Presiding over Asbury United Methodist Church’s 200th anniversary celebration has sent the Rev. Jimmy Howard into the history books.
Howard, Asbury’s pastor, presented tidbits of church history in services throughout the year, and the church has offered studies on how Methodism has affected the region.
“It’s been quite a journey, one that’s been very surprising to me,” said Howard, who has been at the church for nine years. “This little church has done a lot in the last 200 years that the world has really benefited from.”
Through research, Howard learned the church was started by Ann Christenbury, a woman who had become a Christian after hearing Methodist circuit rider preachers at an outdoor “brush arbor” service.
Christenbury, whom Howard described as a “very powerful and dynamic woman,” organized a home church that began meeting in the Asbury area and prayed that her entire family would become Christians.
Christenbury’s son, Daniel, became a Methodist circuit-riding preacher himself, and at one of his services, Brantley York – known as the founder of the school that became Duke University – also decided to dedicate his life to serving God.
Asbury United Methodist Church, which was founded in the Ferrelltown area along Asbury Chapel Road, has endured the Civil War and two world wars as well as several tragedies at home.
In 1901, a storm destroyed the framework of a new church building the congregation was constructing; undeterred, they started over and finished the building in late 1902. Eighty-five years later, the church’s fellowship hall burned down, and the church built a new one two years later.
“One thing you can stay about the church, they’ve hung in there through thick and thin through 200 years,” Howard said. “They are tough and hardy people who just persevere.”
Now, the church is following a United Methodist directive to get more involved in the community, Howard said. During its bicentennial year, the church has further increased its social justice work.
“It’s always been a church family that helps the community through happy times, through sad times, through grief and sorrow,” Howard said. “Now, we are trying to turn our focus more toward outside the buildings and outside the community, even as far as the world as far as how we’re serving.”
In the past few years, the church has focused on several ministries that fit with its resources and members’ interests.
Its ministries include making 500 sandwiches a month for the Urban Ministry Center, hosting guests who are homeless at the church through Room in the Inn, a food pantry and Heaven’s Hangers, a clothing closet ministry.
The church also sends adults and youth on mission trips, and it opens a twice-monthly café at the church as a gathering place for the community.
Howard said the church has grown along with the neighborhoods that have been built around it, and now between 120 and 130 people attend on a Sunday. The church is a mix of people new to the area and longtime members, including descendants of the church’s founding families such as the Christenburys, the Keiths and the Ferrells.
“A lot of times churches that have such deep roots find it difficult to transition and re-mission into different areas,” Howard said. “This church is open to embracing all who come to our campus.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at email@example.com.
Want to go?
Asbury United Church will continue its yearlong bicentennial celebration at 6:30 p.m. June 7 with a barbecue supper and a free concert from The Traveling Asburys and the Hinson Girls. For information, go to http://asburyumc-huntersville.com. The church is at 11724 Asbury Chapel Road in Huntersville.