Smyrna church traces its lineage to Francis Asbury

SMYRNA — The Rev. Dale Brown reckons he’s blessed to be the pastor of church that he calls unique.

“This is a church you work your life for to have the opportunity to be pastor,” he said Thursday.

In the ministry for more than 24 years, Mr. Brown has been pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church on Mount Vernon Street for four years.

“It’s a good church,” he said. “Good people. Quality people.”

It’s also a church with history in its bedrock.

“What is unique about this church,” he said, “is it’s one of the oldest in Methodism in America.”

Its genesis rests with the Rev. Francis Asbury, a leader in spreading Methodism in America, starting during Colonial times. In 1780 he preached in an orchard between Duck Creek Crossroads and Duck Creek Village, according to the “Churches of Delaware” book by Frank R. Zebley. That tome, available online through the Delaware Archives, was published in 1947.

Six years later, Revolutionary War hero Allen McLane donated land for the congregation to build a frame church on Church Street, north of Mount Vernon Street.

“Allen McLane’s house is around the corner,” Mr. Brown said. He may be buried in New Castle County but “Asbury was his original church.”

McLane’s house may still be standing, but not so the original church. In 1843, the congregation paid $300 for land on what is now Mount Vernon Street and the cornerstone for a brick church was laid on May 28, 1844.
After fire damaged the building in 1869, the congregation met in the Presbyterian Church, according to Mr. Zebley, until a new brick church could be built. The first service was held Feb. 4, 1872.

Through the years, the sanctuary has been enlarged and features added.

And while Bishop Asbury may have been the first famous evangelist to preach in what is now Smyrna, he wasn’t the last to inspire worshipers.

Mr. Brown said evangelist Billy Sunday preached at Asbury in the early 1900s.

“He packed the house,” Mr. Brown said. “During one of the sermons he came down from the pulpit, stepped on the top of a pew in the front row and ran along the pews.”

After traveling on the top of five or six rows, the preacher — known for his fiery delivery — jumped down in the middle of the church.

Once the current renovation is complete, Mr. Brown is confident the church will be able to take any such jumping in the future.

“We look forward to being here a long time.”

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