Records of Congress St Methodist Protestant Church
Compiled by Jane Donovan
The earliest Methodist sermon in Georgetown, D. C. was preached in October 1772. On Christmas Eve of that year, Georgetown was assigned as a regular preaching place for the circuit riders covering the Baltimore Circuit (which extended from the Pennsylvania border to northern Virginia, and from the Chesapeake Bay to the (Blue Ridge Mountains). By 1795 the Methodists of Georgetown had built a church,located on what is now 28th Street between M and Olive, and was then known as the Montgomery Street Meeting House. In 1850 that congregation moved to its current location on Dumbarton Street.
John Wesley, an Anglican priest and founder of Methodism, never intended to establish a separate denomination. His efforts were directed toward reform within the Anglican (Episcopal) Church. The transplantation of the Methodist gospel of free grace to America forced Wesley's hand, and when the U.S. churches split off after the American Revolution, into the control of Bishop Francis Asbury, the hierarchical church government system of the Anglicans went with it. The contradiction between a democratic theology and an authoritatian polity was not lost on the American Methodists. As early as the 1790s, efforts began to wrest control of the church from the bishops and ordained clergy, and to invest greater autonomy in the local preachers and lay members of the denomination.
After Bishop Asbury's death in 1816, this organizational conflict intensified. A reform movement developed, with Methodists from North Carolina to New York struggling to gain "mutual rights" for the laity and clergy of the denomination. The focus of the reform movement was in Baltimore, close enough to Georgetown that members of the Montgomery Street Church could participate in the crucial meetings that led to the founding of the Methodist Protestant denomination in 1830.
In fact, the Montgomery Street Church provided important leadership for the reform movement. Gideon Davis, a clerk in the War Department, is credited by Methodist Protestant historians with primary responsibility for the strong role of the laity in the new denomination. Davis wrote extensively for the newspaper of the reform movement, Mutual Rights, and drafted most of the key founding documents of the Methodist Protestant denomination, including its constitution and Discipline. William C. Lipscomb also held several offices in the new denomination, and in 1858 served as President of General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.
On November 28, 1828, Gideon Davis, William C. Lipscomb, and William King attended a regularly scheduled Quarterly Conference (now known as Charge Conference) at the Montgomery Street Church. Much to their surprise, three resolutions stripping them of their offices in the congregation and censuring them for their activities on behalf of Methodist reform were introduced and passed almost unanimously, with one abstention, by the church leadership. On December 2, 1828, a group of 19 men and 15 women joined Davis, Lipscomb, and King in withdrawing their membership from the Montgomery Street Church. The 37 set off together to found their own congregation, known as the "Associated Methodist Church of Georgetown," until the Methodist Protestant denomination was organized in 1830 and they could affiliate with it.
Their Congress Street Church was founded 18 months before the Methodist Protestant denomination, and the cornerstone of its building was laid 10 months before the first General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church was held.
A second group left the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845 over the issue of slavery, calling itself the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and widely referred to as the "Southern Methodists." Over time, the Methodist Episcopal Church dealt with some of the issues that had caused these two groups to leave the fold. Local churches were permitted to send lay delegates to annual and general conferences and to play a wider role in denominational governance. And, of course, the slavery issue was resolved by the Civil War and the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 1939, a decision was taken to join together the three main strands of Methodism: the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and the Methodist Protestant Church. Local churches were encouraged to merge with their neighbors of the various Methodist persuasions, but World War II intervened before any action could be taken by the Georgetowners. In November 1945, Congress Street agreed to merge with Mount Tabor Methodist Protestant Church and Aldersgate Methodist Episcopal Church, South to form a new congregation, now known as Saint Luke's United Methodist Church. The Congress Street church building was sold, and is today the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist, on 31st Street across from the U.S. Post Office in Georgetown.
One of the most famous and beloved ministries of Congress Street Church was the Harrison Bible Class, organized by Police Inspector William H. Harrison on December 20, 1925. The class was taught by United States Senators, Representatives, and other outstanding national and political figures over the years of its existence, and was carried on to St. Luke's.
About This Book
The approximately 1245 marriages and 1625 baptisms performed by the pastors of Congress Street Church have never before been accessible to researchers. When these are combined with my earlier volume on the records of Dumbarton United Methodist Church, they represent all known marriage and baptism records of the white Methodists of Georgetown from the founding of the denomination until 1874 when Mount Tabor Church was founded. The records of Congress Street appear to be complete from 1837 until the 1946 merger. There is no indication as to the fate of records which might have been generated between 1829 and 1837. For those who have a copy of the earlier Dumbarton book, I apologize for the problem with the index, and I believe I have it solved in this book.
Although I have taken great care in reading the ancient handwritten documents in the Congress Street archives, and although I have reviewed every entry at least three times and many of them several times, I do not pretend to be infallible in deciphering the writing of Methodist pastors; neither can I be held responsible for their spelling. And, of course, nineteenth century spelling was quite fluid, and not the standardized discipline we have come to expect today. I have made every effort to transcribe exactly what was written. The reader is encouraged to think creatively in attempting to locate ancestors in this monograph. Try the spelling you believe to be correct for the surname, then try every phonetic and mispelled version you can conjure up. Unless otherwise indicated, all street addresses may be assumed to be in what is now the District of Columbia. All dates are listed in the format mm/dd/yyyy. Every attempt has been made to keep the text short and simple, but easily understood. Abbreviations which have been used are:
Parsonage = 61 Congress Street, then 1236 31st Street NW (next door to the Church)
MPC = Methodist Protestant Church. Unless otherwise indicated, (e.g. Mount Tabor MPC), the MPC in question is Congress Street MPC.
m = married
b = born
bp = baptized
by = officiating minister
c/o = child of
And in the baptism records only:
m = months of age
y = years of age
d = days of age
I wish to express my appreciation to the members of St. Luke's United Methodist Church
for permitting me to do extensive research in their records, and to their
pastor, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Leigh Gunn, for his unflagging support and
congeniality. Thanks to my husband Graeme and daughter Kate for their patience and
encouragement. And finally, I wish to dedicate this work to the memory
of Gideon Davis,
William C. Lipscomb, and William King.