Cathedral Church of American Methodism
Since before America’s Revolutionary War, Methodists have been worshipping at St. George’s United Methodist Church in Philadelphia and its congregation is still active. The museum on site holds treasures from the denomination’s founding fathers like John Wesley and Francis Asbury, and the church offers a Time Traveler experience for visitors to learn more about its history. Historic St. George’s first female pastor and the church archivist gave us an exclusive tour of this landmark all United Methodists can appreciate. Take a look!
(Locator: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The Rev. Alfred T. Day III from pulpit: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
Kids in pews: “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Donna Miller: “The famous tag line is ‘St. George’s is the oldest Methodist church in the country in continuous use.’ There have been Methodists worshipping in it since 1769. My name is Donna Miller. My official title is administrator and archivist. The building is a Georgian brick building, very plain. It’s a meeting house. People often go right past us to the Catholic church across the street because it looks like church. We have no steeple, as Wesley would not have wanted a bell tower. In the beginning, there were no instruments in the church. The windows are clear glass. The pews are white. It’s a very plain and beautiful sanctuary.”
The Rev. Maridel Whitmore: “My name is Maridel Whitmore. I was told by the district superintendent that I was the first female woman preacher at Historic St. George’s. I think people, no matter what side of any issue you’re on, love the denomination, love our history. And this is the place where you can connect to it. Being in this place where they sat and where so much happened, you can feel it. It’s tangible. It’s a treasure that you can touch and feel.”
Donna Miller in museum: “This is the journal of Joseph Pilmore who was our first minister. As you can see, it’s a handwritten journal. One of the items that the conservator was concerned with was all this black along the sides. We thought it was mold, but discovered it’s candle smoke coming from people reading the book by candle.”
Donna Miller: “They held the services downstairs on plain wooden benches. After the Revolutionary War, they built the sanctuary upstairs. It’s very Anglican in feel. It’s got a tub pulpit. We have love feast cups in the museum from the time prior to it being a denomination when it was a prayer society. We have the voting box that they used to vote people in. So those things have changed over the years. You don’t need a ticket to come to service. And we do have Communion. Wesley sent a chalice over when it became a denomination. Asbury presented the pulpit Bible which is in the museum. It has a long and rich history with all of the major figures in Methodism.”
The Rev. Maridel Whitmore: “I was shown Wesley’s handwritten hymnal that he was preparing for publication. It’s his handwriting, page after page of hymns that he’s written out in hand. There’s no music in it. It’s just kind of a narrative, lyrics. I mean, my goodness his own hand.... that’s what I mean by you can touch things and handle things that are from our past, from our roots. To me that is thrilling. It’s electric.”
Donna Miller: “My favorite is journal of Joseph Pilmore. It’s this amazing record of the beginning of this church, the beginning of the denomination, the start of the country. And it’s just great to have a real person’s take on everything, and also to appreciate the life of a traveling minister. We have a lot of journals of early ministers and their lives weren’t easy.”
The Rev. Maridel Whitmore: “The interesting thing about being here for the first time is the pulpit. It’s a wonderful historic replica of the pulpit that Francis Asbury preached his first sermon in America, 1771. This pulpit here is very intimidating, especially the...the steps coming up on... into it. And because of all my predecessors that have preached from here—Francis Asbury, Thomas Webb and their names are all listed here. My name is last. I heard a story one time that you should trip into the pulpit, humility, and this kind of guarantees that you’ll trip into the pulpit, being so high.”
Donna Miller: “All these dates and facts are interesting, but when you get to the story of the people, that’s when people’s hearts open up and when you realize the power of having a historic place for people to come to and to consider these stories.”
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.
Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church has been named one of the sites every United Methodist should see.
This story was first published September 30, 2014.