Dumbarton UMC: Looking Backward to Live Forward
By Mittie Quinn
Tracing their existence to a gathering in a cooper’s shop in Georgetown in December 1772, Dumbarton UMC continues to celebrate its Wesleyan Heritage. Like other 250-year-old Methodist churches in the Baltimore-Washington area, that first congregation hosted Francis Asbury and Robert Strawbridge, among others. As the oldest Methodist church in Washington D.C., Dumbarton has used 2022 for ”Looking Backward to Live Forward.”
Under the guidance of Ellen Georgi, a teacher of history, Dumbarton has honored that historical journey with a variety of events, many inspired by our beautiful stained glass windows, installed in 1898.
Once you step into Dumbarton UMC’s sanctuary, you are graced with the light filtered through the windows. Our first celebratory events of the year were made possible by a DC Heritage Grant that funded many opportunities to share the history of the windows and the congregation they represented.
Jane Donovan, editor of Many Witnesses, a book about Dumbarton’s history 1772 - 1992, published a new illustrated book about the people memorialized in the windows and the symbolism represented in the designs. We hosted “stained glass open houses” with other Georgetown churches, participated in the BWC History Day tours, hosted members of the DC Historical Society and other groups for a webinar presented by Dr. Donovan, and commissioned two musical works that honor the history and people represented by the windows. We also sponsored an exhibit of Quilts4DC, a project that highlights the quest for DC Statehood.
As part of our re-evaluation of our history and as part of the NEJ Anti-Racism Call to Action, we committed to renewed efforts to address racism, both personal and systemic. This included:
- A study on Dumbarton’s historical relationship to slavery and discrimination;
- Sponsorship of an opera, Voices of Zion, by composer Ronald “Trey” Walton and Librettist Jarrod Lee, that features the stories of people who were once part of the DUMC congregation and were founders of Mt. Zion UMC. The premiere performances were presented at DUMC;
- Researching our church ledgers and records, now housed in the DC Historical Society, from the 1800s to identify the names of those listed as slaves and free-blacks;
- Honoring those persons of color who were part of our congregation in the litany created for our “homecoming Sunday - Oct 16 and by inscribing some of the names of formerly enslaved people held by Dumbartonians on luminarias placed in the windowsills for All Saint’s Sunday, Nov 6.
The grants we received also allowed us to commission two musical works that honored our windows and our past. Trey Walton, Music Minister at Mt. Zion UMC, included a piece about the windows for Voices of Zion. It reminds the listeners of the horrors of war that troubled the members of the congregation: “We are daily looking for some good news.” The second commission was created by Andrew J. Welch, Dumbarton’s recent Director of Music Ministry. Its premiere was part of the All Soul’s Day worship on November 6. The words remind us of our longevity and our hope to use our history to become a better vessel for God’s Work on Earth.
A video about this piece and the windows is on the church's YouTube Channel at https://youtu.be/KVxE8nv0aZQ.
They stood once where we stand now
They too saw the beauty of this light
Breaking across the sanctuary
Where the congregants sat great and small.
They gave so that we might sit in awe
As the transformational afternoon sun
Poured through these windows. . . Sublime and sacred
They gave so this would be preserved throughout all generations
Everlasting to everlasting
As they and their children passed away. . .
In honor of that vision, we stand and say, “We were here, too.”
--- Words (and music) by Andrew J. Welch, 2022
Dumbarton UMC will celebrate its actual birth-date on Christmas Eve. Join us at 7 p.m. for our 250th anniversary of Lessons and Carols. The church is located at 3133 Dumbarton St. in Georgetown.
I didn't use to be a "backward looking person" but I've learned the value of appreciating history. It comes alive for me with stories of real people. Jane Donovan and Ellen Georgi have illustrated Dumbarton history beautifully, as demonstrated in the book and video about the stained glass windows. I hope this project will be an inspiration for other churches to document their history.
Beautifully said! We create from where we have been to stand where we are and to choose where to be next. Forgetting any one of these steps and nothing sustainable will occur. As in the song: "If you are happy and you know it. . ." if you do no know you are happy, clapping one's hands is no longer something we hold in common. What is sustainable is a community of history, a community of experience, a community of knowing one is loved and to be loving. That is friends what is sustainable, creative and enriching.
Thanks for putting this on Twitter! I am in Illinois and was able to read this remarkable story.