What looks like a modest collection of old farm buildings in New Windsor, Maryland is actually an important landmark for United Methodists. Curious visitors can see the home of Robert Strawbridge who was the first Methodist lay preacher in America. His house is preserved along with the home of his neighbor, John Evans, the first convert to American Methodism. At what is now known as the Strawbridge Shrine, reenactors share the story of those who planted the seed for the denomination's growth in what was once the New World.
(Locator: New Windsor, Maryland)
(Voice of Helen Kemp, Curator, The Strawbridge Shrine) “Every United Methodist should visit the Strawbridge Shrine because this heritage belongs to them.”
(Sound of Rev. James F.W. Talley giving a tour) “This is the kitchen of the original Strawbridge house. It does date back to the 1760s.”
Years before the American Revolution, the seeds of Methodism in the New World were planted in rural Maryland. Robert and Elizabeth Strawbridge were hard-working farmers who also found time to make disciples.
The Rev. James F.W. Talley, President, Strawbridge Shrine Association: “When you actually crawl into the root cellar where the founder of United Methodism in America stored the potatoes that he dug with his own hands, you get a sense of, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Life was pretty difficult back then.’ And yet this person not only had to survive by feeding themselves, but took the time to run all around on horseback and feed the souls of others with the message of Christ.”
Robert was a circuit rider. Elizabeth ran the farm while Robert was away and neighbors often came over to help. Elizabeth would invite them to stay for a meal, during which she might witness to her faith. One of these dinners led John Evans to become the very first convert to Methodism in America.
(Talley giving a tour) "This is where John Evans sat when he received Jesus Christ at the invitation of Elizabeth Strawbridge."
"The first Society of Methodism moved to the nearby home of John and Eleanor Evans in 1768."
(Talley giving a tour) “It was church. It was all there was at the time until they outgrew the space.”
John Strawbridge, Board Member, Strawbridge Shrine Association: “These are ordinary men and women doing the best that they could under ordinary circumstances, and they achieved great things out of that.”
The Rev. Francis Asbury preached here and acknowledged in his journal that this was the birthplace of American Methodism, but he did not always see eye-to-eye with Robert Strawbridge.
Talley: “They were not the best of friends. They did not agree on matters of church. Francis Asbury, of course, was very strict. According to Wesley’s instructions, you needed to be ordained in order to offer communion and baptism. Robert baptized, offered communion and was never ordained.”
A display features some notable early Methodists who strengthened their faith here.
Talley: “We have a chart of people influenced by Robert Strawbridge, one of those being Freeborn Garretson who, after he heard Robert Strawbridge preach here at this site, went home and freed his slaves.”
African-Americans joined the movement early on. Annie Sweitzer, a slave, was a member of that first Methodist class. Jacob Toogood was also a slave who became a preacher.
John Strawbridge: “All of these people who were circuit riders and the foundational ministers of Methodism, none of ‘em were ordained clergy. One of the important things that we’re trying to preserve here at the Shrine is the idea that The United Methodist Church is not some place that you come to hear an ordained preacher speak. It’s a place that you come to get your charge to go out in the world and do God’s work.”
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.
This video was first posted in May, 2015.