An overflow crowd packed the sanctuary and the balconies of Mother Bethel AME Church and the first floor of its Fellowship Hall Tuesday for a ceremony celebrating the new stamp in honor of Richard Allen, founder of the historic house of worship.
The stamp's release coincides with the 200th anniversary of the 1816 conference of African American Methodist ministers called by Allen to form a new independent African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Allen was born into slavery on Feb. 14, 1760 on an estate owned by Philadelphian Benjamin Chew.
As a young man, Allen and one of his brothers worked to buy their freedom after their family had been sold to a plantation owner in Delaware.
Allen became a licensed minister and was asked to preach to black worshipers at St. George Methodist Church in Old City.
Allen and his friend the Rev. Absalom Jones founded Mother Bethel after leading a walkout from St. George's when the church began to restrict black congregations to a rear balcony.
The church's current building dates to 1888 and is at 419 S. 6th St.
Tuesday's ceremony began with rousing songs from the Mother Bethel Church choir and a solo from Bobby Hill, the 14-year-old who stole the show with his solo when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia last fall.
After opening remarks from the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, Mother Bethel's pastor, civil rights leader Vernon Jordan took to the podium as master of ceremonies.
In the crowded church, which holds 1,500 people, Meredith Elementary teacher Tamarah Rash brought the 34 members of her third grade class to see the ceremony.
"I teach Social Studies and I'm a proud African American and I feel that my students should be exposed to some of our strong black leaders," Rash said.
"Meredith is only a couple of blocks from here and some of my students didn't know the church was here," she said.
After Joshua D. Colin, a vice president for the Postal Service's Eastern Area, recounted the story of Allen's life, he unveiled a huge portrait of the Allen Stamp, which was greeted by a gentle roar of approval came from the crowd followed by a standing ovation.
The Postal Service choir then led the packed church in Kool and the Gang's secular song "Celebration!"