The Metropolitan AME Church’s spirited “homecoming” service Sunday concluded with the D.C. congregation’s children placing items important to the church’s 173-year history into a time capsule that will be opened in more than 100 years.
Church members put hymn books and church records into a silver vault, along with photographs from President Bill Clinton’s inaugural prayer service, Rosa Parks’s funeral and the day President Obama and his family came to worship.
“It is so important in the history of African America that we not only preserve our history, but we lift up our future,” said the Rev. Ronald E. Braxton, the church’s pastor. “This time capsule talks about the 173 years that we have been in this city, and we have made a tremendous contribution.”
Some members buried modern-day mementos, but trustee Gwendolyn Kimbrough had much older items, including a leather shoe found under the pulpit during the church’s $5 million renovation and a “certificate of freedom” that belonged to former slave and church member Harriett Bond.
“When Mr. Lincoln freed me, Mr. McKenny was paid $262.00 for my freedom,” Bond said in a transcribed letter dated April 16, 1862. “Maybe he would have gotten more for me if I wasn’t crippled, but I was kicked by a goat when I was a child and no doctor ever tended me.”
The account was passed down to Gwendolyn Hackley, the great-great-granddaughter of Joshua Bond, Harriett’s brother. In the letter, a copy of which is going into the capsule, she also talks about how freed slaves worshiped at Union Bethel on M Street NW, between 16th and 17th streets, until it crumbled. The current Metropolitan AME Church was then built.
“I helped scrape mortar from the bricks, wash them and carry them down to land owned by free blacks,” Harriett Bond said. “These bricks were used to build Metropolitan A.M.E.”
Although the time capsule was scheduled to be buried Sunday, Braxton is yielding to members who want more time to place items in the vault. Among them is Ernest Green, a D.C. lawyer and one of the Little Rock Nine, who integrated Central High School.
“Here we are in an edifice built by slaves who had a vision that they could have an impact on people in this country,” Green said. “I want to be around, but I hope that young people will see what we did in Little Rock and what we did in Selma was all about widening options, increasing opportunities and making democracy work for all people.”