Sometime in 1873 the African American residents of New Market Virginia were able to dedicate a new Methodist Church for them to worship in. Records indicate that this congregation had been founded sometime in the late 1860s, most likely by travelling African American ministers that visited the area to work with recently freed slaves and local black communities. They would have met in various public buildings reserved for African Americans, including the segregated school, before constructing their own church.
Asbury Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, as it became known, was the center of much of the town’s local African American community for many years. The congregation’s annual Christmas Program, held in the Rouss Opera House, was its premiere event and attracted large crowds from both the white and black population.
This program helped the church raise enough money to pay its minister for the upcoming year since the congregation was not large enough, or wealthy enough, to support itself.
Little else is known about this church. An April 15, 1954 article in the Shenandoah Valley newspaper gives one of the few descriptions of it and its congregation. The story focused on a horse that regularly attended the church by sticking his head through the church window while in his next door pasture. The paper mentioned “there are only 38 Negroes in New Market, counting men, women, and children” and most attended Asbury which was the only church for African Americans in town. The article also observed:
• Royal Steptoe, New Market’s barber, was the church’s trustee and Sunday School superintendent
• The Reverend W.E. Jefferson was the church’s minister. He also led services at the historically black Woodstock, Mt. Jackson, and New Market Methodist Churches.
Asbury Methodist Church would continue to hold services until 1965. By that time the congregation had become so small it was unable to remain in operation. Around March of that year it, and Calvary Methodist Church in Mt. Jackson, merged with Manor Memorial Methodist Church in New Market whose church newsletter boasted became an “all inclusive church.”
Asbury’s building was sold soon afterwards. It served as a residence and a storage structure. In the 1980s it was abandoned and it was demolished in 1992.