James Varick, the first bishop of the Zionist Church, was born near Newburgh, New York, on January 10, 1750. His mother was most likely a slave of the Varicks or Van Varicks. His father, Richard Varick, was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and baptized in the Dutch Church.
Varick joined the John Street Methodist Church in New York City at an early date, possibly in 1766, the year after the church held its first meeting. He was licensed to preach by the group of the church.
In 1796, Varick was among the black leaders who established separate meeting places. The group often met for prayer on Sunday afternoons and heard preachers and exhorters on Wednesdays. They dedicated the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a wooden building at the corner of Church and Leonard Streets, in October 1800.
Varick was selected by the congregation to become an elder of the church in 1820 and began to act immediately, holding communion services. The denomination later acquired churches outside of New York City, but its growth did not match that of Richard Allen’s group. The name of the mother church, Zion, was officially added to the denomination’s name in 1848. Varick was also a member of the group of Blacks who petitioned the state constitutional convention for the right to vote.
On July 4, 1827, the Thanksgiving service for the final abolition of slavery in New York was held in Zion church. Varick died July 22, 1827.