Summer Travels

Summer brings a unique opportunity for travel and great explorations. One aspect of travel I appreciate is engaging historical sites.

As a child, I enjoyed the forts my parents took me to; as an adult, I look for stories of faith embedded in the places we visit.

In the past few summers, my family has traveled east. In those pilgrimages, we have encountered a history of Methodism that represents some of the Church’s deep past and speaks a word of challenge and hope for the future.

In lower Manhattan, New York City is John Street Methodist Church, originally called Wesley Chapel. Some call it “the Mother Church of American Methodism.”

John Street’s story began with the migration of Philip Embury and his family, a cousin, Mrs. Barbara Heck, and other Methodists from Limerick, Ireland, in 1760. After arriving the early group drifted in their zeal for the ways of God.

In 1765, Mrs. Heck’s brother immigrated, and Barbara became soulfully disturbed. She went to her cousin and said, “Brother Embury, you must preach to us, or we shall all go to Hell, and God will require our blood at your hands.” Brother Embury protested and said, “How can I preach, for I have neither a place nor a congregation.” Barbara replied, “Preach in your own house and with your own company first.” He did, and the congregation began to grow. It moved from Embury’s house to a ship rigging loft on Williams Street, then finally to John Street. (History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1934)

If you visit today, you will see a clock sent by John Wesley, a pulpit used by Francis Asbury, and six benches that hold two people each, designed for a Methodist class meeting. Over the years

John Street has been a gathering space for great spiritual awakenings. Fanny Crosby previewed many of her beloved songs within its walls. Many of Methodism’s community-lifting ministries emanated from within its walls into the streets of New York and beyond. If you visit today, you may wonder how such great history has been reduced to such a shadow. After hearing its history, I realized that Christ Centered, Community Focused, would have summarized John Street at its best. I pray it recovers its central mission.

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