Rev. Ianther M. Mills, Pastor of Historic Asbury United Methodist Church in DC, Remains Optimistic about Congregation’s Future

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On July 1st, 2013,  Rev. Ianther M Mills was installed as the Senior Pastor of the historic Asbury United Methodist Church. Despite being in a bustling business corridor filled with new high rise office buildings, Mills says her congregation has no plans to leave the corner of 11th and K streets NW. In a conversation with The Post’s Hamil Harris, she talks about her first two years and the congregation’s plans for the future.

Talk about your vision for this 178 –year-old congregation and what it means to lead the congregation at this time in the church’s history.

Asbury United Methodist Church has from its beginnings had a rich history of social justice advocacy and progressive ministry, from the Underground Railroad to the Civil Rights Movement. It has been a leading church in seeking racial and economic justice for those most marginalized. And, Asbury has been a congregation that affirms and celebrates the rich diversity of God’s people.   One may say that it is part of our DNA. As such, at this time in the church’s history, our vision is to be “a radically inclusivecommunity empowered to spread God’s love throughout the world”. This means while Asbury is a traditionally African American Church, we believe God has called us at such a time as this to be a bridge builder across racial, socio-economic, and cultural divides. We believe God has called us not just to be a church in downtown Washington, DC, but to be a church FOR our community even as that community has changed and is changing. We are a place of welcome for all people.

Were you surprised at your appointment as pastor?

The United Methodist Church has a longstanding history of ordaining women for pastoral ministry and affirming the gifts of women for ministry. In 1956, twenty-two women became the first women to be granted full clergy rights in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1980, Marjorie Matthews became the first woman elected bishop in the United Methodist Church. In 1984, Leontine T. Kelly became the first African American woman elected bishop. In 2004, Minerva Carcano became the first Hispanic woman elected bishop. In 2008, Joaquina Nhanala became the first African woman elected bishop. Asbury UMC too has a long history of affirming women in pastoral ministry. A number of women have served on Asbury’s ministerial staff as Assistant or Associate Pastors, beginning with Emma Burrell in 1956.

I have been on this journey nearly 25 years, having answered the call in 1990. I was ordained in 1997 and have had the privilege of serving in a cross-racial appointment, as a lead pastor in a suburban setting, as a district superintendent overseeing 72 churches, and as dean of the Cabinet.   I am not an anomaly but rather join the ranks of many women who have gone before me. I have had three bishops including my current, Bishop Marcus Matthews, who have been progressive thinkers in appointing women in some uncharted territory. While I am the first woman appointed as Senior Pastor at Asbury, in light of the United Methodist Church openness to and affirmation of women in ministry, I am not surprised by my appointment but rather honored to be so called. Not because I am deserving of such a calling but because it was and is in God’s time.

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Source: Washington Post | Hamil R. Harris

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