Asbury United Methodist Church was established by non-white members of Foundry
Methodist Episcopal Church in 1836. The latter was organized in 1814 in Washington
City and had black worshipers as members of its congregation from its inception.
Discriminatory conditions and parent-like control by their white brethren, however,
soon became intolerable to blacks. They were denied a voice in policy-making and
were hindered in attempts to achieve personal or group recognition. According to the
official history of the church, Asbury-Our Legacy, Our Faith
1836-1993, it remains questionable whether or not they were afforded the
sacraments and it is unlikely that they were permitted to participate in the choir
or to serve as ushers. It was not until September 27, 1833 when Eli Nugent became
the first of Foundry's black members to be granted an exhorter's license that
recognition of individual merit was acknowledged. However, the restriction that
generated the greatest displeasure within the black congregation was their
confinement to the church gallery section. This, together with the other intolerable
conditions, engendered in the members the idea for a separate church. Thus, rather
than continue their restricted relationship with Foundry, the black membership began
to meet in each other's homes.
A precursor to separation was the establishment of the Asbury Sunday School (Church
School) in 1829 by John F. Cook, a black man, (who later founded The First Colored
Presbyterian Church). By 1836 there is evidence that they had achieved their goal of
religious freedom. The Asbury Aid Society, established on January 15, 1836, formed
the nucleus of the church, and on Oct. 6, 1836, acting on behalf of the black
congregation, seven white trustees agreed to purchase property from William Billings
for $300. Later that same year a frame building was erected on the site by black
brethren and dedicated as `Asbury Chapel.'
At the 1836 Quarterly Conference of Foundry ME Church, Asbury Chapel was officially
named “Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church” in honor of Bishop
Francis Asbury. This was the first edifice of the Asbury congregation and would
stand until 1866.
Prior to 1864 all black Methodist churches in the United States were part of the
Baltimore Conference. Black preachers, however, were not accepted as members of the
Conference and were relegated to being assistant helpers to the white pastors
assigned to black churches. Beginning in 1848 several unsuccessful attempts were
made to organize a conference for the black Methodists. Finally, in 1864, Rev.
Benjamin Brown, pastor of the Sharp Street Church in Baltimore, Maryland, called a
meeting of leaders of the sixteen black churches in the Baltimore Conference. They
successfully petitioned the 1864 General Conference to organize an Annual Conference
of black Methodist churches that would embrace Central, Southern, and Western
Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia to be called the Washington
Annual Conference. Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church was included in this Conference
in October 1864 and Rev. James Peck was made the first black pastor in charge at
Asbury. Black trustees were also elected to succeed the formerly all-white trustees
In 1865 the Conference stationed Rev. Richard P. Bell at Asbury. During his one year
pastorate fund raising began for a new building. Rev. Julius Caesar Johnson,
appointed in September 1866, continued the work. Robert H. Robinson succeeded Rev.
Johnson in March 1869 and completed the new edifice in 1870.
During the remaining years of the 19th century the Asbury congregation was served by
eleven pastors. Rev. William W. Foreman, known as the “Lion of the
Forest,” was appointed in 1871. He was succeeded by Rev. Benjamin Brown
in 1873 who inspired Asbury brethren to build the Asbury Mission house. In 1874,
Rev. James J. Thomas was assigned to replace the paralyzed Rev. Brown. The next
pastor, Rev. James D.S. Hall, was considered one of the best preachers in the
Conference. But after serving only one year Rev. Hall was succeeded in 1878 by Rev.
Edward W.S. Peck who renovated the church and installed an organ.
By the time Rev. Peck was replaced by Rev. Nathaniel M. Carroll in 1881, nearly 150
new members had been added to the rolls. Rev. Carroll was the oldest living member
of the Washington Annual Conference and had been present at its organization in
1864. Both he and the two subsequent pastors would serve three years each. Rev.
Richard A. Reed arrived at Asbury in 1884 followed by Rev. John H. Dailey who took
charge in 1887.
In 1886 when the General Conference passed a law that a preacher could remain as long
as the congregation desired. Friction arose between those who wished to retain Rev.
Dailey and those who did not. Those members desirous of a new pastor won and Rev.
John W.E. Bowen was appointed in 1890. This caused a number of brethren to separate
from Asbury in 1891; they later organized the People's Congregational Church.
During Rev. Bowen's administration, Ephraim Nash, a white member of Asbury, donated
his twenty-room frame home which would become the structural forerunner of Sibley
Hospital. In 1890 the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church
established a training school for Deaconesses and Missionaries at the former Nash
residence. Shortly thereafter it became apparent that there was a need to give
hospital nurse training to candidates interested in this special field. William J.
Sibley, a white trustee at Asbury donated funds for this purpose. The hospital
opened on October 19, 1894.
Rev. Daniel W. Hayes was appointed as Asbury's pastor in 1893 and was followed in
1896 by Rev. Isaac L. Thomas. During his administration the church was remodeled and
a heating plant installed.
In 1902 Matthew W. Clair, Sr. was appointed pastor of Asbury and served for seventeen
years. Rev. Clair initiated numerous religious and missionary societies. In 1914 the
old 1866 Asbury edifice was razed and a new place of worship was begun on its
foundation. On September 5 and 6 of the following year, cornerstone laying services
were held for the new edifice.
Asbury opened the doors of the new church building on October 16, 1916. Pastors
following Rev. Clair, were Rev. Julius S. Carroll, Sr. who served three years, 1919
to 1922; Rev. James U. King, who served five years, 1922 to 1927, and Rev. Joseph H.
Jenkins, Jr., who served four years, 1927 to 1931.
On Palm Sunday, March 29, 1931, Rev. Robert Moten Williams arrived in Washington,
D.C. to deliver his first sermon at Asbury. During his twenty-four year pastorate,
by far the longest of any Asbury minister before or since, Rev. Williams introduced
or realigned countless programs directed toward self involvement and improvement,
church expansion and renovation, and community and national concerns.
Many firsts were realized during Rev. Williams' tenure. The first Asburyan Newsletter of the church was published on Palm
Sunday, March 25, 1945. On August 2, 1945, the Asbury Federal Credit Union was
chartered to operate in Washington, D.C., the first of any church in the country. In
1947 the church established the first interracial housing in Washington, the Roydon
By October 4, 1953, the church was free of debt and, with its furnishings, was valued
at $355,000. When Rev. Williams first arrived in 1931 there were 1,800 Asbury
members. By 1953, in slightly over twenty years, he had built the church membership
to 4,700 members.
Rev. Robert Moten Williams was succeeded by Rev. James D. Foy in May 1955. During his
thirteen year administration the church began a half-million dollar building
The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 upon the merger of the Evangelical
United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church. Rev. Frank L. Williams, appointed
to Asbury in June of that year, became the first minister of the newly designated
Asbury United Methodist Church. He would serve sixteen years. During his
administration several building projects were completed. The Education Building
designed as an attachment to the church was consecrated on December 2, 1973. An
abandoned high school building was purchased and converted into an apartment
dwelling of 147 units. Completed on June 10, 1982, the apartment complex, governed
by a Board of Directors, was the first of its kind for the District of Columbia
Rev. Joshua Hutchins, Jr. was appointed to pastor Asbury in 1984 and served for seven
years. He initiated many new ministries and was keenly aware of the importance of
history and of preserving the past. During his pastorate the Historic Preservation
Review Board designated the Asbury edifice as an Individually Designated Landmark in
the city's Inventory of Historic Sites on February 29, 1984. The Asbury History
Center, the church archives room, opened on October 26, 1986 next to the Church
Library room which had been established earlier. One month later the National Park
Service added Asbury United Methodist Church to the National Register of Historic
On August 29, 1991, the church mourned the passing of Senior Pastor Rev. Joshua
Hutchins, Jr. He was the first Asbury pastor to succumb during his tenure. Bishop
Edward G. Carroll was appointed interim pastor. Rev. Dr. Eugene W. Matthews was
appointed pastor of Asbury on February 1, 1992 and is the Senior Pastor at