The oldest Methodist congregation in North America has the newest stained glass window in New York. The John Street United Methodist Church, which traces its roots back to 1766, is celebrating the restoration of its Asbury Stained Glass Window (as well as the 250th anniversary of the church itself) with a fund raiser tomorrow (Thursday, October 20), from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
The window in question commemorates the herculean proselytizing of Francis Asbury, who almost singlehandedly founded the Methodist Church in America. When he arrived in the colonies from England, in 1771, the denomination had all of three congregations, with some 300 members. When he died, in 1816, there were 400-plus Methodist churches in America, with more than 200,000 adherents. Asbury accomplished this by ceaseless travel and preaching: In an average year, he logged 5,000 miles on horseback, and is known to have crossed the Allegheny Mountains more than 60 times. Along the way, he founded new Methodist parishes by the hundreds, and helped those already established to grow in size and strength.
At the same time, America’s original Methodist Church was taking root in Lower Manhattan. This congregation had arrived in New York in 1760, but — faced with the punishing hardships of life in colonial New York — almost immediately began to disintegrate. In October, 1766, it was on the brink of dissolving. This crisis inspired a lay preacher named Philip Embury to begin hosting bible readings, followed by homilies, in his home. The charismatic Embury soon began attracting a larger crowd than his home could hold. This led the congregation to rent temporary quarters on William Street, which it quickly outgrew. The group then raised funds to purchase a plot of land on John Street, between Nassau and William Streets. There, in 1768, they dedicated the first Methodist chapel in 13 colonies. (The current building, the third on this site, dates from 1841.)
When the American Revolution began in 1776, the Methodist Church (based in England) ordered all of its clergy to return to British soil. Once again, the denomination seemed likely to become extinct in America. But Asbury, who supported American independence, refused to be recalled and continued to build Methodist congregations.
In the years following the Revolutionary War, the John Street Church developed a unique reputation for welcoming people who would otherwise might be adversaries: rich and poor, radical and conservative, whites and freed slaves. And in his travels during the 1780s, Asbury was similarly broadminded: In 1784, he ordained Richard Allen, America’s first black preacher, in Baltimore. (Allen eventually founded the African Methodist Episcopal, or AME, denomination.)
Thursday’s event, which will be held in the church’s Wesley Chapel Museum (44 John Street), will include an address from featured speaker Rev. Fred Day, music by the Crusty Gentlemen, and a silent auction. Admission is priced at $50. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-269-0014.