Hope community Church has a lengthy history, so much so that it predates its current physical location. Starting in the 1850s, a congregation was founded due to a pressing need to provide a separate place of worship for the African-American community within Amherst. This effort was spearheaded by Mr. William A. Stearns, the President of Amherst College at the time. He initiated the community based search for a home for the congregation after discovering that they did in fact not have a physical place of worship. In response, Mr. Stearns appointed Amherst College pupil Henry Lyman as their acting minister thus founding the “Sabbath Church” in 1864.
Though the congregation was founded, they still had no place to call home. In response to this, the congregation was able to acquire the use of the now non-existent Amherst Academy. Formerly located across from the Jones Library (Amherst Cinema parking lot), this building was once a thriving private school where the famed local Emily Dickinson once attended. The former Academy, which was slated for demolition, acted as the 1st place of worship for the congregation until its demise in 1869.
In response to this, a congregation located on Amherst College’s campus, along with faculty and others in the community sponsored the Zion Mission Chapel Sunday School located on the campus. It would eventually change its name to Zion Methodist Chapel when it moved to a new location on Northampton Rd. in 1874.
The church flourished in the years following, and was used by many African-American students within the five college area as their primary place of worship. While the Church functioned wonderfully for years after it’s founding, around the turn of the 20th century a schism began to emerge within the congregation.
As the years dragged on, the few whites who were active within the congregation gradually diminished. In response to this, many of the African-Americans in the congregation began to push for a completely autonomous Black Church of their own (as this church was highly influenced by its white benefactors). Thus in 1907 Hope Society congregation was founded, on the pretense of allowing this Black congregation to exist free of outside influence and control. The larger segment of the congregation was renamed Hope Society, and continued to meet at the original site. The rest of the congregation was renamed the Union Methodist Society and began holding sermons in the Town Hall.
Eventually the Hope society congregation would relocate to its current location on Gaylord St. in May of 1912. Zion Methodist would stay at the previous location until 1910 when A.M.E. Zion would be founded at its current location on Woodside Ave. (formerly Parsons Street). While Hope Church closed for most of the 1960s, it has since rebounded. With the support of local African-American students along with reverend’s Laverne and Norma Jean Anderson, it reopened its doors in 1970. The congregation has now rebounded and reflects the diverse demographics of the town of Amherst. A.M.E. Zion, though still a mostly African-American congregation, has also embraced the diversity of the local community. Both A.M.E. Zion as well as Hope Church still stand to this day, and still remain active reminders of Amherst’s longstanding African-American community.
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