Tucked into the north end of one of La Jolla's shortest streets is a church with a rich, long history.
Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church on Cuvier Street was founded officially in 1943, but its spiritual roots began in La Jolla in the 1920s (and in the United States in the late 1700s). The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) grew out of the Free Africa Society shortly after Americans won independence but while blacks were still slaves.
"It is the oldest African-American church in the country," explained Rev. Chuck Norris, pastor of Prince Chapel, referring to the AMEC. "It started first in black colleges and universities and has always been about social justice.
“Early members petitioned President Lincoln about the Emancipation Proclamation and church bishops led the way for the formation of the NAACP." The NAACP was founded in 1909. Many key players in the civil rights movement, such as Rosa Parks and James Meredith, were members of the AMEC.
This sense of social justice, "doing what is right for all people," according to Rev. Norris, still marks the spirit of the church today. Under his guidance, the church is very focused on helping people. "Our mission is about reaching families, and helping families strengthen themselves," he said. "They are the building blocks of society."
The first AMEC church in La Jolla was formed in 1921 to serve the black community, primarily domestic servants. Members met at La Jolla Union Mission, a small, two-room house near the site of the current church. In 1943, the church officially organized under its current name. A new church building was erected in 1948 while members held their services at the La Jolla Recreation Center. Since then, it has gone through two major remodels, one in 1985 and another in 2008.
The AMEC is doctrinally Methodist and organizationally Episcopalian, meaning governed by bishops. According to the AMEC website, the church currently has membership in 20 Episcopal Districts in 39 countries on five continents.
Rev. Norris joined Prince Chapel in 2010, after serving at a church in Phoenix, Arizona. He was born in Chicago, the oldest of six children. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in business, he worked in the information technology world for 20 years and then in the non-profit arena before being ordained.
(Written by Linda Hutchison, excerpted from the La Jolla Light.)