at the demographics of the early settlers on the continent reveals groups who needed a land of refuge, as their religious views were a touch too weird for Europe.

The right to be religiously weird is thoroughly entrenched in the very heart of every American — or at least I like to think that it is. It is almost difficult to meet someone in the countryside of this land who does not want to warn you about the Second Coming and fiery headed apocalypses. Talking of The End is a litmus test for new friends, a point of bonding by which you can find out where your new acquaintances stand.

This is all right by America — well, mostly — but this is something I have not seen before:

The Green Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Portland, Maine.

Perhaps this 18 syllable name is a little too much, even for America.

The Green Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Filed under: Culture and Society, Maine, Religion, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Anonymous January 21, 2010, 2:25 pm

    I'm not a religious man, but I did attend one of their services recently as a loved one of mine invited me to go. It was a party! Lots of singing, and the emphasis was on joyfulness — not the shame, blame, guilt, and stuffiness I've experienced in other church experiences.

    I was astonished at the long name the first time I saw it, too, but I found it's not really that weird once I did a little research and broke it down:

    "African" comes from the fact that congregations are primarily (but not exclusively) African-American, and the denomination was founded by African-Americans.

    "Methodist" comes from the fact that doctrinally, it's a Methodist church (the denomination branched off from white Methodist churches about 200 years ago).

    "Episcopal" comes from how the church is governed; "episcopal" means, in this context, that the church is governed by a bishop.

    "Zion" is historic. The first AME church was founded in NYC in the late 1700s/early 1800s in response to the discrimination African Americans found in churches. Black Methodist parishioners were forced to leave the pews in some instances, and black clergy were out of the question. A few black Methodists decided to form their own church in response, and called their first house of worship "Zion." This also distinguished this denomination from a similar movement in Philadelphia that was also calling itself the African Methodist Episcopal church.

    "Green Memorial" was harder to learn about in my research, but presumably it's in honor of an early founder, clergyman, or parishioner of the Portland church.

    Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland, Maine is the second oldest such church in the world, with the original NYC church being the oldest. The denomination has over one million members worldwide.

    The church was born out of civil rights concerns, and has continued to be involved since — churches became "stops" in the Underground Railroad, one of its early bishops helped form the NAACP, and clergy and parishioners were instrumental in 1960s civil rights activity.

    While there is a lot of "weird" religion in America, AME Zion is not any weirder than any other mainstream church (and agreed, mainstream churches CAN get weird!). Yes, it has a long name, but so do many mainstream churches. The Catholic church in Portland is called the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A Jewish house of worship here is called Temple Beth El of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism of America. These are both mainstream churches, but they have long names. Perhaps they just don't seem as weird, as they are more familiar to many of us. Sure, most call these churches by shorter names, such as "Immanculate Conception" or "Temple Beth El," just like AME Zion in Portland frequently refers to itself as "Green Memorial." But the official church nomenclature is long and ornate for all of these houses of worship.

    Also, keep in mind that the history of churches and religions typically involves many schisms and/or mergers from or with other faiths. At each schism or merger, the name needs to be amended to reflect that change. The result often is some long-winded official names.

    And some WEIRD churches have simple names! For example, the suicide cult that killed themselves in reaction to the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet was called "Heaven's Gate." The Rev. Jim Jones, of the infamous Kool-Aid suicides at Jonestown, Guyana, presided over the simply named "People's Temple."

    I guess this is all to say, as the cliché goes, "don't judge a book by it's cover."

    Happy Travels!
    — Nick from Portland, Maine

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  • Carlos Holmes December 19, 2010, 8:20 am

    As I am planning a trip to Maine during the last week of the 2010 year and will be there on Sunday, Jan. 2. I am going to make a point to attend this church. News at 11, as they say.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 19, 2010, 9:50 am

      Excellent, let us know what your experiences are.

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