Caldwell Temple A.M.E. Zion Church
Monday, June 18, 2018
A Church of the Fresh Start

Caldwell and the A.M.E. Zion Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is one of the many Methodist denominations that traces its roots to the Methodist revival movement within the Church of England begun by John Wesley and others.  This movement would eventually become a separate denomination, the Methodist Church.  Methodism was organized as a denomination within the United States as the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Out of this American manifestation of Methodism, the A.M.E. Zion Church would be born.

The founders of the A.M.E. Zion Church, at first, attempted to remain within the Methodist Episcopal Church as a separate conference of African preachers and churches.  When they did not receive the desired consideration, recognition, and respect from the Methodist Episcopal Church they severed all organic ties.  This link is to an online book entitled A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Nathan Bangs originally published in 1841.  In this part of the collection, (Volume III, Book V, Chapter 4), Bangs gives the Methodist Episcopal Church's account of the secession of the members of the A.M.E. Zion Church in the recollection of events in the year 1819.

Bangs begins to tell the account of the secession in the paragraph that begins, "While these efforts were making to enlarge the sphere of our operations..."
(Note: the A.M.E. Zion Church originally incorporated under the name the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America and is referred to as such in the book.  However, the denomination has never been affiliated with the denomination of the same name founded by Richard Allen in Philadelphia.  Zion, the name given to the first chapel built in New York City in 1801, was officially added to the denominational title in 1848 to distinguish it from Allen's movement.  As Bangs history shows, The Methodist Episcopal Church recognized the difference between the two denominations despite the fact they shared the same name during this time period).

The A.M.E. Zion Church played a critical role in the life of African-Americans in New York City.  At one time, the A.M.E. Zion Church provided one of the few sacred burial spaces for people of African descent in New York City.  When no longer allowed to bury people in its vaults in the churchyard in lower Manhattan, it secured space in the Potter's Field that was located in what is now Washington Square Park.

The A.M.E. Zion Church played an active role in the Abolitionist Movement.  Many of its churches served as "stations" on the Underground Railroad.  In fact, there is a rule from the earliest days of the denomination that remains in the Discipline (The denomination's book of rules and rituals) which state that no one who owns slaves may be a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church.  One of the well known "conductors" of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, was a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church.  Harriet Tubman was a member of Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Auburn, New York.  She acquired some property in Auburn upon which she intended to build a home for the elderly and indigent.  She deeded the property to the A.M.E. Zion Church to own and operate in 1903

A Brief History of Caldwell Temple A.M.E. Zion Church (founded in 1931) 
In 1931 Caldwell Temple A.M.E. Zion Church was originated as a mission church in a Bronx store front. Caldwell was founded by Anna Leftage, a Sunday School teacher in the A.M.E. Zion Church and a devout Christian. In 1933 the mission had grown so successfully that it was accepted as the first Zion church of the New York Conference, away from the Mother Church. Caldwell was named after Bishop Josiah S. Caldwell.

The reverends John A. Matthews and George A. Taylor were some of the initial pastors of the new Caldwell Church. On September 10, 1944, Anna Leftage’s dream finally came true when the Reverend Carnes Mckinney, a hard working pastor, relocated the congregation to its present site. Reverend McKinney served Caldwell and the Community for 33 years. His spiritual guidance and leadership made Caldwell into one of the more notable churches in the Bronx.

Reverend Paul McGuire succeeded Reverend Carnes McKinney. Reverend McGuire  served from 1976 to 1978. Although his assignment was for a short time, he led Caldwell in the tradition of the A.M.E. Zion denomination.

Reverend McGuire’s successor was Reverend Dr. Paul F. Thurston. He brought with him a multitude of  devout wisdom and understanding and community service knowledge. Reverend Thurston was faced with many challenges including the changing condition of the Caldwell community and the blighting neighborhood. He initiated the Thurston Plaza Housing Project which is responsible for financing the new housing in the neighborhood. Reverend Thurston pastored Caldwell until his demise, before his dreams were realized.  Presiding Elder David Pharr acted as supply past in 1984 to 1985 after the demise of Reverend Dr. Paul F. Thurston.

In 1985 Reverend Robert L. Perry, Sr. assumed the pastoral duties at Caldwell. He continued to forge on with the Thurston Plaza Housing Project to its completion. Reverend Perry’s hard work and leadership in completing the Housing Project made Caldwell  a stabilizing force in the Bronx. Under Reverend Perry Caldwell  also purchased a parsonage.

Reverend Samuel Hill joined this impressive legacy and was assigned to Caldwell until his demise in 1997. During Reverend Hill’s tenure, he not only delivered religious messages, he was a champion in initiating and taking part in the much needed renovation of our church building at the time.  Presiding Elder George McMurray supplied Caldwell after the demise of Reverend Samuel Hill in 1997. 

In June 1998 Reverend Nathaniel B. Legay was assigned to Caldwell. Rev. Legay completed a physical renovation of the church and implemented various leadership improvement methods, spiritual growth technique through teaching, and improvements in the total quality of life in our church which we once dreamed to be in the far future. Presiding Elder A. Alfred Carson was the supply pastor for Caldwell from July 2007 - February 2008, after Reverend Legay returned to the New Jersey Conference.
On March 2, 2008, Reverend Henrico D. White has joined the illustrious ministers as pastor of Caldwell.  We were blessed with this visionary and his profound ministry.  During his four-year leadership (March 2008 - August 2012), our mortgage was burned, our praise, worship, fellowship and increased.   
Our rich ministry continued with Rev. Monte Witherspoon-Brown, NC native who has joined us on September 9, 2012 as the new pastor of Caldwell. 
In 2016 we celebrate 85 years our experiences over the years have made us stronger, wiser, and better equipped to meet the challenges of today and  the future. Our visions and aspirations are to continue to expand the rich heritage of our church for many years to come.