1763 - St. George's Methodist Church - Philadelphia, PA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
N 39° 57.315 W 075° 08.763
18S E 487525 N 4422800
Quick Description: Lots of these 18th century churches opted for elongated, white date stones on the front of their edifices instead of the traditional cornerstone. These stones often have more than one date. This church has an example of such a date stone.
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 11/5/2011 10:30:41 AM
Waymark Code: WMD18G
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member saopaulo1
Views: 2

Long Description:

St. George's Church is the oldest house of Methodist worship in continuous use in America. It almost wasn't to be. When the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was constructed in the twenties, the church was slated for demolishment. Only a court battle saved it. It is located across from another historic church, St. Augustine Catholic Church. When I first spied this church it reminded me of a meetinghouse. I was surprised that it was not. It has none of the ecclesiastic details one sees in a church of the 18th century. Instead it is simple, demure, humble. There is a nice date stone on the huge, brick western wall which reads:

Saint Georges
Methodist Episcopal Church
Dedicated 1763
Remodeled 1837

In 1767, Captain Thomas Webb, a veteran of the French and Indian War, organized a Methodist Society in Philadelphia. Two years later, the Society bought St. George's Church. The church had been built in 1763 as a Dutch Reformed Church, but was auctioned when the church was unable to borrow enough money to complete the structure.

Early on, there history was tumultuous. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones became the first African Americans ordained by the Methodist Church. They were licensed by St. George's Church in 1784. Three years later, protesting racial segregation in the worship services, Allen led most of the black members out of St. George's; eventually they founded the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church and the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Absalom Jones became an Episcopal priest.

The story about the segregation is well told. The site hosted the first three conferences on American Methodism in the mid 1770s and was an early publisher of books in Philadelphia. In keeping with William Penn's tradition of religious and racial toleration, blacks were allowed to worship at St. George's. However, black services were held separately and at five in the morning. One Sabbath in 1787 the blacks were asked to use only a balcony as a prayer area. Needless to say a fight ensued. This rift prompted Richard Allen, the first licensed black Methodist preacher, to leave the church and found the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Another black preacher, Absalom Jones, founded the African Protestant Episcopal Church after the disagreement and fight.

This brick church (14 feet from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) and its Historical Center present a picture of Colonial life and the beginnings of American Methodism. The unadorned sanctuary, with its simple pews, original floorboards and candlesticks illuminating the balconies, looks as it did when completed in 1792. The two-room museum has artifacts from 18th- and 19th-century life, as well as personal effects of Methodist leaders, including the bible brought from England by Francis Asbury, the “Father of American Methodists,” and the journal of Joseph Pilmoor, the first pastor of St. George’s. SOURCE

The church is chock full of historical markers. There is one out front on a large brick wall, part of the second story porch area out front. The marker resembles the official blue PHMP markers and reads:

United Methodist Historic Shrine
------ .. ------
This is America's oldest Methodist
church edifice, having been in
continuous use since 1769. It was
the seat of the first three con-
ferences of American Methodism, the
first church visited by many of the
early British Methodist itinerants,
and the first site of the Methodist Book Concern.

Erected in 1969 by the Commission on Archives and History.

Another old, metal marker attached to the brick wall on the second level tells more about all the firsts that occurred here. It reads:

October 27, 1771
Francis Asbury Arrived Here
October 28th
He Preached in This Church
His First Sermon in America
1773 - 1774 - 1775
The First Three Conferences
Of American Methodism
Met Here

There is yet another marker on the other side of the door, also attache to the brick wall, looking just like this one. I was unable to access it as the area was fenced off and my zoom lens could not resolve it.

Finally out front along the sidewalk is the Old Philadelphia Congregations historical interpretive/marker. These tall, upright, markers can be found in front of almost every church or religious institution of consequence within Independence Hall National Historic Park. They are designed to aid in tourism and to encourage tourist to learn more about the history of Philadelphia and its designs for religious freedom. Each sign describes its church and explains how the church was part of the early fabric of religious freedom as well as the contributions each church made. This beautiful sign reads:

In 1729, in Oxford, England, a group of fiery, compelling preachers began the religious movement that would become Methodism. Preaching a message of repentance and conversion, men like Captain Thomas Webb and Francis Asbury led a religious revival in the colonies as well. Old St. George's played an important role in the beginnings of Methodism. Today it stands as the world's oldest Methodist Church building in continuous service.

Philadelphia's first Methodists were a small, dedicated group of eight men, mostly merchants and artisans, and their wives who met in a sail loft on Dock Street in 1767. As their numbers grew, the congregation purchased, in 1769, an unfinished shell with a dirt floor that had been erected in 1763 by a German Reformed congregation and already named St. George's. An estimated 2,000 attended the first service. Before the Revolution, though, Methodists still considered themselves a "society" and part of the Anglican church. Members received their Sacraments at local Anglican churches until the Methodist Episcopal Church was officially formed in 1784.

In 1771, St. George's became the base of operations for Francis Asbury, "the father of American Methodism," who traveled on horseback all over the country, ordaining more than 4,000 ministers in 35 years. One of the deacons Asbury ordained was Richard Allen, the first African American licensed to preach by the Methodists. Allen left St. George's in a controversy over seating and went on to become the first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. St. George's also spawned the first religious publishing company in America, the Methodist Book Concern, established by John Dickens, who was pastor in 1789.

During the great revival sparked by Methodism in 1836, St. George's again played a leadership role. Membership surpassed 3,000, and the basement story was excavated to accommodate a Sunday School. By the end of the 19th century, the industrialization of this part of the city led to a drastic decline in membership. In the 1920s, St. George's was almost demolished to make way for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. A court battle saved the historic site, and now St. George's is known, among its many other distinctions, as "the church that moved the bridge." A National Park Service Shrine, St. George's today is a touchstone of spiritual renewal for Methodists around the world.

Naturally, a piece of history this old has a dedicated listing in the American Guide Series as well as a very nice picture too. That excerpt reads:

Just north of the Delaware River Bridge approach on the left at New Street is ST. GEORGE'S METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH (12).

Old St. George's Church is American Methodism's oldest and most historic edifice. Its style of architecture is American Georgian. The cornerstone was laid in 1763, and the edifice was dedicated and occupied in 1769. It is a square structure, with two square doorways separated by a stone memorial. The huge pediment above the third floor formed by the gable is pierced by a semi-circular window.

The deep affection in which it is held today was well illustrated when its demolition was threatened by the original plans for the Delaware River Bridge. Protests raised by Methodists throughout the country, accompanied by barrage of petitions and letters, caused a change in the plans. Now the church stands in the shadow of the great bridge that once threatened its existence.

The walls and roof were built by seceding members of the Dutch Reformed Church, who, not being able to finish or meet obligations of their enterprise, were jailed for debt, and the edifice was offered at public auction. Among the bidders was a young man of feeble intellect but wealthy parentage, and his bid of L700 was accepted. The young man's father, unwilling to admit that his son was mentally infirm, paid the money.

He immediately sold the church to Miles Pennington, agent for the Methodist Society, and Capt. Thomas Webb, famous in Colonial times as a Methodist evangelist. Captain Webb preached there very frequently. He delivered his sermons attired in the full regimentals of a British officer, with a patch over his eye and his sword laid across the pulpit. Throngs were attracted by his powerful personality.

Old St. George's Church, one of the evangelical outposts of Methodism in America, contributed to the fusing of the newly developed country with its new religious doctrine. it was in this house of prayer that Bishop Francis Asbury, the Methodist apostle to America, delivered on October 28, 1771, his first sermon on this side of the Atlantic. At this church the first conference of American Methodism, held on July 14, 1773, was attended by 10 ministers, six of whom took appointments.

Under the direction of a committee of parishioners, in 1837 a basement was dug to provide adequate space for Sunday School purposes.

Today, in a small room are still to be seen the desk and chairs used by Bishop Asbury. Much Revolutionary tradition is associated with the old church.

On the walls of the church are three marble memorial tablets, one on each side of the pulpit and one on the south side under the gallery. Upon these tablets are chiseled the names of all the pastors who served at St. George's since 1769. Among them are four bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church: Francis Asbury, Richard Whatcoat, Robert R. Roberts, and Levi Scott, Rev. John Dickins, an early pastor of St. George's, founded the Methodist Book Concern of the United States. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 388-390

Year of construction: 1763

Cross-listed waymark: [Web Link]

Full inscription:
Saint Georges
Methodist Episcopal Church
Dedicated 1763
Remodeled 1837

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