In 1866, immediately after Emancipation, many ex-slaves with their families settled in Southeast Atlanta in what was known as Summerhill. Many of the people loved the principles of the African Methodist Church and there was a desire on their part to establish a branch of this church in this section.
There was an A.M.E. Church on Jenkins Street at the time and a committee from Summerhill visited this church and requested that someone be sent to organize a church for them. Elder J. A. Wood was designated as the man to organize this church in Summerhill. In the spring of 1866 under the leadership of Elder Wood, a Brush Arbor was built at the corner of Crumbley and Martin Streets where the first service was held. After holding service in the Brush Arbor several times and prayer meetings in the different homes in the community a lot was bought at the corner of Hammock Place and Martin Street where the first Church was built. It was named Wood’s Chapel in honor of Reverend Wood who remained as pastor until 1869.
Reverend A.G. Gonickey, George Washington, Taylor, Lowe, and Lazarus Gardner served as Reverend Wood’s immediate successors and then Reverend Wood was sent to the church for a second term. It seems that this church was destined from the beginning to be a beacon light for the community. Reverend Wood, sensing this situation inspired the members to purchase a lot further up in the community on a higher hill so that they might have a great Church. Later Reverend John Yeiser, who came to the church from Rhode Island, had a larger vision. The site which they had purchased was sold; a new site, the one on which Allen Temple stood for 75 years, was purchased and he succeeded in carrying the congregation into the first unit of the $50,000 edifice. The new church was called Allen Temple in memory of the founder of the A.M.E. Church, Bishop Richard Allen.
Immediately following Reverend Yeiser, the great revivalist, Reverend A.S. Jackson; he added many members to the church and made it possible for Reverend Downs, his successor to complete the main auditorium of the building and install the first organ. In the next few years, the program of expansion continued under Reverend E. P. Holmes, who purchased the site on which the former Clarke Street parsonage stood. Reverend E. W. Lee followed this pastor.
Following that dynamic leader, the sweet singer, poet and scholar, Reverend Albery A. Whitman came to the church. During his pastorate, he organized the first Missionary Society. Reverend Whitman served a short time and the Master called him while serving the church. After his passing, the new pastor, Reverend W. H. Heard, organized the first Usher Association and reorganized a group that met every Sunday afternoon. The group called the Allen Christian Endeavor League became the first organized league in the church. When the Reverend William Alfred Fountain became the pastor, the expansion program continued. Property on the corner adjacent to the church was purchased and beautified; the building was improved; more than 300 young people were baptized during his pastorate.
The great gospel preacher, Reverend H. D. Canady, came next. His outstanding contribution was the organization of the young women of the church into an auxiliary to the Ushers Association. This organization he called the “Usherettes.”
The Reverend R. W. Branch redecorated the interior of the church and bought the pipe organ. Reverend C. M. Tanner, an outstanding scholar, built a new parsonage and Reverend J. A. Lindsay paid off the long-standing mortgage on the church. Again, the expansion program was resumed under the Reverend R. H. Ward, who purchased property on the west side of the church and established a budget system of finance. Reverend W. B. E. Clarke continued the program by purchasing more property on the east side of the church and left a fund of $5,000 for building purposes. Before Reverend Clarke left the church there was a misunderstanding among the membership, and the members of the congregation were very much divided in their thinking. Reverend Clarke’s term of service expired before normal conditions were restored. Reverend A.W. McClendon was sent to the church. He organized the Junior Church but could do no more because he could not adjust himself to the situation which he found. Reverend R. J. Jefferson followed, and with his sweet smile, gentle voice, understanding attitude, and fatherly counsel, he brought peace out of confusion and won the love of the members of the church and the community at large also.
Bishop replaced Reverend Jefferson with a very young and dynamic pastor, Reverend W. R. Wilkes. Reverend Wilkes served as pastor for approximately 14 years, a longer period than any other man in the history of the church. During his pastorate, he used the money that was raised by Reverend Clarke and sizable amount borrowed from the American Savings Bank so that the church was able to purchase the Howard home. He also made needed renovations on the Church. The Church also purchased property on Fraser Street which proved to be one of the best investments the church ever made. During Reverend Wilkes’ last two years, the Church built the Annex on the west side of the church at the estimated cost of $75,000, an amount which was more than that paid for the original building. Reverend Wilkes has elevated the Bishopric in 1948 and Reverend R. H. Porter became our pastor. He inherited more than $30,000 debt, the largest burden ever passed on to an incoming pastor. Reverend encouraged the religious and cultural activities of the Church, and under his leadership, the Builders S. S. Class purchased a Baldwin Grand Piano and a $30,000 manual organ. Unfortunately, Reverend Porter’s pastorate was cut short by his sudden death.
From 1954 to 1956 Reverend T. M. Green served faithfully and arranged to liquidate the mortgage indebtedness on the Educational Building by combining the debt with the Wicks Organ Company note at the Citizen Trust Company.
From 1956-1965, Reverend John A. Middleton served us heroically. Upon him was thrust the responsibility of relocating and rebuilding. This was the greatest task the Church faced in its 94 years of existence. We built the parsonage and education center and looked forward to the main sanctuary. He also initiated and broke ground for the construction of Allen Temple Homes, which is exhibit A in housing. As a leader, Reverend Middleton gained the confidence not only of the members of Allen Temple but also the members of the community-at-large. Prayerfully we asked for Divine Guidance in the attainment of our goals.
In August of 1965, Reverend A. D. Powell was assigned to Allen Temple by Bishop E. L. Hickman. During his ministry, many souls were brought to Christ. Allen Temple celebrated its centennial in October 1966, during the pastorate of Reverend Powell, under his leadership, the Allen Temple Apartments, valued at $6,000,000 were completed. In 1969, under his direction, the indebtedness of approximately $85,000 on our educational building was liquidated five years ahead of time. Moreover, the building fund for the proposed sanctuary was substantially increased during his tenure. In 1972 Reverend Powell decided to give up his pastorate at Allen Temple because of failing health.
In 1972, Reverend Daniel Jacobs became the pastor of Allen Temple Church. Under the leadership of Reverend Jacobs, the church was air-conditioned, the sanctuary was redecorated, and alarm systems were installed in the church and the parsonage. Many improvements took place on the property around the church; namely, a chain link fence was installed, the parking lot was repaired, and proper exits were made for easy access to the church grounds. In addition, he made some improvements to the parsonage. Other amenities were made such as sidewalks on Simpson Road, driveway to the parsonage replaced, and sidewalk to the church. Inside the building, Venetian blinds were installed in the dining room and the library and a public address system were also installed; a new floor was laid in the Narthex.
Reverend A. R. Smith followed Reverend Jacobs as pastor of Allen Temple, during his administration the building fund was increased substantially as well as improvements made to the church facilities. His major effort culminated in the construction of the present sanctuary.
Reverend Benjamin Gay began his service as minister of Allen Temple Church in June 1982. Under the leadership of Reverend Gay during the last three years, the church made many accomplishments – to name a few, an air-conditioned bus was acquired; a young adult gospel choir was organized and named the Temple-Lite Choir; a handbell choir for young people as well as adults was also formed. Additionally, improvements were made to the kitchen and needed equipment was acquired for the preparation of and the serving of food; the church parking lot was resurfaced, and floodlights were installed. More recently, Reverend Gay encouraged membership participation in securing the stained-glass windows which depict the Old and New Testaments in the sanctuary of the church.
Dr. C. E. Wells, Sr., became the pastor of Allen Temple Church in 1988. Under his leadership, numerous improvements were made to the Church. One important effort resulted in the Church Mortgage being paid off much earlier than the original contract. This effort saved the Church members thousands of dollars. Improvements and remodeling of many of the existing classrooms were completed as well as the conversion of many areas into usable spaces for meeting rooms. Dr. Wells' efforts solidified the congregation and added to the number of community outreach programs in which the Church is engaged.
After sixteen years as pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church, the Reverend Dr. Preston W. Williams, II was assigned as Senior Pastor and given the keys to the historic Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church. Upon his arrival, Allen Temple was in one of the most exciting periods of a church’s existence. It appeared that it was for such a time as this that Reverend Williams was sent. For the church was looking forward to the year 2000 and desperately seeking strong prepared leadership to usher them into this new age. There was an immediate need to get to know the flock and to assess the church building and its extensions. Computers were purchased and a website was set up for the Allen Temple Church. Reverend Williams organized 33 ministries to bring about more togetherness among Families and Friends. One of the ministries is known as “Wonderful Wednesday.” It was growing weekly. Our Minister of Music joyfully leads the choirs on a brand-new Rogers organ. Several months later another organ, a Hammond organ was purchased to also enhance the worship service. One of the greatest goals to be accomplished shortly after the year 2000, is the ownership of the Allen Temple Apartments which is valued at over 26 million dollars. Rev. Williams worked tirelessly to bring that goal to fruition. He hired lawyers to break the management and secured funding to get the Phase III of the complex out a foreclosure. Rev. Williams worked with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to obtain 26.4 million dollars to renovate the 580-unit apartment complex. In 2000, he was consecrated as the 119th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Rev. Claude Ray James was selected to succeed the newly elected Bishop as pastor of Allen Temple. Under his leadership the apartment complex renovation was completed, capital improvements were made to all the church properties. Two church vans were purchased through the Birth Month Club, a new roof was installed, and the boiler was changed to a modern HVAC system. He instituted the clothes closet; adopt a school program and the Sarah Allen Outreach Ministry/ Senior Citizens Banquet to honor elder church members. A concert piano was purchased for the sanctuary. The YPD increased substantially with the assistance of the bus ministry and adopt a school program. Each year on Palm Sunday parts II and III of Handle’s Messiah were presented and Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by the Class Leaders Council. A new Usher Board and children’s choir was established under his administration.
In June 2009, the Allen Temple Church family welcomed their new pastor Rev. Scottie Swinney. The parsonage was renovated, and a new roof was installed. Under his guidance, the promised opening of the Cornerstone took place on Easter Sunday 2010. Surveillance cameras were installed to assist with loss prevention. Through his leadership pledges were secured and handicap accessible bus was custom ordered.
A change came to Allen Temple once again in 2012 when Reverend Dr. John A. Foster was assigned as pastor. His arrival marked a change as technology became the buzz word at the church. A Comcast Wi-Fi was installed throughout the facility. In October of 2012, the church went live by streaming the worship services every Sunday.
Reverend Dr. Thomas L. Bess the present pastor was appointed by Bishop Preston Warren Williams, II in May 2013. Under his dynamic leadership, a new PA System was installed. Allen Temple was wired for its own Wi-Fi, with hotspots placed throughout the facility, in 2015. Youth and adults were given a computer lab. The Pastor’s office was given a facelift with the installation of new flooring. The church celebrated its 150th Church Anniversary with a culminating Gala in December of 2016. A new commercial stove was installed in the kitchen. Community Outreach became the Allen Temple focus in 2017 and AT.COM (Allen Temple Community Outreach Ministry) was born. AT.COMreopened the Food Pantry in March of 2017. In preparation for the 2018 Annual Conference, the sanctuary roof and carpet were replaced, and a new altar rail and chairs were installed. In June, the Middleton Center was damaged extensively by a burst pipe in the kitchen that caused the entire facility to be flooded. The renovations in the Middleton Center lead the church to utilize only the Sanctuary and the adjourning hallway for five months. During the Annual Conference in 2019, the church was informed that the pastor would not be returning to the church.
In June 2019, Bishop Reginald T. Jackson appointed Reverend Dr. Susan H. Buckson to Allen Temple. Dr. Buckson was welcomed as its’ first female pastor.