The Rev. Harry Christian had simple instructions for his Topeka Asbury Mount Olive United Methodist Church to celebrate its golden anniversary.
“Laugh, shout, jump, cry,” he told the congregation on June 9, “whatever you want to do to celebrate those 50 years.”
The church is a merger of two black Methodist Episcopal churches: Asbury in north Topeka, which began in the 1890s, and Mount Olive, which was organized in 1877 and first met in a blacksmith shop in south Topeka. The church’s current location, at 12th and Buchanan streets, has been its home since 1907, with a stone structure as its first church building from 1911 to 1974.
Ninety-year-old Nathalie Douglas, a church member since age 13 and the church pianist for 57 years, remembers how she and fellow church members looked on in awe walking into the new building for the first time in 1975.
“To come in and watch it grow has been the most important part to me,” she said.
The church celebrated its anniversary with a banquet on June 8, followed by Sunday morning services with a sermon by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., and Sunday afternoon services, with a sermon by the Rev. Robert Johnson, pastor of Wichita Saint Mark UMC.
Bishop Saenz highlighted two Asbury Mount Olive members before he began his sermon: the Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina District superintendent, who grew up in the Topeka church; and Oliver Green, one of the first delegates to welcome the bishop to the Great Plains after his episcopacy was announced in 2016 in Wichita.
Green, a member of Asbury Mount Olive since 1975, said the congregation’s community spirit has been a hallmark of the church.
“We’ve had a focus on youth, educational programs, tutoring,” said Green, who runs the Powerpoint for the worship service. “We’ve just kind of been there for the community.”
In his sermon, Bishop Saenz talked about the sometimes-long walk that members of Asbury Mount Olive have had to make over the years.
“It’s a tiring walk sometimes,” he said, “but it is a rewarding walk.
“We’ve come this far by faith,” the bishop added. “Keep walking forward.”