Hallowed Ground: Washington Street Methodist Church, Columbia

By:Page Ivey

Date:5/8/2015

Explore historic sites in Columbia, SC.
Washington Street United Methodist Church was rebuilt after the Civil War in Gothic revival style and has been a beacon of community service in the city of Columbia.

Known as the “Mother Church” for Columbia Methodists, Washington Street United Methodist Church was founded in 1803 and its first building – made of wood – was built at its current site the next year.

John Wesley, who co-founded the entire Methodist denomination, ordained the church’s founder, the Rev. John Harper. Bishop Francis Asbury, one of the denomination’s first two bishops, visited Washington Street and helped guide the congregation.

One young pastor, William Capers, started the church’s ministry for slaves from surrounding plantations in the early 1800s. Capers was one of four Washington Street pastors to become a Methodist bishop and he is buried beneath the altar of the sanctuary.

A new building, completed in the 1830s to accommodate the growing congregation, was burned, along with much of the rest of the city of Columbia, in February 1865 during the final days of the Civil War. Legend has it that the church might have been mistaken for First Baptist Church, the site of the original secession convention.

A small, temporary church was built in 1866 with brick salvaged from the burned church. Today’s Gothic revival design building was completed in 1875 after much grassroots fundraising around the country.

The current church is noted for its beautiful stained glass windows, including one with a cross and crown in memory of the Rev. William Martin, a former pastor who helped raise the money needed to rebuild the church.

The church’s Skinner pipe organ was installed in the 1920s – one of just a handful of such organs in the state – and was refurbished in 2008. The church’s cemetery includes many graves dating back to the early 1800s.

Today the church is a leader in community service, helping to lift up those in need. One of its best-known missions is its Soup Cellar, which has helped feed the city’s homeless population since 1979.

Washington Street United Methodist Church is at 1401 Washington St., Columbia. Sunday services are open to everyone and held at 9 and 11 a.m. For more information about the historic building, contact the church office at 803.256.2417. 

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