This weekend, the Mother Church of American Methodism will pay tribute to the “father” of American Methodism.
Lovely Lane United Methodist Church at 2200 St. Paul Street is holding a series of events and “observances” to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Francis Asbury, the founding bishop of the United Methodist Church in America.
The events range from the opening of a new museum exhibit at Lovely Lane to the dedication of an 18-foot-tall monument at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, where Asbury and other Methodist leaders are buried.
“This year, the United Methodist Church is commemorating the 200th anniversary of Bishop Asbury’s death,” said John Strawbridge, the lay leader of the church. “This is especially important to us here in the Baltimore-Washington area, where Asbury lived and preached much of his life, and where his remains now lie. “
Francis Asbury was a 39-year-old lay preacher on December 24, 1784, when he attended a “Christmas Conference” in Baltimore where worshippers were planning to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church as a new, independent denomination in the U. S. Three days later, he was elected Superintendent of the new church, a role the Methodists now call Bishop.
As the founding bishop of the denomination, Asbury rode more than 6,000 miles a year from his base in Baltimore to preach and establish connections with other religious groups. He died on March 31, 1816, while on his way back to Baltimore from one of his trips.
The original meeting house of the American Methodists was located on German Street in Baltimore, (now Redwood Street), where the former Merchants Club stands. It was known as Lovely Lane Chapel or Meeting House. Lovely Lane on St. Paul Street is the fifth location of that first congregation and is now considered the Mother Church of American Methodism.
To honor Asbury, a “Service of Remembrance” will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Lovely Lane. The guest preacher will be The Rev. Alfred Day, the General Secretary of the church’s General Commission on Archives and History.
Following the service at noon, church leaders will open a new exhibit in the Museum at Lovely Lane, entitled “The Brand and the Bishop.” It focuses on Asbury and John Wesley, another 18th-century leader of the Methodist church.
At 3 p.m. on Sunday, church leaders will hold a Service of Commemoration and Dedication at the Bishop’s Lot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, 2930 Frederick Road in Baltimore. During the service, they will dedicate a new monument honoring Bishops Francis Asbury, Enoch George, Beverly Waugh and John Emory. The 18-foot-tall monument replaces a 19th-century monument that had become worn and fractured.
The church has also made a copy of a portrait of Asbury by Charles Peale Polk and will be presenting it to representatives of the Methodist church in England later this year.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lovely Lane was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Stanford White, one of the partners of the American architecture firm McKim, Mead and White. Completed in 1884, it is a cornerstone of Baltimore’s Old Goucher Historic District, which also includes campus buildings used by Goucher College before it moved to Towson.
Two hundred years after Francis Asbury’s death, his name has become linked with many United Methodist churches. According to archivist Robert Shindle, about a dozen churches in the Baltimore-Washington area are named Asbury United Methodist Church or some variation, and about 100 churches around the country bear Asbury’s name.