These U.S. sites can help United Methodists remember their heritage and celebrate today’s mission.
World travelers may seek out pyramids, cathedrals and safari parks, but United Methodists have destinations across the globe that hold their own allure. Here are suggestions for 13 fascinating places to visit without leaving the United States.
First Methodist meeting place in America
The Strawbridge Shrine is where the seeds of Methodism were planted in the New World. Robert and Elizabeth Strawbridge came to Maryland from Ireland about 1760. Robert would travel on horseback to preach and hold circuit meetings. Elizabeth cooked meals and led Bible studies for neighbors. During one of these dinners, John Evans became the first convert to Methodism in America. Strawbridge tells the story of everyday people starting the Methodist church in America in their homes. The Strawbridge and Evans homes and a recreation of the first log cabin meeting house are open for tours by appointment.
A fateful meeting in Pennsylvania
A decisive event in the formation of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ occurred when Philip William Otterbein met Martin Boehm during a “great meeting” in a barn on the farm of Isaac Long in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The year is believed to have been 1767. “Great meetings” were popular evangelistic and fellowship gatherings of people living in sparsely populated rural areas. At the end, Otterbein embraced Boehm and exclaimed in German, “Wir sind brüder!” (“We are brethren!”). Today the barn is on a privately owned working farm that is visible from the road. Markers are on the roadside and the property.
Old Otterbein United Methodist Church is the mother church of the United Brethren in Christ and the oldest church edifice in continuous use in Baltimore. In 1771, a temporary chapel was erected to house the first congregation of the newly organized German Evangelical Reformed Church. Philip Otterbein accepted the pastorate there in 1774. The present church was built in 1785. The 1811 parsonage stands nearby. Otterbein’s grave is in the churchyard. Historical exhibits are in the church. Worship is at 11 a.m. each Sunday. Tours are available.
Cathedral Church of American Methodism
The oldest house of Methodist worship in continuous use in America is St. George’s United Methodist Church of Philadelphia. The congregation was begun as a Methodist society in 1767 and has occupied the historic building since 1769. Missionary Joseph Pilmore made the first public statement on Methodist principles and beliefs there and held the first national Methodist prayer meeting. Francis Asbury preached his first American sermon there in 1771 and dubbed it “The Cathedral Church of American Methodism.” St. George’s offers a Time Traveler’s tour.
Oldest Methodist congregation in the United States
John Street United Methodist Church is a 250-year-old treasure in the heart of Manhattan. Founded in 1766 as the Wesleyan Society in America, it is believed to be the oldest Methodist congregation in North America, The current church building dates to 1841. Francis Asbury preached at John Street many times, and early General Conferences met here. Artifacts include the original pulpit, church record books and a clock given by John Wesley.
Powerful preaching sites
Mother African Zoar and Tindley Temple United Methodist churches are located just a couple of miles apart in Philadelphia. Mother Zoar has birthed five churches over the centuries, including Tindley Temple, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Tindley Temple is the home church of the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, one of the founding fathers of gospel music, and displays his papers and personal artifacts. It houses one of the largest Moller pipe organs in the United States. In the 1920s, Tindley grew the congregation to a megachurch with 10,000 members.
Founded in 1869 during a prayer meeting, Ocean Grove, New Jersey, still offers spiritual growth and renewal in a Christian recreational setting. The city holds a camp meeting revival every Sunday, closes its beaches to the public on Sunday mornings, features streets with biblical names, sells no alcohol and maintains a commercial-free boardwalk. The 6,000-seat Great Auditorium features an 11,000-pipe organ. Each spring, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association erects 114 canvas tents around the auditorium and rents them to tenants.
Witness to the world
Dedicated in 1924 in Washington, D.C., the United Methodist Building is the only non-governmental building on Capitol Hill. Located across from the United States Capitol and next to the Supreme Court, the Italian Renaissance-style building houses the General Board of Church and Society, the General Commission on Religion and Race and other church and ecumenical groups. The building is open weekdays to visitors who may also attend worship services each Wednesday morning in Simpson Memorial Chapel.
Offering tranquility in a bustling district of Nashville, Tennessee, the Upper Room Chapel is a place of prayer and reflection. The campus includes a prayer room and a Christian art museum with rotating exhibits. It is the home of global United Methodist ministries focused on spiritual development. The Chapel is a pilgrimage destination for thousands of people who have used the publication called The Upper Room. The chapel holds a worship service each Wednesday morning.
Sacred carvings in Alaska
The Christmas and Easter totem poles at Saint John United Methodist Church in Anchorage are replicas of a sacred gift to the Native Alaskan people. The Rev. David K. Fison, a retired United Methodist pastor, carved the cedar poles to tell the Christmas and Easter stories in the Native Alaskan tradition. On the poles, Joseph holds a paddle to signify the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem in a dugout canoe. Salmon and berries represent the bread and wine of the Last Supper. An adopted member of the Killer Whale Clan of the Tsimshian people, Fison’s tribal name is Nadaam Nlomsk, which means “Carver of Sacred Things.”
Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, is the primary supply depot in the United States for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The 2,600 volunteers annually process and ship $7 million worth of supplies and relief kits distributed throughout the world. Sager Brown has been a hub of UMCOR missions since 1992. For more than a century prior, the campus served as a Methodist school and home for black children orphaned by the Civil War. Tours of a small museum and the depot are available by appointment.
A mountain retreat
Lake Junaluska is the home of the World Methodist Council. The Conference and Retreat Center in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, is home to the World Methodist Museum. There visitors can see a lock of John Wesley’s hair, his traveling pulpit from London and a life-size mural of John Wesley preaching. The portrait gallery features the founding fathers of Methodism.
This article is adapted from articles originally published at UMC.org by Lilla Marigza, a producer for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, and Marta Aldrich, a freelance writer from Franklin, Tennessee, and on the website of the General Commission on Archives and History.