Methodist history comes to life at St. George’s
Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church has been called one of the sites all United Methodists should see because it has been a Methodist house of worship continually since 1769. It’s a popular place for confirmation classes and others who want to reflect on where the denomination has been and how those lessons might affect the future. That’s why the church does not shy away from sharing some of the toughest situations it’s seen.
(Locator: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Each year, hundreds of visitors come to St. George’s United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, and become part of a living history lesson.
(Actor portrays the Rev. Simon Blessing) “Have any of you sailed to England yourselves?”
An itinerant minister from the 1700s stops in to preach.
(Actor portrays the Rev. Simon Blessing) “Good morning to you all then.”
And a ruckus in the balcony brings a dark event from the church’s history to light.
(Man yells at seated men) “The board met last night and they decided. Move now!”
In 1787, African-American members of the church were pulled from their knees during prayer and told to move.
(Actor portrays Richard Allen) “A little more than 200 years ago, in this gallery, in this very church from which the walls and floors were crafted with our own hands, we were humiliated.”
Visitors who witness the scene are then invited to talk about it in a discussion group with the reenactor portraying Richard Allen, who was a devout Methodist and one-time preacher at St. George’s.
(Actor portrays Richard Allen) “Not only were we forcibly removed during what? Does anyone remember? Prayer. Not after prayer, not after service, no meeting at the door perhaps upon leaving ‘Don’t come back’ or ‘Sit in the gallery next time,’ but during prayer.”
The Rev. Alfred T. Day III speaks to visitors: “The usher might have said, ‘Richard, after church we need to talk.’ Did that happen? Not as we understand it.”
St. George’s hosts this reenactment a few times a year for individuals and groups like confirmation classes. United Methodists come to learn about the founders of Methodism in America. Purchased in 1769, St. George’s is the oldest Methodist church in the U.S. in continuous use.
(The Rev. Alfred T. Day III to visiting group) “The builders of the building who were Dutch Reformed Presbyterians wanted the bishop of London to send them a priest and they thought that if they named the church building after the patron saint of England, the bishop of London would send them a priest. That didn’t happen. Then the Methodists came and they just kept the name.”
At St. George’s, confirmands can stand within the walls where Francis Asbury preached… view artifacts including John Wesley’s handwritten hymnal… and think for themselves about how they will shape The United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day III speaks to visitors: “You might as well put this padlock on your door because unless you change and unless you make your place welcoming and inclusive of young people, this padlock is gonna be on your door.”
Donna Miller, Archivist, Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church: “I think it’s very important for the kids that come here to realize that being a member of a church isn’t buying into just a lot of set opinions. It’s entering into a real search for God’s voice in the world and to understand that looking back, we don’t always go in the right direction. But it’s important to keep asking the questions and to keep looking for the right way and to...to look at those stories and look at the histories and see what we can learn from ‘em...not to turn a deaf ear to them.”
For more information on Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church write or call: 235 N. 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, phone: 215-925-7788.
Time Traveler events are offered in the spring.
This story was first published on October 2, 2014. Media contact is Fran Walsh.