Bensalem UMC
Bensalem UMC

Celebrate church history on Heritage Sunday

On United Methodist Heritage Sunday this year, May 22, we can rejoice that we have 15 of the 512 denomination’s recognized historic sites in the Eastern PA Conference. Among them are Albright Chapel in Kleinfeltersville, St. George’s and Mother African Zoar churches in Philadelphia, Mount Gretna Tabernacle and Isaac Long’s Barn in Lititz.

Mount Gretna Tabernacle

Mount Gretna Tabernacle

See the list of our historic sites below, and use the links to find out more information about them. Historic sites are established by the vote of an Annual, Central or Jurisdictional Conference in session. Each is registered by and receives a plaque from the General Commission on Archives and History They are numbered by the order of their registration.

The six names in bold, red text are also among the 46 UM Heritage Landmarks designated by General Conference. Those that lack numbers are Heritage Landmarks that were designated before the inauguration of the numbered Historic Sites program.

Our newest historic site, number 508, is Bensalem UMC’s 206-year-old original church built in 1810. It now serves as a chapel and is still in continuous use for the church’s 8:30 AM service. Its recognition came last October after a five-year delay, resulting from a frantic effort and some determined detective work to overcome administrative hurdles.

According to Bensalem’s pastor, the Rev. Bob Amundsen, last June, just after Annual Conference, longtime member Connie Kurtiz asked him why the church had never received a plaque for the chapel after it was approved as an historic site by the 2010 Annual Conference, when it was 200 years old.

“I didn’t know the answer,” said Amundsen, “so I began to search through church minutes and found documents which showed that paperwork had been submitted. Our lay delegate and lay leader remembered that there was even a video shown at Annual Conference that highlighted our church.”

Sign outside of Mother African Zoar UMC. Founded 1794. Spiritual Life Giving Station, A Place of Reguge & Shelther

Mother African Zoar UMC

He contacted our Bishop’s Administrative Assistant Amy Botti at the conference office, and she referred him to the United Methodist Archives, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, N.J. “But they had no record of our church ever applying,” he recalled.

Botti gave him information to start the process of reapplying to the Conference Commission on Archives and History; but Amundsen asked if there was another way, since the church was planning a 205th anniversary celebration for October 2015, just four short months away and could not wait for another Annual Conference.

Botti helped him find the church’s application approval in the 2010 Annual Conference minutes and all of the original paperwork with signatures. He also found in church records forms which they had submitted to the UM Archives office along with a photo of the chapel and a check that was never deposited. After more digging and repeated phone calls they discovered that their paperwork had been lost or misplaced. But some of the forms still needed signatures.

Undaunted but up against a deadline, Amundsen and Botti worked as a team using phone calls and e-mail to seek and obtain the signatures of all conference Archives and History Commission members and other officials, including Bishop Johnson and Conference Secretary Lloyd Speer.

After securing the last needed signature, with help from commission member the Rev. Joe DiPaolo, they sent the paperwork and a new check by overnight mail to the UM Archives. They also e-mailed everything in PDF to Archives staffer Michelle Merkel-Brunskill, who walked them through everything they would need for approval. Days later she called to say their plaque was ready and it would be sent to them via FedEx.

Isaac Long's Barn in Lititz

Isaac Long’s Barn in Lititz

But Amundsen didn’t want to take any chances this close to the church’s anniversary celebration. He asked if he and his wife could drive up there to Drew University, his alma mater, to pick up the plaque the next day.

“We were greeted wonderfully when we arrived and were given a VIP tour of the archives center,” he recalled. “It was an incredible day, especially when we arrived back in Bensalem and stopped by Connie’s home to show her the plaque.”

They attached the plaque to the 205-year-old chapel on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, during a combined service attended by the city’s mayor, State Assembly representatives, numerous township officials, and of course, Connie Kurtiz.  

Connie is one of the folks ­here who really love their church,” said Amundsen, explaining why when she asked about the missing plaque, he promptly got on the case. “She would move heaven and earth to expand our role as part of God’s Kingdom-building in our community. So when she asked, I knew I had to investigate.”

Sign outside of St. George's UMC. This is American's oldest Methodist Church Edifice, having been in continuous use since 1769.15 United Methodist Historic Sites in the Eastern PA Conference

By John W.Coleman, Eastern PA Conference Communications Director

Editor’s Note: At the joint annual meeting of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Commission on Archives and History and the UMC Historical Society, May 24-26, at Whatcoat UMC in Dover, Del., the Rev. Joe DiPaolo, pastor of First UMC Lancaster and a member of the Eastern PA Conference Commission on Archives and History, will present his historical research paper on Bishop Levi Scott. In 1852 Scott (1802-1882) became the first Delawarean elected to the Episcopacy of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He oversaw ­the establishment of the former, all-black Delaware and Washington annual conferences in 1864. Scott is buried at historic Old Union Church in Townsend, Del., which this week received its plaque as UM Historic Site number 512, approved by the Peninsula-Delaware Conference Annual Conference in 2015.Meeting attendees will visit Old Union Church and other historical sites in the Dover area on May 25.

Learn about the UM Archives and its caretaker, the General Commission on Archives and History, led by our own Rev. Fred Day, in a new video feature, Archives & History: Connecting Church Past, Present, Future.