By John W. Coleman (Story and photos)
(View more photos of this historic occasion in our Flickr photo album Radnor UMC Property Transfer to St. John AMEC)
The pews at Radnor UMC in Bryn Mawr were nearly full—a rare sight—and the hearts of attendees were surely full as well, as Eastern PA Conference officials transferred ownership of the historic church, more than two centuries old, to the St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wayne June 7.
Gathered in worship on a steamy Monday evening, the interracial assembly watched and listened intently to solemn readings and remarks. But their hush seemed to deepen during the official declarations of the Service of Transfer (“An Order for the Leave-taking of a Church Building”).
“The time has come for this congregation of Christ’s holy Church, under God’s leadership, to take leave of this building,” began the Rev. Evelyn Kent Clark, South District Superintendent, in reading the Declaration of Purpose.
Bishop Peggy Johnson then recalled broadly, in a Litany of Thanksgiving, the faithful discipleship of the recently departed congregation, memorializing their ministries of prayer and proclamation, sacraments and service.
‘Benevolence and Graciousness‘
Her husband, the Rev. Michael Johnson, Radnor’s final interim pastor of record, pronounced the release of the building and land to the care of its new owner. And Wanda Cook (below) of St. John (est. 1895) received it with praise and thanksgiving for the “benevolence and graciousness” of God and of Radnor’s few remaining members, who, after 243 years as a congregation, now worship at nearby St. Luke UMC in Bryn Mawr.
What enhanced the solemn moment was the perfect song, “Way Maker,” with its praiseworthy lyrics sung passionately by Vanessa Howard, the minister of music at St. John and also the wife of its pastor.
You are here moving in our midst.
I worship You, I worship You.
You are here working in this place.
I worship You. I worship You.
And You are our way maker, miracle worker,
Promise keeper, light in the darkness.
My God, that is who You are.
“Only God could have made this moment happen,” said Bishop Johnson. And all present held that truth to be self-evident.
St. John AME Church then led a Service of Dedication, led by the Rev. Charles Lett Sr., West Main Line Presiding Elder (similar to a UM district superintendent), and Bishop Gregory Ingram, Presiding Prelate of the AME Church’s First Episcopal District.
A legacy of Methodist friendship
Then St. John’s pastor, the Rev. Manual Howard, received the large, ceremonial church key from Jack Ross, Radnor’s longtime, beloved pastor, described by Howard as “my old friend.” Indeed, it was their coincidental encounter at Radnor about four years ago, and the friendship that followed, that led to this transformational moment.
Howard, newly appointed to St. John, located just five miles away, met Ross when he came to Radnor looking for a suitable place to hold a meeting. He recalled growing up in the area; and the two began what led to a friendship between not only them but also their two congregations. Radnor and St. John have come together periodically for worship and fellowship over the years since.
Indeed, the two churches also share an older Methodist family connection. The iconic Richard Allen, a Methodist minister and former slave, lived near the Radnor church in 1784 and was welcomed in friendship there to preach and teach. He later founded the AME Church and became its first bishop in 1816. The Radnor church’s celebrated portrait of him greeted everyone at the entrance, and his influence was likely felt throughout the proceedings.
Finally, after eloquent words of wisdom from bishops Johnson (left) and Ingram (far left), Howard, though seated silently on the front pew throughout most of the service, fittingly, spoke some of the final words of the evening in his remarks and benediction. And in an equally fitting coda, the congregation sang the popular contemporary gospel song “Let the Church Say Amen,” as attendees greeted one another warmly before departing.