With prayer, faith in God and $300, Eli Nugent and Black congregation members left the Foundry Methodist Church (FMC) in 1836 and started what is known today as Asbury United Methodist Church (AUMC) at 926 11th St., N.W The present two-story English Gothic architectural edifice was built in 1915 and has national landmark status.
“Still Standing Through God’s Grace,” AUMC celebrated its 184th anniversary with its four-day homecoming service Sept. 17 through Sept. 26. Programmed events discussed the historical and contemporary aspects of the very prominent AUMC. Events were Asbury Foundry Story, Oral History, Youth Talent Show and its Homecoming Service with Bishop Gregory Palmer as guest speaker.
“Still Standing Through God’s Grace” was the relevant theme of the celebratory event for a church whose founding members endured racist policies and suppressive treatment under the White leadership at FMC, which would not allow Blacks to sit with Whites in the main sanctuary, but only upstairs in the balcony, which would not allow outstanding Black preachers to be credentialed, which would not allow Black congregational members to sing in the choirs, which did not practice God’s commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself.
But God! God, through His immeasurably great mercy and grace has continued to bless AUMC, which has always been true to its mission: “Love God and one another, serve our community, and transform lives.” AUMC provides programs to feed the hungry, built affordable quality housing for the aged and handicapped. It created a credit union in the 1950’s and an endowment to support programs in education, outreach ministry, history and heritage.
AUMC’s past is connected to the present goals of AUMC, Senior Pastor Dr. Ianther Mills said, “Asbury has a long standing history of social justice: supporting and advocating for two teenage church members who were among 77 slaves who attempted escape on the Pearl; hosting a soup kitchen in the 1930’s, owning the Roydon Apartments, the first integrated apartments in D.C.; and participation in the Civil Rights Movement. The same spirit is alive today and inspires us in our ministry with our unhoused neighbors and efforts to stop sex trafficking in the community.”
AUMC leadership was still under White church leadership until 1864, when the Washington Annual Conference was established and Rev. James Peck became its first Black pastor. Then the deep rooted and rich heritage of AUMC and its historical connection with Black Methodism in Washington, D.C. began.
Eventually, there was racial reconciliation between (AUNC) and (FUMC) in 2002 when FUMC held a Service of Repentance on March 24 and AUMC followed with a Service of Forgiveness on April 7.. Thereafter, both churches met on a regular basis and pastors Mills (AUMC) and Cirelli (FUMC)conducted pulpit exchanges annually, which continues today.
“We hope that our journey is an inspiration to others who seek to live out the biblical understanding that all are created in the image of God and that our humanness is intimately tied one to another,” said Pastor Mills, acknowledging both churches’ attempt for racial reconciliation.
Kelvin Childs, a greeter and AUMC congregant for more than 20 years, felt the “racial reconciliation between both churches recognized that slavery was part of Methodist history and an effort to show to the congregation to be better Christians by being together and not separate united Methodists.”
Like most churches in the country reeling from the COVID–19 Coronavirus pandemic, AUMC had to “reimagine ministry in a virtual world,” Pastor Mills revealed. Live streaming worship services is the primary way AUMC conducts its worship service, and how membership care was conducted had to be changed, Pastor Mills stated. With the pandemic creating social distancing realities, hospital visits and home visits were restricted, Pastor Mills said we met the need to connect with a team of lay callers and church-wide wellness calls.
Ornetta Slaughter, who retired and relocated to Lady Lake, Fla., has nothing but fond memories of AUMC. “During the time, my mom was extremely sick and I was crying. The pastor didn’t know me, but he gave me one the biggest hugs I ever had. The people were so welcoming; I said to myself this is where I belong,” she said.
Concluding, Pastor Mills said, “With history and legacy comes responsibility and opportunity. I am grateful to have been called to be the pastoral leader of AUMC at this moment in its journey. I am inspired by the accomplishments of the past and hopeful of the new ways God Directs AUMC to be the church with a mission of loving, serving and transforming lives.”
A reverend from FUMC said to continue to walk in reconciliation, unity, oneness. Walk together as one in all the years to come.