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Statue of Bishop Francis Asbury

On this ride I visited the Bishop Francis Asbury Memorial, dedicated to one of the founders and the first American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The memorial consists of a bronze equestrian statue sculpted by American artist Augustus Lukeman. Mounted on a granite base, the sculpture features Francis Asbury seated upon his horse wearing a cape and hat, and holding a Bible in his right hand. The horse is depicted bending its head down to lick its left leg. The memorial is located at 16th Street and Mt. Pleasant Street, (MAP) in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The man who came to be known as the “Father of Methodism in the United States” was originally from England. He was sent to America as an assistant to John Wesley, a Christian theologian who is one of those credited with the foundation of the evangelical movement known as Methodism. When Asbury arrived in “the colonies” in 1771, Methodists numbered perhaps a few thousand, but most likely fewer than that. By the time of Asbury’s death in 1810, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the largest denomination in America, with over 200,000 members. Through a series of divisions and mergers, the Methodist Episcopal Church became the major component of the present day United Methodist Church, which currently has a worldwide membership of approximately 12 million.

Asbury was a self-educated man, who rose everyday at 4 a.m. for prayer, devotion, and to teach himself biblical languages. During his 45-year ministry in America, he traveled an estimated 300,000 miles by horseback or horse drawn carriage, and became famous during his lifetime for being seen on American trails, riding and reading at the same time. During his ministry he delivered an estimated 16,500 sermons, an average of more than one each day during his four and a half decades long ministry. In fact, he travelled so widely and addressed so many people that he was so well-known that letters addressed to “Bishop Asbury, United States of America” were delivered to him.

Unfortunately, like many statues and memorials in D.C., few people notice the statue these days. And fewer still know who Asbury was, despite the level of renown he was afforded during his lifetime. Even more than a hundred years after his death, when the Memorial was dedicated on October 15, 1924, by President Calvin Coolidge, the dedication and speech by President Coolidge made front page news in newspapers. President Coolidge called Asbury not only a “prophet of the wilderness,” but a man who is “entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation.” So next time you’re passing by a statue or memorial and you don’t recognize the name, consider looking into the story behind it.

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