Dumbarton United Methodist Church Celebrates 250th Anniversary

The church has been celebrating its 250th anniversary since January and will continue to do so throughout the year. It started in 1772 and then moved to its current site off Dumbarton Avenue in 1850, according to the church. Its leaders say it is one of the oldest Methodist congregations in the United States.

“We started with a study of our history book,” said Cornwell, the church pastor. “In a way, from the beginnings of our church, what has been the history of our congregation and who are we called to be now?”

Members of the congregation said Sunday that the church has historically been an inclusive space. The past 40 to 50 years have been about social justice issues, Cornwell said. She highlighted how the church became a sanctuary church in the 1980s for immigrants, and how it is their 35th anniversary of being an LGBTQ affirmative church.

DC’s statehood was another issue congregation members engaged with. Sunday’s service included nearly 60 small quilts around the building from more than 40 makers from 14 states and DC, also to celebrate its anniversary. The quilts were part of the Quilts4DC Statehood Challenge, a project of the League of Women Voters in the District of Columbia. Of the. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DD.C.) was scheduled to speak at the service, but had to cancel due to a dispute.

Other celebrations are planned throughout the year before the official founding date of the church on December 24. A big “homecoming” is planned for October, where the church plans to invite several former seminarians and pastors, Cornwell said. A special hymn is being written for the church by a retired clergyman. Last week, the congregation honored his birthday by celebrating the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s visit for a service on March 8, 1863. A member shaved off his mustache so he could look and dress like Lincoln and sit in the pews of the church.

Dozens of people sat in the pews of the church on Sunday, but around two-thirds were watching via Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic. The church has always been a “destination church,” said Shirley Timasher, the church’s adult education coordinator. Two-thirds of its members come from Virginia and Maryland to attend services. Some of its members have watched from practically as far away as Colombia in South America.

“A lot of people who come here haven’t found another church where they are that works for them, and now they can join us on Zoom, which is really nice, and which wasn’t an option there. years ago,” Kelly Dickinson, 34, said.

“And then there are people like me who walked through the door on Palm Sunday 1971 and never left,” added Debbie Woodcock, 73.

The church follows traditional worship orders by singing hymns, reading scriptures and designating prayer times throughout the service, Cornwell said, but there is a special sense of community at Dumbarton. The pews in the church have cushions that were sewn together by members years ago to make people feel comfortable. Everyone wears a name tag, so it’s easy to identify who is who.

“I think the extent to which people share here, the depth to which people share here, the amount of time we spend on it in service – those are unique to Dumbarton,” Cornwell said. “Part of what I think is so important in the culture here is that people feel known, people feel connected, people feel safe to bring all that they are.”

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