Following ordination, he began a pastorate with Chandler Memorial Congregational Church in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1944, he became the pastor in an integrated church in San Francisco, The Church of the Fellowship of All Peoples, but that didn't work out for long. In 1946, he became the pastor of St. John's Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts. He served there until he returned to Detroit in 1951. Upon returning, he served at an integrated church, St. Mark's Community Church (United Presbyterian Church of North America) mission. However, some of the white leaders of the church disagreed with the way Cleage was leading his Black congregation. In 1953, Cleage and group of followers left the church and formed the Central Congregational Church that in the mid-1960s was renamed Central United Church of Christ. Their mission was to minister to the less fortunate and they offered many programs for the poor. political leadership and education. In 1964 he help found a Michigan branch of the Freedom Now Party and ran for Governor of Michigan as a candidate in a "Black slate" of candidates. He was editor of a church published weekly tabloid newspaper called the Illustrated News that was widely circulated throughout African-American neighborhoods in Detroit during the 1960s. He was an original member of the New Detroit Committee founded by Max Fisher, an organization formed during the 1967 Detroit riot designed to heal racial and economic divisions in the city that were exposed by the civil disorder. Cleage later renounced his participation and returned a grant of $100,000 to the organization. In 1967, he began the Black Christian National Movement. This movement was encouraging black churches to reinterpret Jesus's teachings to suit the social, economic, and political needs of black people. In March 1967, Cleage installed a painting of a black Madonna holding the baby Jesus in his church and renamed the church The Shrine of the Black Madonna.
In 1970, the Shrine of the Black Madonna was later renamed Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, the black Christian nationalist movement. More shrines were made in Kalamazoo, Atlanta and Houston. The mission of the shrines was, and is, to bring the black community back to a more conscious understanding of their African history, in order to effect positive progression as a whole.
Cleage then changed his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, meaning "liberator, holy man, savior of the nation" in Swahili. Agyeman did not believe in integration for the blacks. He thought that it was important for them to be able to obtain and maintain an economic, political, and social environment of their own. He founded the City-wide Citizens Action Committee to help with black business. He promoted the education of the black children by black teachers.
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