Washington DC’s Methodist Gem

David Endicott shares a Trans-Atlantic experience.

When we visit our son who lives in Washington DC, we will normally attend a service at Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street, about a 20 minute walk from the White House. We always receive a warm welcome and feel that it is a little like our home church away from home.

As you might expect, being situated in central Washington, the church has a large membership – around 1200 and probably about 500 in the congregation on a Sunday morning, bearing in mind that there are two morning services. Both morning services are also streamed live on the internet. The church is renowned for its music with some 50 members in the robed choir and for those who are interested in such things, it has a Casavant organ of 3364 pipes and 60 ranks. On one of our visits the church was saying farewell to a baritone choir member who was leaving to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The history of the church is fascinating – it dates from 1814 when Henry Foxall contributed the land and funds for the building on 14th Street, which is thought to be in gratitude for divine intervention when a hurricane or tornado helped to defeat an attempted British invasion. The British occupied Washington for just 26 hours before returning to their ships. The church needed a larger building and moved to its present location in 1904. A number of Presidents visited Foundry – Abraham Lincoln attended as did his successor Andrew Johnson. President Rutherford B Hayes who was president from 1877 to 1881 was a regular congregant. Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill attended an interfaith service on Christmas Day 1941. More recently, Bill and Hillary Clinton were attenders at the church while they were in the White House which probably made for some challenging security arrangements. I gather that their daughter Chelsea, wanted to be confirmed at Foundry. She was active in the youth group and went on a Foundry Senior High Mission trip with the Appalachia Service Project which is a volunteer organisation making homes warm, safe and dry for low income families in the Central Appalachian region of the eastern United States.

In 1995 the church decided to become a “Reconciling Ministry” for LGBT members and in 2010 voted to allow same sex marriages putting it in conflict with the United Methodist Church in the USA. (In the UK a decision on this issue will be made at the Methodist Conference this year.)

Washington is a very attractive city with a great deal of history. I can recommend spending some time there if you are in that part of the United States. Make sure you include a visit to Foundry – it will enhance your experience.

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