Church celebrates 185th anniversary

April 07, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

On Sunday, 185 years of Asbury United Methodist Church history came together with its future - in song, in testimony and in the zeal of its youth.

"We've come this far by faith over the past 185 years and I've come this far by faith today," said 17-year-old Mark Russ as he stood before the congregation that gathered to celebrate its unique heritage.

Russ told of how sometimes his family and his friends can let him down but his faith has never let him down.


"God is always with me," Russ said.

Overwhelmed with admiration for the young member of her Jonathan Street church, the Rev. Yvonne Mercer-Staten led the applause as Russ returned to his seat.

"This fine young man has never spoken before in his church and we asked him to tell of his faith today," she said. "And tell of his faith he did."

The congregation began its celebration Sunday morning with a reading of the history of Asbury by Josephine Gandy. That history began on April 2, 1818, when it became the first black congregation in Hagerstown.

Started as a mission church, it was overseen by what is now John Wesley United Methodist Church. In 1879, a new building was built for $2,700 on the current site.

That stood until 1972, when fire struck the church and heavily damaged the sanctuary and destroyed the Moller organ.

Now rebuilt and a vital voice in the neighborhood, Asbury attracts members of all races to its services. Tutoring is offered as well as a computer education program to young and old.

"What a joy to be here for this celebration," said Mercer-Staten as the 4 p.m. service continued the daylong event. "There is such an historic significance to what Jesus has done in this church."

Borrowing a phrase coined from the war coverage on television, J.T. Blake called upon all who attended the celebration to "embed" themselves in the ministry of the church.

"I looked up embed in the dictionary and it says it means tightly held," Blake said. "We have been tightly held in the love of Jesus for 185 years."

Blake's son, Durrell Blake, spoke of how his faith cannot be broken. And then he showed his faith through music, accompanying on his drums as Peter Wright rocked the church with "Amazing Grace" on the harmonica.

Barbara Shoaf chose "From a Distance" as her solo vocal offering to the hopes of peace in the world.

As the late afternoon light crept into the sanctuary, the last rays struck the banner atop the altar. There it read "Each of Us Matters to God," which Mercer-Staten says illustrates why Asbury United Methodist Church has come this far by faith.

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