More than a century and a half after it’s founding, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. has landed on a list of the nation’s Most Endangered Historic Places for 2010, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Often referred to as the “national cathedral” of African Methodism and a bastion of human rights advocacy, the 1,200-member Metropolitan is pastored by the Rev. Ronald Braxton and located in downtown Washington just blocks from the White House.
Since its construction in 1886, the church has played host to numerous political figures including President Bill Clinton, as well as conducting funeral services for various civil rights icons including Frederick Douglass in 1895, and Rosa Parks, in 2005.
The Gothic-style edifice at 1518 M St., NW, was built at a cost of $70,000, collected by nickel and dime donations from other A.M.E. congregations across the country. It seats 2,500 people and was added to the National Registry of Historic Places nearly 40 years ago.
The church was created by Blacks who had grown weary of the mostly White congregation at the then-nearby Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church. Metropolitan has the distinction as being the first A.M.E. church in the city, and has made major contributions to Black culture in Washington, D.C., including hosting Douglass’s final speech in 1894.
Currently, it is in the midst of a major restoration project, which began a year ago. Church spokeswoman Wilma Harvey said that church officials project total rehab costs at $11 million and are uncertain how the cost will be paid. But, she said the church remains in operation and continues to hold services.
“We have secured the building for worship services,” she said. “This is a milestone for our church wherein we can continue to offer the kind of venue that we’ve always offered for both our community and city.”
Harvey said that in order to have become one of the endangered sites, and receive national attention and possible help, the church had to have been a major influence in its community.
“And Metropolitan certainly has a history of that,” Harvey said. “The congregation is extremely pleased with becoming one of the sites and we’ve been working extremely hard to make sure that the building is kept for generations to come.”