In May of 1852 a group of Methodists from the Washington, D.C. area began an effort to create a church to represent the Methodist Episcopal denomination in the nation’s capital. After gaining approval from the Methodist General Conference and raising funds from Methodist churches across the country–and a $100 contribution from Abraham Lincoln–the land was purchased at the corner of 4th and C Streets, NW D.C. in the shadow of the Capitol Building, and construction began.
The Civil War and poor economy would halt construction at the foundations and construction would not resume again until 1866. Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church was dedicated on February 28, 1869, with its first members joining on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1869. In 1871 a 240-foot spire and 11 bell chime set were dedicated as well.
Metropolitan Memorial members met regularly for worship on Sunday mornings and evenings, and for prayer meetings during the week. During his presidency (1869–1877), Ulysses S. Grant regularly attended services at the church.
The Sunday school had classes for both adults and children, and beginning in 1881, a class for Chinese immigrants. By 1894 when the church celebrated 25 years in ministry, Metropolitan Memorial had 549 members, an average attendance of 280 in Sunday school, and approximately one quarter of its $9,600 budget going to missions, charities and other ministries of the church.
At the turn of the century, President William McKinley (1897-1901) also regularly attended services at Metropolitan Memorial. The city of Washington was growing in the early decades of the twentieth century and its neighborhoods began to change. The church found itself in an area with a declining residential population. The church property was sold to the government, and the church closed its doors on December 31, 1930, and decided to relocate to our present location.
In 1931 the present sanctuary was under construction, so the congregation made do with temporary quarters at American University and what is now The Navy Chapel. On February 7, 1932, the new building was dedicated and the congregation set out to do ministry in their new home. The membership had declined to less than 400, but began to grow at a steady rate. By 1938 the church had built a parsonage and was beginning plans to build an education building. But with the arrival of World War II, those plans were put on hold.
After the war, Metropolitan Memorial began to get crowded; the congregation was growing, the Sunday school was growing, and a wide range of new activities began. In 1951, the education building was finished, and in 1957, the sanctuary was expanded. As Metropolitan Memorial celebrated its centennial in 1969, the church reached a new numerical peak, worshipping over 600 every Sunday.
In the 1970’s, the church began a period of increasing outreach both in Washington, D.C. and around the world. During the next two decades, the church established a homeless shelter, Metropolitan House, within the walls of the church. The congregation also became a founding member of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), which continues to advocate on numerous issues related to homelessness in D.C. The church continues its strong commitment to issues related to homelessness and hunger to this day.
The 1999 addition of the Great Hall and administrative offices poised the church to continue its ministry in the twenty-first century.
In the spring of 2004, the Baltimore Washington Conference approached Metropolitan Memorial and Eldbrooke United Methodist Church and asked that they meet to consider a merger of the two churches. The congregations conferred over the following year, and voted to merge on July 1, 2005.
In November 2008, the Baltimore Washington Conference approached Metropolitan Memorial and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and asked that they join in a cooperative parish. The congregations conferred over a period of several months and voted to merge on May 26, 2009. In December 2010, Metropolitan Memorial converted the church at St. Luke’s into a Mission Center, expanding the church’s role in addressing homelessness issues. The merger with St. Luke’s added a second shelter to the ministries of the church in addition to a hypothermia shelter, and a hostel that the church makes available for groups doing mission work in the city. On December 17, 2010, the church entered into an agreement with Friendship Place for them to move their executive offices into St. Luke’s Mission Center.
In 2008, responding to broad support across the church, Metropolitan Memorial voted to become a “reconciling church” and join the Reconciling Ministries Network, thereby stating explicitly that we are welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.
In the spring of 2009, the Baltimore Washington Conference invited Metropolitan Memorial and Wesley United Methodist Church to be in a cooperative parish relationship, thus joining two dynamic congregations in partnership working synergistically to increase our witness and service in upper northwest Washington, nationwide, and around the world.
Metropolitan Memorial and Wesley UMC have now fully merged, and are proud to now be known by one name: National United Methodist Church.