Thursday, November 25, 2010
Asbury celebrates 144th anniversary
By Dr. Sylvester W. Oliver Jr.
Asbury United Methodist Church will celebrate homecoming weekend, November 27-28.
A century and 44 years ago, Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church was founded as the first African-American church in Holly Springs. The church grew from the travails of slavery and a just war to become a prominent influence in the city’s religious community.
The church became a beacon of light for the starving souls who wanted to practice Christianity without fear of retribution from those who had lawfully deprived them of the right to experience and openly practice their Christian faith.
Asbury Church was organized in 1866, a year after slavery officially ended, and two years before African-Americans were declared citizens of the United States (1868). The church was named Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of the first American Methodist bishop, William Asbury, an antislavery advocate.
The organization of the church brought forth a new beginning of spiritual uplift and hope for more than a newly liberated men, women and children who were living in Holly Springs at the time.
Asbury Church was established in 1866 with 27 chartered members led by the intrepid Rev. Moses Adams, the church’s first pastor. A year later, in 1867, the rapidly expanding congregation had grown to 168, and by 1869 to 443 full members and 189 probationers.
Some had practiced Methodism before the church was organized; some were already members of other Protestant faiths; however, the majority were new converts joining the church with some Christian experience or with no earlier religious affiliation.
Nearly all knew slavery firsthand and had initially been brought to Holly Springs from the Atlantic east coast states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Many of the original members were devout Christians dedicated to the spiritual uplift and improvements of the African-American community in which they lived.
Services were first held in an old frame house on Gholson Avenue, one block south of the downtown square. It was in the vicinity where the Marshall County Library is today.
On June 19, 1866, the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of New York bought a lot on West College Street from Isaac Cunningham for $400. The society granted the newly formed Asbury congregation the privilege to worship at this new location in another old frame house. The first church structure built at this site took place during the pastorate of the Reverend C.W. Fitzgerald in 1870.
In late fall of 1866, Asbury Church opened its first school in the basement for African-American children of the city. Assistance for opening the school came from the local African-American and white communities, as well as two significant organizations: the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Following the Civil War, both of these organizations were greatly involved with working with African-Americans. In 1870, Asbury School became the progenitor for Shaw University (now Rust College), and also the City Public School for Colored of Holly Springs in 1871.
Asbury School and Hopewell School were the city’s two private schools that merged to form the first public school for African-Americans. As the adage goes, “From small beginnings come great things.”
On December 1, 1892, the Missionary Society deeded the church lot to the trustees of Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church. The receiving trustees were: H.H. Davis, J.M. Hill, J.C. Oglesby, J.W. Selby, P. Tunstall, R.J. Tunstall, B. Wells, J. Wilkerson and W.P. Wilkins.
In 1915, the present church edifice was erected under the pastorship of Rev. E.F. Scarborough, the 19th pastor of Asbury Church. The church was built at an estimated cost of $3,500. By 1917, the church was debt free.
While the church was under construction, the members worshipped at Miller Institute, located behind where Big Star is today.
Asbury Church is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. As a historic landmark, Asbury United Methodist Church is famous for providing the African-American community with religious, educational, and political leaders as well as a variety of professionals.
During the Civil Rights era, the church served as the base for many community meetings. Today, 144 years later, Asbury Church is still serving the Holly Springs community. Its handsome A-shape roof and added classrooms, gym, library, pastor’s study and kitchen are favorite locations for many religious and social occasions.
Over the years, members of Asbury Church have been part of the political arena in Holly Springs, and have provided guidance when it was time to act on behalf of the African-American community.
Through the years, church members have held elected and appointed positions at the local, state and national levels. Among these members were Hiram Revels, the first African-American U.S. senator; A.K. Davis, Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction; William Dogan, city alderman of Holly Springs during Reconstruction; Perry W. Howard, assistant to the Attorney General of the U.S.; Eddie L. Smith Jr., the first African-American mayor of Holly Springs; Robert Collins, alderman for Holly Springs; Kelvin Buck, state representative and city alderman; Clencie Cotton, city and county attorney; Bobby Adkins, sheriff of Marshall County; Judy Smith, superintendent of Holly Springs Separate School District; and Robert Pearson, chief of police for Holly Springs.
In the early years of the church, members of Asbury Church were among the movers and shakers in the African-American community and had direct access to prominent decision makers.
The inspired and determined Methodist leader, Moses Adams (1830-1915), was particularly significant in how his members of the church saw themselves and the need to help the fledgling African-American community.
Motivated by religious principals and a deep conviction to educate and uplift his people, Rev. Adams’ personal style served as the religious and political model for Asbury Methodist Church.
Today, this model is called the “community action model.” Under this model, personal relationships exist between the members of the church and a conglomerate of bureaucrats, politicians and heads of local and state government to address the needs and concerns of the local community.
This is the proud legacy of Asbury United Methodist Church, the oldest African-American congregation in North Mississippi. This weekend, November 27 and 28, Asbury United Methodist Church will celebrate its Homecoming Weekend and invites you to participate in its banquet on Saturday night at 6 p.m. and worship service on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.
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