557 Randolph Street NW, WDC 20011  |  (202) 723-5795


The progressive steps and processes of evolution through which Israel came into being constituted one of the most fascinating and interesting stories of historical information ever penned.  The history of Israel and of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is deeply rooted in Methodism.  Although a few Blacks participated in a few of the activities of the Ebenezer M.E. Church (the white church) on 4th Street SE, the issue of slavery and the rights of Blacks in the church was a divisive one.  Many Blacks became disenchanted and withdrew from the church.

Some of these dissident members joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  Others formed independent churches following the Methodist tradition.  Such was the case with some dissenters from the old Ebenezer M.E. Church.  A number of the Black members, unable to longer endure the proscription and un-christian-like treatment received at the hands of the white members, determined to sever connection with them.  Consequently, a meeting was held in 1820 for the purpose of devising some means by which to peacefully withdraw and form an church of their own.  At this meeting the Israel Bethel Church was formed under the leadership of Rev. Henry McNeal Turner (later an AME Bishop).  Israel Bethel quickly became one of Washington's great churches.  An independent church, it was this areas mother of Black Methodism.

Services were held in the homes of various members.  When the membership outgrew the homes, they moved successively from Wheat's Schoolhouse on Virginia Ave., SE to Simms Rope Walk, 3rd and Pennsylvania Ave., SE.  Finally in 1828, the congregation purchased it's first church, the former First Presbyterian Church, known by it's members as the "Little White Chapel" under the Hill.

As the second oldest Black congregation in the Nation's Capitol, Israel was a staunch supporter of the anti-slavery movement.  Israel opened its doors to all supporters of freedom.  Among its membership were many of the first families of the District of Columbia.  Gatherings called to advocate the emancipation of slaves or to raise volunteers during the rebellion or to argue the claims of the Negro to the right of suffrage or to discuss the question of free schools were invariably held at Israel Bethel Church.

It was in this church that Elijah P. Lovejoy, Joshua R. Giddings, Frederick Douglass, B.F.Wade, Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and many other intellectual giants in the anti-slavery cause so often met and spoke words of encouragement to old and young of the Negro race.  They told them of the dawning of that day when the shackles and fetters at their feet would be removed and they would stand erect on God's green earth, as free as the air they breathed.

On December 15, 1870, the M.E. Church South (the white church) met to organize a separate Black denomination representing eight annual conferences - Memphis, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina and Texas.  The Committee on Church Organization recommended that new body be named the Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church in America.

In 1872 Israel Bethel moved to the foot of the Capitol on First and B St SW.  A few years after relocating, in 1876, Israel joined the CME Connection.  Rev. James W. Bell was its first pastor.  Bishop William H. Miles, first Bishop of the CME Connection, was the moving influence in this noted congregation's becoming a CME Church.  Bishop Miles had some success in starting mission congregations in the Washington area and was endeavoring to establish the CME Church in the Nation's Capital.  While other Black Methodist bodies were already well-entrenched in Washington, the addition of Israel's congregation to the CME Connection increase visibility and enhanced its positive image in Washington.

Church Pastors

Rev. Dr. Ricky D. Helton 2007-Present
Rev. Wendell M. Oldham, Jr. 1998- 2007
Rev. W. Nathaniel Owens 1994-1998
Rev. Frederick Zak 1992-1994
Rev. Wardell Bonner 1986-1992
Rev. Thomas L. Strayhand 1982-1986
Rev. Raymond F. Williams 1978-1982
Rev. Arlester Brown 8/'77-12/'77
Rev. Charles L. Helton 1974-1977*
Rev. C. W. Reed 1972-1974
Rev. Kelsey A. Jones 1970-1972
Rev. Nathaniel Lindsey 1970-1970*
Rev. Henry Roosevelt Delaney 1966-1969
Rev. Braxton J. Boyd 1963-1966
Rev. John Westley Bonner 1961-1963
Rev. Darnese A. Bell, Sr. 1954-1961
Rev. Herbert Lee Burton 1945-1954
Rev. Lester S. Brannon 1940-1945
Rev. E. Franklyn Howard 1929-1940
Rev. Jesse E. Toomer 1926-1929
Rev. Charles Lee Russell 1922-1925*
Rev. Samuel B. Wallace, Jr. 1918-1921
Rev. C.L. Knox 1917-1918
Rev. Noah Webster Clarke 1915-1917
Rev. W. H. Nelson 1914-1915
Rev. Arthur W. Womack 1912-1914*
Rev. R. K. Harris 1908-1912
Rev. John Westley Smith 1905-1908
Rev. Nelson Caldwell Cleaves 1901-1905*
Rev. W. A. Jackson 1900-1901
Rev. Charles Westley Lane 1899-1900
Rev. Robert Earl Hart 1896-1899
Rev. Herbert Sebastian Doyle 1895-1896
Rev. Samuel B. Wallace, Sr. 1891-1895
Rev. Charles Henry Phillips 1887-1891*
Rev. Robert Simeon Williams 1884-1887*
Rev. George W. Usher 1882-1884
Rev. W. T. Thomas 1881-1882
Rev. Charles Wesley Fitzhugh 1878-1881
Rev. James William Bell 1876-1878

*Became Bishop