FREDERICA (Delaware, U.S.) – On a bright November Sunday, 125 United Methodists gathered to thank and praise God at the spot where, 225 years earlier, the course of American Methodism took shape.
The setting was Barratt’s Chapel at Frederica, Delaware, the oldest Methodist Church in the United States, originally built as a church. The Nov 8, 2009 observance marked an occasion on Nov 14, 1784, that pointed the way towards forming a distinct denomination in a lineage that has became The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Philadelphia area preached at the special service commemorating a meeting between two early leaders, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, who together laid the organisational foundations and gave US Methodism its strong emphasis on mission.
Asbury is considered the “father of American Methodism” and Coke the “father of Methodist missions”.
Bishop Johnson compared the historic Asbury-Coke meeting to the stones gathered by the Israelites in Joshua 4, as symbols to remind their children of God’s providence in bringing them into a promised land. “We need to tell the story of Jesus and those who have been rocks of our faith to the children,” she said.
Phillip Barratt, a farmer, built Barrett’s Chapel in 1780 as a meeting place for Methodists scattered across Delaware and that part of Maryland on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.
The chapel underwent various changes in its first 70 years, but today remains much as it looked in the 1840s.
A star on the floor represents the traditional spot when, on that November Sunday in 1784, Asbury and Coke greeted one another following the first service of Holy Communion ever celebrated under Methodist auspices in the Americas. This act represented the separation of Methodists in the former British colonies from the Church of England (Anglican).
Coke was coming to the new nation as the representative of Methodist founder John Wesley; Asbury had been in America since 1771, having come as one of the first Methodist missionaries, also sent by Wesley. They were to be joint “general superintendents” appointed by Wesley, but Asbury had the idea that the leadership choices should be voted on by an assembly of the American lay preachers.
That day at Barratt’s Chapel they decided to follow Asbury’s vision and called a conference of the preachers for Dec 24 in Baltimore. That Christmas Conference, which lasted into early January, marked the oﬃcial beginning of the Methodism Episcopal Church, the earliest forerunner to The United Methodist Church.
The denomination began and has continued as a mission movement. On that day 225 years ago, Coke and Asbury also agreed that they would work together to start a college to train clergy and laity. Cokesbury College opened in Abingdon the next year, but did not survive a disastrous fire a few years later.
Barratt’s Chapel, even with its balcony, seems small today, rather rustic, with straight, hard benches, and an organ pumped by foot.
The 2009 service commemorating the Coke-Asbury meeting was filled with the strains of familiar hymns accompanied by the organ and a piano. The 20-voice choir of St Paul United Methodist Church in nearby Milford sang with conviction.
“Jesus, United by Thy Grace”, a hymn by Charles Wesley, was a fitting conclusion to the observation. – United Methodist News Service. Story and pictures by Elliott Wright
Elliot Wright is the Information Officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
No room in Bethlehem hotels
BETHLEHEM (West Bank, Israel) – There was no room at the inn at Bethlehem last Christmas as the city’s 4,500 hotel rooms were fully booked.
Mayor Victor Batarseh attributes this situation to the eﬀorts of Christian churches abroad to bring pilgrims to the city.
“This is a trend through the work of churches and their special travel agencies,” he said on Dec16, the day after he lit the Bethlehem Christmas tree to the cheers of hundreds packing Manger Square. – ENI.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Several church groups from Singapore were among the many thousands who made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land in November and December, with most of them staying in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Christmas CD recorded in Estonian church
TALLINN (Estonia) – A symphonic collection of a dozen classic Christmas songs, entitled “What If Mozart Wrote White Christmas”, was recorded in the Tallinn United Methodist church in Estonia. The church is part of the Baltic Mission Centre, which opened in 2000.
The soundtrack was recorded by the Northern Lights Orchestra, composed of members of the Tallinn Philharmonic Society. Co-producer Warren Schatz called the church – with an angled ceiling some 20 to 25 metres high providing natural acoustics – a “studio like no other”. – United Methodist News Service.