Rev. Asbury C. Smith, anti-war activist in '30s


The Rev. Asbury C. Smith, a retired United Methodist minister who became a racial justice, anti-war and ecumenical activist in the 1930s, died Sunday after a stroke at the Herman H. Wilson Health Care Center at the Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg.

Mr. Smith, who was 91, had moved from Baltimore to the retirement community in 1981.

Ordained in 1924, he moved to Baltimore and served a series of churches until becoming superintendent of the Washington West District from 1953 until 1959.

In Baltimore, his churches included the Rognel Heights, McKendree (which later became Arlington), Memorial, Walbrook and First United Methodist Church in Towson.

While at Walbrook, he raised the money for the purchase of the site of the Epworth Chapel United Methodist Church, in the belief that established congregations should help new ones. He served as an assistant minister there after his 1968 retirement that followed four years as director of the Urgent Needs Campaign of the Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church, raising money for new churches and programs.

Early in his career in Baltimore, he became interested in Albert Schweitzer, and, in 1929, donated the $15 he was paid by a Methodist publication for an article on the missionary to his work in Africa.

The donation spurred a correspondence between the men and a visit to the Smith home by the missionary's wife.

His interracial work began in 1932, when an article he wrote deploring a lynching in Salisbury was published in The Evening Sun. He went on to chair the State Interracial Commission and the Committee on Fair Employment Practices, and served on the board of the Urban League.

Before World War II, he chaired the Maryland branch of an organization opposing U.S. entry into the conflict and also spoke against conscription and compulsory Reserve officers' training programs.

A former chairman of the Maryland-Delaware Council of Churches and Christian Education, he had also been a member of the board of the Maryland Conference of Christians and Jews.

He had served as a delegate to national Methodist conferences, and as a member of his church's national Council on World Service.

Locally, he chaired the World Service Commission of the Baltimore Annual Conference and served as a member of the Board of Child Care and as a trustee of what is now the Asbury Methodist Village. From 1959 until 1964, he served as pastor of the First Methodist Church of Hyattsville. In his retirement, he was a fund-raiser for the Strawbridge Shrine, a Methodist historical site in Carroll County.

A native of Somerset County, he was reared in Hebron and graduated from Salisbury High School, Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and the Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Ill. In 1948, Dickinson College awarded him an honorary doctorate.

His lifetime of writing included letters to newspaper editors; articles on religion, people he knew and memories of his youth; and two books, one of which, "The Twelve Christ Chose," was published.

His wife, the former Rachel Wilson, died in 1990.

Services were to be held at 10:30 a.m. today in the chapel at the Asbury Methodist Village.

He is survived by two daughters, Mary Ellen Elwell of Westminster and Salisbury, and Rachel Sweet of Placentia, Calif.; a sister, Emma Smith of Hebron; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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