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 in 1820, the first free and independent African American church in the nation’s capital was formed. Rev. David Smith was the first Pastor of Israel Metropolitan (formerly Israel Bethel) Church and the first African American Pastor of a congregation in Washington, D.C. 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, the congregation would later purchase on Capitol Hill, the former First Presbyterian Church, known to all as the “Little White Chapel under the Hill.”
As the first free and independent African American congregation in the Nation’s Capital, Israel Bethel was always a staunch supporter of the abolition and 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 Israel Bethel Church that Owen Lovejoy, Joshua R. Giddings, Frederick Douglass, B. F. Wade, Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and other intellectual giants and participants (both men and women) in the abolition and anti-slavery movement so often met and spoke words of encouragement to the world. 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. Under the pastorate of Rev. Henry McNeal Turner, a freshly minted copy of the Emancipation Proclamation was read from the Capitol Hill pulpit of Israel Metropolitan (formerly Israel Bethel) Church on January 1, 1863.
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.
Rev. Dr. Ricky D. Helton: 2007-Present
Rev. Wendell M. Oldham, Jr." 1998- 2007
Rev. W. Nathaniel Owens: 1994-1998
Rev. Frederick Zak1992-1994
Rev. Wardell Bonner1986-1992
Rev. Thomas L. Strayhand1982-1986
Rev. Raymond F. Williams1978-1982
Rev. Arlester Brown8/'77-12/'77
Rev. Charles L. Helton1974-1977*
Rev. C. W. Reed1972-1974
Rev. Kelsey A. Jones1970-1972
Rev. Nathaniel Lindsey1970-1970*
Rev. Henry Roosevelt Delaney1966-1969
Rev. Braxton J. Boyd1963-1966
Rev. John Westley Bonner1961-1963
Rev. Darnese A. Bell, Sr.1954-1961
Rev. Herbert Lee Burton1945-1954
Rev. Lester S. Brannon1940-1945
Rev. E. Franklyn Howard1929-1940
Rev. Jesse E. Toomer1926-1929
Rev. Charles Lee Russell1922-1925*
Rev. Samuel B. Wallace, Jr.1918-1921
Rev. C.L. Knox1917-1918
Rev. Noah Webster Clarke1915-1917
Rev. W. H. Nelson1914-1915
Rev. Arthur W. Womack1912-1914*
Rev. R. K. Harris1908-1912
Rev. John Westley Smith1905-1908
Rev. Nelson Caldwell Cleaves1901-1905*
Rev. W. A. Jackson1900-1901
Rev. Charles Westley Lane1899-1900
Rev. Robert Earl Hart1896-1899
Rev. Herbert Sebastian Doyle1895-1896
Rev. Samuel B. Wallace, Sr.1891-1895
Rev. Charles Henry Phillips1887-1891*
Rev. Robert Simeon Williams1884-1887*
Rev. George W. Usher1882-1884
Rev. W. T. Thomas1881-1882
Rev. Charles Wesley Fitzhugh1878-1881
Rev. James William Bell1876-1878