The roots of The United Methodist Church can be traced to Lovely Lane United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. On Christmas Eve 1784, pastors met at Lovely Lane and agreed on the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Today, this Heritage Landmark is a place where visitors can explore history and attend worship with one of the oldest congregations in America.
John Strawbridge: "If you're gonna be a Methodist you should understand who you are and why you are. You come here and you realize, this was not a denomination of convenience. This was a denomination that was founded out of a profound need to serve people who were not being served, people who were not having the sacraments, people that were not hearing the gospel, people that were not being ministered to. And out of that need and out of that great desire, this church was formed."
Lovely Lane in Baltimore could be called the "Mother Church of American Methodism." The original meeting house was the site of the 1784 Christmas Conference, which formed the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Rev. Patricia Sebring is the current pastor.
The Rev. Patricia Sebring: "It was here that Asbury was ordained and here that he served as a preacher. Your feet are truly on holy ground. Your eyes look upward and you see amazing things."
The stained glass windows list the names of pastors going back to 1773; Francis Asbury, Robert Strawbridge… a reminder of the everyday people who laid the cornerstone and dedicated their lives to the denomination.
The Romanesque Revival style church you see today was built to mark the centennial of the Christmas Conference, says historian John Strawbridge.
John Strawbridge: "It was also built at a time when we were not together as a denomination, when we were divided into the Methodist Protestant, the Methodist Episcopal, the Methodist Episcopal South. And so it was an opportunity to remind these offshoots of our common heritage as Methodists and as Christians and to begin to bring the denomination back together."
Construction also came at a time when membership was down to just 100 people. The Sunday school had closed.
John Strawbridge: "It meets a lot of resistance. It's too big. It's too expensive. It's outside the city. And it really takes a lot of vision for a struggling congregation to say, 'Let's build a 1000-seat monumental building. It's really a wonderful testament of faith."
The sanctuary looks as it did in in 1887. None of the thousand seats is more than 53 feet from the pulpit.
The painted sky dome is a favorite feature, a starscape of the nighttime sky, with the constellations and planets in the exact positions they would have appeared from this spot the day the building was dedicated.
The 185-foot tower atop the church is illuminated at night. The upper four stories form a cross, a beacon.
John Strawbridge: "If you ask people about Lovely Lane they might say, 'Which church is that again?' 'You know the big lighted cross?' 'Oh, I know that church. I see that…I see that from the expressway. I see that from my home.'"
The basement is filled with centuries of church history.
A tour is available every Sunday after worship. But members want to ensure that Lovely Lane is known as more than a museum. It is a place where history is alive and waiting for United Methodists to write the next chapter.
John Strawbridge: "To see people get excited and get energized about church and about the denomination is really is just a wonderful thing. To see people begin to internalize that and almost to have the Wesleyan moment where he said 'I felt my heart strangely warmed.' It's something that we strive for and we try to make available, because it really is the roots of United Methodism, that it is a church about people, not a church about a church."
Lovely Lane has been designated a Heritage Landmark of the United Methodist Church.
Learn more about church history at the site for the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.
Plan your visits to sites every United Methodist should see.
This video was first posted on November 2, 2017.