History of Ward Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Nation’s Oldest Independent African American denomination was started in 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania because a group of “Africans” had been treated uncharitably by their white brethren of the Methodist Episcopal Church of which they were members.
A founder of “The Freed African Society”, Bishop Richard Allen officially separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church to form a separate denomination in 1816. The Word “African” means that our denomination was organized by people of African descent and heritage.
Christian fellowship began in May 1877 when a small group of people began holding prayer services in their homes. In 1879, this group of worshippers organized into a permanent religious body and negotiated the purchase of land in the Manning Division of Washington, D.C. to build a church. Ward was initially named Grace Chapel and was founded in May 1877. In 1877, the small congregation organized into a permanent body and land was purchased in the Manning Division from John Payne to build the new church. In 1883, the first church, pastored by Rev. Johnson, was located at 42nd Street (adjacent to the present site) which was named Brooks Street in 1959. Rev. Ashwood D. Holder a native of Haiti was appointed to two terms at Grace Chapel A.M.E. once in 1918 and again in 1921. Grace Chapel A.M.E. was renamed in 1921 to Ward Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church after the late Bishop Thomas M.D. Ward who was the 10th Bishop of the A.M.E. Church. Bishop Ward died in June 1894 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery on Benning Road, N.E. Leaders contributing toward service during the first 50 years were: The Reverends John A. Custer, John and Will Dixon. The Dixons were the first contractors of the white frame building at 42nd Street. Brother Alexander Delaney was the first choir director. Mrs. Julia Cross organized the Sunday School in 1908 under the pastorate of Reverend R.T. Queen.
The church continued to grow under Reverend Bowen. In 1923, Reverend A.D. Holder and congregation moved the frame structure across the street to its present site. In 1953, The Reverend J. Haskell Mayo continued the plans for building the present structure started by Reverend S.A. Thompson. In 1957, he led the membership in the $118,000 edifice that seats 450 persons. The cornerstone was laid by the Prince Hall Affiliated, F. & A.M., and its corps of officers. Bishop Frank M. Reid, Sr., led them in the dedicatory rites.
Our church has been pastured by many spiritual ministers such as: The Reverends Oliver Wing, Richard A. Greene, Joseph Robinson, J.C. McEaddy, E.R. Williams, and Melvin J. Keys. Rev. D.A. Wilson was appointed to Ward from 1937-1938. He went on to become Presiding Elder of the Capitol District. Rev. Dewey Robinson, who was appointed by Bishop Monroe Davis, served from 1939-1941 and went on to become the 85th Bishop of the A.M.E. Church serving the 11th Episcopal District before his death in 1972. Rev. Walter L. Hildebrand was also appointed by Bishop Davis and served two terms as pastor of Ward from 1941-1944. In 1975 he was appointed by Bishop Henry W. Murph for a third term. He later became Presiding Elder of the Capitol District in 1980. Rev. Hildebrand died in 1996. Rev. S.A. Thompson served as pastor from 1944-1953. Rev. James Haskell Mayo was appointed to Ward in 1953 by Bishop Lawrence Hemingway. He served until 1961. Rev. Mayo completed the rebuilding of our church and went on to become the 100th Bishop of the A.M.E. church before retiring in 1996. Rev. Isaac Alfonso Miller served as pastor of Ward from 1961-1964. In March 1964, on the eve of his death, The Reverend I.A. Miller met with the Board of Trustees and other officers to discuss plans for building an educational building. Several ministers contributed heavily toward this move. Rev. Richard E. Tankerson, appointed by Bishop Henry W. Murph, served as pastor from 1968-1974. Rev. Howard Camper, who was transferred from the Virginia Conference, served at Ward from 1973-1975. He oversaw the purchase of the apartment building on 42nd Street. Bishop Henry W. Murph appointed Rev. James H. Robinson to Ward in 1980. On February 14, 1981, under Reverend James H. Robinson’s administration, the cornerstone for the I.A. Miller Educational Building was laid by the Prince Hall Affiliated, F. & A.M., and its corps of officers. Bishop John H. Adams and Presiding Elder Hildebrand led the dedicatorial services. Dr. Joseph C. McKinney, as chairman of the Building Committee, presented historical documents to be placed in the cornerstone. Dr. McKinney, a trustee of Ward, was elected treasurer of the A.M.E. Church at the 1972 General Conference. Rev. Robinson died while still pastor in April 1996. Rev. Norman W. Handy was appointed in 1996 by Bishop Frederick C. James. Rev. Conrad K. Pridgen was appointed to Ward in July 2003 by Bishop Vinton R. Anderson. Rev. Rodger Hall Reed, Sr. was appointed in 2007 by Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr. The Reverend Michael O. Thomas who was appointed in April 2014 by Bishop William DeVeaux and he retired in 2018.
Our current, Pastor Reverend Dededrick O. Rivers, was appointed in April 2018 by Bishop James A. Davis. Under his leadership the sanctuary has been renovated and the I.A. Miller Fellowship Hall has been restored. We thank God and the Bishop for sending us a Spirit-filled, visionary leader.