Methodism evolved from the Reformation in England in the 1500's. It began as a lay movement, among persons were groups who gathered together in "class meetings" to study the Bible and find for themselves the true meanings of the Word of God. They did not separate themselves from their own churches at first.
By the 1700's many of the early Methodists were coming to America, where the class meetings continued. The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were strong leaders in the movement called Protestantism after the break from the Catholic Church. The arrival of Francis Asbury, as a voluntary missioner spearheaded the Methodist Episcopal movement in America, and it was formally established in 1784. Bishop Asbury emerged as the dominant influence. Throughout his ministry, the Bishop personified his belief in itinerant ministry, both by appointing preachers to their circuits and traveling tens of thousands of miles on horseback himself.
It was here, west of the Appalachians, that the early circuit riders gathered together small groups of people into classes and bands prior to the forming of circuits. Methodism came into Indiana by the way of Ohio and Kentucky. Following the admission of the Indiana Territory into statehood in 1816, many settlers had migrated into Jay County, which was a frontier wilderness with many "bands and societies" of Methodists who were given spiritual guidance by the circuit riders as in the original colonies.
The heritage of the Asbury United Methodist Church grew in Portland from the efforts of these circuit riders bringing the message of God's grace and love in the early years of the settling of Jay County.
Records show that Reverend M. Lank was sent to Jay County in 1832 by the General Conference to gather these somewhat isolated Methodists together. Reverend Lank was successful in establishing the Indiana Conference and the Portland Mission with Reverend George Bowers appointed pastor in charge and Reverend James Havens as his presiding elder. By 1841 the Portland Mission, by this time known as the Portland Circuit, was extended from the Wabash River North, the State Line east, Camden, now known as Pennville, West and Deerfield to the South with 21 preaching sites.
Through the early 1860's the Portland "charge" or church was worshiping in a small frame building located at the corner of E. Main and Harrison Streets. This building was later moved to Water Street, where it was used as a stable. It was eventually torn down in 1913. In 1872 the Methodist Episcopal Church purchased for $300 two lots from Jonas and Lizzie Votaw to build a new church. This is the site of our present church.
In 1874 a 40x60 foot building of brick was erected on the east lot. It seated 600 persons and cost $2800. A dwelling on the west side of the building was used as the parsonage.
By 1897 the membership was 380 and led all the churches in the Indiana Conference in giving to missions. That same year, 1897, plans were begun to erect a larger building on the two lots with subscriptions of $1500 by the Sunday School, $100 by the Ladies Aid and $750 by the Epworth League (young people's group). In 1898 the old church building was sold and the parsonage moved to the east. The church was to be built on the corner, where it stands today. The ground breaking was held July 8 and the cornerstone laid August 13th 1898. When the basement was completed in 1899 the congregation received permission of the contractor to use it for services at a cost of $1.00. At this time the Sunday School reached an attendance of 316. The construction was delayed several years due to increase of indebtedness and lack of funds. The plans for the church were noteworthy, in the fact that they were an adaptation of Christopher Wren's plans for the famous St. Paul's Cathedral in England. The church was elegantly furnished, including a new pipe organ, built by the noted M. M. Moller of Hagerstown, Md. The beautiful large stained glass windows were given by the Young Men's Class taught by Mrs. J.C.L. McAdams and Mrs. Jason Henley.
The Reverend M. A. Harlan was the pastor at the time of the dedication of the new building in 1903. During the Service of Dedication, Reverend WM. D. Parr, D.D. of Cincinnati, used as his text "If thou canst believe, all things are possible" The indebtedness of $15,000 was reduced by the evening service by contributions totaling $17,661.
In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church North, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged into The Methodist Church. At that time our church assumed the name of First Methodist Church. In 1968, with the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Churches the United Methodist denomination was formed. At that time First Methodist Church became known as Asbury United Methodist Church.
In 1961 the Educational Unit was added to the existing building. That addition along with other remodeling and redecorating have produced the fine church home in which we now worship, study and enjoy fellowship.
With the passing of time, situations arose which necessitated the closing of many of our rural sister churches. The Pleasant Ridge Church membership voted to close in 1969 and many of their members were welcomed into the membership of Asbury Church. Later, in 1979, the Bryant United Methodist Church closed, as did the Macklin United Methodist Church in 1985. We have all been blessed by members from those churches who chose to unite with Asbury United Methodist Church.