The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church held worship service for its 180th anniversary on Sunday, with a theme of “Worship, Liberation, Service.”
The litany for the anniversary service was written by Rev. Dr. Shively Smith, professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology and resident theologian at Metropolitan. She is also the first Black woman to receive a doctorate degree in New Testament Studies at Emory University.
The guest preacher at the service was Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the AME church.
Before McKenzie’s sermon began, she received a bouquet of red roses from a group of congregants at Metropolitan and members of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Numerous members of the sorority were in attendance, including Cora Masters Berry, widow of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and longtime Metropolitan attendee, and Julianne Malveaux, renowned economist, commentator and author.
Bishop Vashti McKenzie’s sermon, inspired by Mark 2:5-6, was titled “Stay Woke and Stay Lit.” During the sermon, McKenzie said that churches must be mindful not to get caught up in in the darkness of this world among people, places and things that constantly demand attention. She used the example of having too many programs can dim the light on its purpose for them. She also warned that when there is drama in churches, it cannot serve God and the people. ”The church at its best is a church of prophecy and not of programs,” she said.
In the sermon, she reminded that the church has a strong social liberation legacy. Paul Laurence Dunbar and Frederick Douglass once stood in the pulpit, Bishop Desmond Tutu preached there and the church was a refuge where the enslaved found relief. McKenzie said a church mustn’t become a hospice and must serve both inside and outside its walls. ”A church at its best is a whatever it takes church,” she said.
During the service, a 1997 photo of an elderly couple standing in front of the church was displayed. However, the photographer has not been able to identify them and asked attendees to help in the search for the couple in the photo, which is also on display at the Smithsonian. When the invitation to Christian discipleship was announced towards the end of the service, Malveaux walked towards the altar to join the church. She attended services before but felt moved after the sermon to join.
Visitors attending the service came from as far as Detroit, Atlanta, South Carolina and Abu Dhabi.
Metropolitan AME, known as the “National Cathedral of African Methodism,” was founded in 1838 by Israel Bethel AME and Union Bethel AME. Throughout its history, it has been involved in efforts to fight for justice and equality, AIDS education and civic engagement.
“We want to be a church that stays awake,” said Rev. William Lamar, pastor at Metropolitan.