Barrett's Chapel, one of the first churches built in Delaware and the oldest house of worship still in existence in the United States built by and for Methodists, is remembered as the meeting place of Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury on November 14, 1784.
In 1778, a Methodist Society was organized north of Frederica, Delaware, under the influence of Freeborn Garrettson, one of Francis Asbury’s most energetic preachers. One of the Society members was Phillip Barratt, who owned some 800 acres in Kent County. Barratt was the county sheriff, a farmer, and a merchant. In 1780, he donated a plot of land so that the Society could build a preaching house.
The church was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1780.
The path to Barratt’s Chapel for Asbury and Coke started when John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke, Richard Whatcoat, and Thomas Vasey on September 1-2, 1784, intending that Coke and Francis Asbury would jointly superintend the Methodist work in America.
Coke, Whatcoat, and Vasey landed in New York on November 3. Eleven days later they were at Barratt’s Chapel. Coke recorded his experience in his journal: “Sunday, November 14, 1784. About ten o’clock we arrived at Barret’s-chapel [sic]…. In this chapel, in the midst of a forest, I had a noble congregation…. After the sermon, a plain robust man came up to me in the pulpit, and kissed me: I though it could be no other than Mr. Asbury, and I was not deceived…. After dining, in company with eleven of our preachers, at our sister Barret’s, about a mile from the chapel; Mr. Asbury and I had a private conversation concerning the future management of our affairs in America….”
Also on that day, holy communion and baptism were offered for the first time by duly authorized Methodist clergy, Thomas Coke and Richard Whatcoat.
Phillip Barratt died at the age of 55, just two weeks before Coke and Asbury’s historic meeting. His widow, Miriam Sipple, nevertheless opened her home to Coke, Asbury, and twelve other preachers for dinner following worship on November 14. It was in an upstairs bedroom after dinner where Coke and Asbury met and planned a conference to be held in Baltimore the following month. History remembers it as the Christmas Conference, when the Methodist Episcopal Church was formally organized as a denomination.
Taken with permission from Heritage Landmarks: A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Sacred Places in The United Methodist Church, by the General Commission on Archives and History. For more information, see http://www.gcah.org/research/travelers-guide/barratts-chapel-and-museum.