Ianther Mills
Rev. Ianther Mills (Courtesy photo)

Rev. Ianther Mills, senior pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in downtown Washington, D.C., has emerged as one of the most passionate ministers for social justice in the city by openly embracing the Black Lives Matter Movement and strategizing on how to deal with gentrification.

Mills received national attention Dec. 12 when marauders from a pro-Trump gathering, most of them white men, tore up Asbury’s Black Lives Matter sign that stood in the front of the church. A strong believer that churches should embrace social causes and advocate for the poor and powerless, Mills insisted on a calm, measured response instead of fighting back with a broadcast or social media blast.

“When the sign was torn down, I wanted to express my outrage and disappointment,” she said. “But I really wanted others to express a desire for people to join us in this witness and move toward a beloved community. While I was outraged, I didn’t want to engage in a lot of rhetoric. I didn’t want to talk just to be talking. I wanted to move to a better place. I didn’t want to get stuck in the wrong note, but work to change it.”

About a week later, Mills, Asbury church leaders, faith leaders from neighboring churches and United Methodist Church Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling unveiled a new Black Lives Matter sign and held a prayer vigil for the church, the District and the country.

The sign incident reflects her embrace of becoming a minister committed to social change and justice. She received her doctor of ministry degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2003 with a concentration in “Race, Ethnicity, and Ministry in the Wesleyan Perspective.”

“For me, it is a matter of what it means to be a Holy Christian and a Methodist,” she said. “It is my belief in God and Wesleyan theology. That calls for the love of God and having a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is social holiness, love and treating our neighbor right. All of that goes hand in hand. This squares with Asbury’s mission statement of loving, serving and transforming lives.”

Asbury, founded in 1836 at the corner of 11th and K Streets., N.W. where it still sits. Until forced by the pandemic to suspend, the church served breakfast to the homeless and tutored students at nearby Thompson Elementary School. Mills expressed her pride in the church’s role in the community but said more can be done.

“We are doing what we are supposed to be doing, but we can do more,” she said. “I feel Asbury could be more active and take more of a leading role.”

Mills realizes that her church’s downtown location has become a gentrification hot spot as more whites move into the area. There has been discussion inside and outside of Asbury leaving its site and moving elsewhere but Mills rejects that notion.

Instead, she focuses on what the church should do to accommodate the evolving demography of the area.

“Asbury is a traditional Black church and that is who we are and what we do,” she said. “If you look at things the way they are going in this area right now, gentrification is scary for us given we are increasingly in a space where the African American presence is few. But God has called us to minister this community. As this community changes, we have an obligation to change. This is why we started The Bridge, the ministry for young adults that is designed to cross racial lines and be multi-cultural and multi-ethnic.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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