AShared History & Legacy
Methodist Episcopal Church
Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is also known as “The National Cathedral of African Methodism.”
Founded in 1838, Metropolitan was formed by two existing churches: Israel Bethel A.M.E., founded in 1821, and Union Bethel A.M.E., founded in 1838. The parent A.M.E. Church movement grew out of an anti-segregation protest in Philadelphia in 1787. Similarly, both Israel Bethel and Union Bethel began as a result of dissatisfaction among African Americans over racial segregation here in Washington at Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church. On July 6, 1838, Union Bethel received the official sanction of the Baltimore Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Consequently, this date is recognized as the official date of the founding of Metropolitan.
The name Metropolitan was first applied to Union in 1870 and became official in 1872 when the Baltimore Conference authorized construction of a new “Metropolitan Church in Washington, D.C.” The name was officially changed to the “Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church” by that same Baltimore Conference.
In addition to officially designating the church name, the Baltimore Conference made two decisions that noted the national character of Metropolitan even then. The conference gave instructions for the new church to be built “in close proximity” to the Capitol and the White House. In addition, each Annual Conference (in a meeting of the Episcopal districts in the continental USA), was requested to donate at least $100 for the building project. In gratitude, the church recognized this generosity by dedicating a stained-glass window to each contributing Annual Conference. Construction began in 1880, and the cornerstone was laid in 1881.
Well before this, the church had been known in stature and influence both locally and nationally. From anti-slavery leadership in the mid-19th century, in the harboring of runaway slaves, to AIDS education and voter registration projects today, Metropolitan has been not just a major center of worship, but also an institution in the forefront of the civic, cultural, and intellectual life among African Americans. The pioneering Bethel Literary Society began in the Church in the 1850s under the leadership of Rev. Daniel A. Payne who later became an A.M.E. Bishop. The purpose of the society was to spread literacy. The society also began a tradition which continues today of sponsoring outstanding literary talent.
Featured speakers over the years have included such figures as Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joel Elias Spingarn, E.E. Just, Alain Locke, Mordecai W. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Charles H. Wesley, James E. Clyburn, Jesse Jackson and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Frederick Douglass attended regularly, and his funeral was held at Metropolitan in 1895, as was the 1898 funeral of Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate. The funeral of A. Phillip Randolph and the national memorial service for Rosa Parks were also held at Metropolitan.
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