Friends and neighbors gathered on a grassy knoll near the newly established City of Knoxville, a little more than a mile from where the French Broad and Holston Rivers flow together to form the Tennessee River. There they placed timber upon timber to build a Methodist Episcopal Church for their community.
The year was 1855 and the Huffaker family, who was among the group, donated the land for the church. That family had a long and fervent history of Methodism. Seventy-five years earlier in Washington County, Virginia, Michael Huffaker invited Bishop Francis Asbury into his home to convene the first Methodist conference west of the Allegany Mountains. Later in his life, Michael donated the land to build the Manheim United Methodist Church and Cemetery near his birthplace in Pennsylvania. In the 1780s, a branch of the family moved from Virginia to the Seven Islands community east of Knoxville where they remained advocates for the Methodist cause and admirers of Bishop Asbury. The family donated the land to build the Seven Islands Methodist Church.
Francis Asbury volunteered to come to America. In 1771, John Wesley described the urgent need for missionaries to the American colonies and asked, “Who will go?” Francis Asbury stepped forward. A gifted child, Asbury had been a Methodist minister in and around London since he was 18. On September 4, 1771, the 26-year old set sail to America never to return to his birthplace. He stayed through the American Revolution and eventually became the leader of American Methodism.
Nevertheless, he never gave up evangelism. He traveled for forty years an estimated 275,000 miles on horseback over buffalo trails and horse tracks to spread the gospel to groups large and small wherever they would listen. He endured countless hardships on his journeys. In his journal, he wrote, “”I rode, I walked, I sweat, I tumbled, and my old knees failed; here are gullies, and rocks, and precipices; bad is the best.” He is believed to have preached more than 16,000 sermons. When he arrived in the British colonies in America, there were just 550 Methodists concentrated in New York and Philadelphia. By his death in 1816, there were 250,000 Methodists ministered to by 700 ordained preachers. Asbury’s journeys led him through East Tennessee many times. He held the first service ever by a Methodist preacher in Knoxville, Sunday, November 2, 1800.
A church is due small credit for a building that merely sits in the spot where it was erected for a century and a half without falling down. Countless buildings have lasted longer. The worth is in the hearts of the people who have worshipped there through the years – the hope, joy, and the peace that “passeth all understanding.” Here souls were saved, newborns were christened, loving men and women were married, and beloved deceased were honored on their path to the everlasting.
Also, the mission of the church is not merely inward toward the congregation. Scripture in 1 John says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Asbury Church, like the man for whom it was named, has been steadfast in reaching out to the community and beyond to touch those in need.
This is the church of my dreams.
A church adequate for the task;
The church of the warm heart, of the open mind, of the adventurous spirit;
The church that cares, that heals hurt lives, that comforts old people, that challenges youth, that knows no divisions of culture or class, no frontiers, geographical or social;
The church that inquires as well as avers, that looks forward as well as backward;
The church of the Master, the church of the people, the high church, the broad church, the low church, high as the ideals of Jesus, broad as the love of God, low as the humblest human, a working church, a worshipping church, a winsome church;
A church that interprets the truth in terms of its own times and challenges its time in terms of the truth; that inspires courage for this life and hope for the life to come;
A church of all Good men, the church of the living God.
To this kind of a church we welcome one and all into its fellowship.
Members of the church have always given freely of their talents and resources. In 1898, the church was given a major renovation and the main structure has been essentially unaltered.
The National Register of Historic Places describes the main structure as incorporating “the gothic revival style, which, when combined with its setting, give an enhanced inspirational feeling to the building. The steep pitch of roof gables, pronounced arches, and strategic placement atop a hill, draw the eye upward and imply a sense of power. In addition, the square bell tower with its prominent bellcast roof gives a sense of strength and stability, as if the church were a permanent fixture on the landscape.”
Since then church members and families donated the backlit painting of Christ, the organ and piano, the chimes, and the communion table. The church added a parsonage and built a Sunday school addition in 1938 and a fellowship hall in 1949.
Members of Asbury Church have always been a giving and generous people, as they still are today.