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A Beacon on Capitol Hill: The United Methodist Building


It is Spring 1917, Washington, D.C. While walking from his office just behind the Library of Congress to Union Station, Clarence True Wilson noticed a vacant lot across the street from the United States Capitol. He knew, at that moment, that the organization he led – The Methodist Episcopal Church's Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals – had to buy the property and erect a building.

The 1916 General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church mandated that the Board of Temperance move from its location in Topeka, Kansas, to Washington, so that it could be a stronger voice among lawmakers according to Kurt Karandy, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University.

The 18th amendment to the United States Constitution, enacted by Congress on Jan. 29, 1919, made prohibition the law of the land. Methodism was a forefront of this movement. However, the 21st Amendment, enacted in 1933, repealed prohibition due to random acts of violence and law breaking.

    Temperance League Rally in early 1900's.

Today, the church supports abstinence from alcohol, advising those "who choose to consume alcoholic beverages (to practice) judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide." (Para. 162L, The Book of Discipline 2012)

The Methodist Building stands as a silent witness on Capitol Hill, says the Rev. Clayton Childers, director for conference relations at the General Board of Church and Society, the primary tenant and trustee of the building. "God cares about the decisions that are being debated each day on Capitol Hill," he said. "Decisions that can promote a more just and flourishing world, or decisions that can cause harm to so many. God cares, and our building bears witness to God's concern."

Thousands of United Methodists, as well as other people of faith, gather in the building each year for witness, advocacy, programs, dialogues and events, said the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, current general secretary at Church and Society.

A "legion of significant spiritual and historical events, decisions and faithful responses to calls for discipleship and Christian witness" are associated with the building, Henry-Crowe added.

The United Methodist Building was designated as a United Methodist Historic Site at the 2015 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

During its first meeting in the building, Karandy said, the board wrote resolutions on issues ranging from prohibition and temperance to lynching, marriage and divorce laws and child labor laws.

Today, in addition to the General Board of Church and Society, the building is home to ecumenical organizations, from the National Council of Churches to the Islamic Society of North America. The United Methodist Council of Bishops has an office in the building, as does the General Commission on Religion and Race and the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

The Rev.Erik Alsgaard, editor of UMConnection, Baltimore-Washington AC

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

First published in March/April 2016 issue of the Interpreter magazine.

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