EPA pastor to become UMC’s chief historian

The pastor and chief historian of the oldest United Methodist church in America will soon become the denomination’s chief historian. The Rev. Alfred T. Day III, pastor of 244-year old St. George’s United Methodist Church in the heart of old Philadelphia, Pa., was elected to head the General Commission on Archives and History. He will take over as General Secretary on or about July 1.

Elected unanimously by the commission’s board after a national search, Day will succeed the Rev. Robert J. Williams, who will retire after almost nine years in the position. Bishop Jeremiah Park, leader of the Harrisburg, Pa., Area and president of the commission made the announcement yesterday.

A full Elder in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference since 1975, Day has led St. George’s, a Methodist Heritage Landmark, for nine years. He previously served as pastor of First UMC Germantown and Superintendent of the former Francis Asbury District, following pastorates at Mt. Pocono UMC, Rehoboth and Central UMCs in the Frankford Group Ministry, and Roxborough and Emmanuel UMCs. He has been a delegate to General and Jurisdictional conferences.

While at St. George’s Day joined the Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in organizing two “Great Gatherings” that have brought the two congregations together in reconciliation for the mistreatment and well-known departure of the Rev. Richard Allen and other African Americans due to racial discrimination in 1792. Allen went on to establish Mother Bethel and become the first bishop of the AME denomination.

Day, an enthusiastic teacher and promoter of Methodist history, welcomes youth confirmation classes and other visitors to St. George’s regularly for historical programs and tours that feature its trove of archival treasures. Commission members and colleagues have commented: “Fred brings the energy and vision needed to make heritage relevant to the contemporary life of the church.  His work at St. George’s has been creative and innovative, both cherishing our roots and finding new energy in our denominational DNA.”

Expressing “joy” for his new challenge, Day quoted current General Secretary Robert Williams’ description of the commission’s work as “the ministry of memory.”

“Building on his work, and that of our conference’s Chuck Yrigoyen before him, I hope to steward United Methodist memory as deep, invigorating, advising, thriving roots, past and present intertwined, shaping our Church’s future…. I am honored and blessed to be in a position to promote and care for our denominational DNA for the next leg of this journey.

“In so many of the resurrection stories we hear this time of year,” Day explained, “Jesus tells disciples he is out ahead of them. ‘You will find me there,’ he says. One of history’s traps is a backward focus: collecting old stuff without taking in present surroundings, not to mention what’s coming down the road. The work of history is joining past and present to set the course for what lies ahead.”

By John W. Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director