Annapolis church celebrates 200 years

Today's worship service to conclude festivities

November 09, 2003|By Stephanie Tracy | Stephanie Tracy,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Walter E. Middlebrooks, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis since July 2001, rejoiced with his congregation this weekend as it celebrated 200 years of faith and community.

"This is just a great time of jubilation," Middlebrooks said. "We became a congregation during the time of slavery, so there's a certain sense of achievement that comes from having held the community together during such times."

The congregation began the weekend with an open house Friday night and plans to conclude today with a special worship service. The church's oldest member, 94-year-old Cassie Gaskins, was one of many church members honored throughout the weekend for their contributions.

Arnette Snowden, Carol E. McFarland and Sarah Wilard, all in their mid-70s, grew up in the church.

"We're just very proud to still be here to see this and be a part of it," McFarland said.

Asbury United Methodist Church was established in 1803 with seven free African-Americans who were trustees of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

With the exception of 1832, after the Nat Turner slave revolt in Virginia, church members have met on the land purchased from Smith Price for 200 years. During the 1832 closing of black churches, some members of Asbury began meeting at the First Methodist Episcopal Church, today's Calvary United Methodist Church, while others met in private homes.

The original wooden church building was replaced in 1888 with a brick structure, now referred to as "the old church."

Asbury has often served the Annapolis community as a gathering spot for town hall meetings and other forums addressing community issues. In 2000, Asbury was the location for a memorial service for John Snowden after Gov. Parris N. Glendening pardoned him. Snowden, a black man, was convicted and hanged in 1919 for allegedly killing a pregnant white woman, and was the last person hanged in Anne Arundel County.

Various members of the congregation have also been instrumental in the community, working to establish the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and the Black Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations.

The weekend festivities began Friday night with an open house. Photos and memorabilia were displayed on each floor of the church facility. Visitors were also invited to view a presentation of the history of the church before taking time to see the photo displays. A performance of music and dramatic readings by longtime church members capped the evening's events.

The congregation planned to unveil a plaque this morning to commemorate the anniversary. The plaque is not a historical marker issued by Annapolis; renovations to the structure in the 1970s created some obstacles to the building's recognition as a historic structure. But the church, built in 1888, is still featured on historical tours throughout the city.

Beatrice Jones, another lifelong member of Asbury, said the anniversary celebrations were important for the younger generations who knew nothing of the history and growth of the church.

"I'm just delighted about this anniversary because this is a congregation of family-oriented people," Jones said.

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