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Back to Basics.


It's a bitter pill to swallow whenever a church is seemingly set to close its doors forever. It's even worse when it's your home church. St. James UMC, located in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was once part of an 1814 circuit Francis Asbury traveled. It grew into a great, stately, Gothic building boasting a congregation of more than 1,000 at its peak post-World War II through the 1960s. This leading church in its community had since then plummeted to a place where a gathering of twelve disciples would look like a crowd.

When a new pastor was appointed last July there were six at Sunday worship. Today the number is pushing 100 and doesn't begin to count all the people St. James engages in community gatherings and service opportunities. The church is born again, transformed from missional failure to missionary force. The pastor started his episcopal appointment by posting a sign on the church's front lawn: FREE COMMUNITY BREAKFAST. He then took to walking the streets and knocking on doors. The fourth Saturday eat-in hasn't become a feeding of the five thousand yet but there are hundreds coming
through the church doors again. Not to mention plenty of volunteers who have caught the spirit, some of them former members who moved to the suburbs.

The pastor's strategic approach to ministry is simple, direct and historically Methodist: Take the church to where the people are. Where the people "are" in the Olney neighborhood is different from the St. James of its heyday. The zip code is the same, but the residents are different; more socially, culturally and economically diverse than before. So English classes, free music lessons, a SHARE food program, free wireless access and open space for children and youth to play in the church gym after school and on weekends has helped the church reinvent outreach.

There's also a program for men and women newly-released from incarceration. The pastor, a tradesman in his pre-ministerial vocation, has gathered friends with carpentry, HVAC, and electrical skills to help neighborhood people "move off State Road" as he puts it, towards dignity, leaving prison or welfare systems in the rear-view mirror. St. James is even turning the parsonage, a marvelous Tudor-style home, into a base camp for Volunteers in Mission and GBGM US-2 missionaries. The eight bedroom house hosts up to 32 difference-makers.

By now you might be saying, "Fred, what's going on here? This is a lovely piece but have you jumped ship? Your monthly GCAH General Secretary's letter sounds more like a plug for the Mission and
Evangelism section of The General Board of Global or Discipleship Ministries. What's up?"

Can't you see it, history buffs? St. James has become Philadelphia's Foundry! John Wesley's first Methodist meeting place in London was an abandoned cannon factory turned into a worship and community service center with a dispensary, apothecary, free school for street kids, almshouse, homeless shelter and credit union. See and

What's happening at St. James is classically Methodist, strategically Wesleyan and historically grounded in what happens when we are true to form. The reason I am excited by my home church and the transformation happening there is NOT because my memories of happier times will be preserved or because St. James is surviving where so many others across our conferences are failing. I am uplifted because a pastor and the congregation and community he is inspiring are raising-up a left for-dead church. I am particularly excited because they have discovered and are demonstrating the right stuff from our denominational DNA:

-Faith and life grounded in a theology of love and inclusion, God's jaw-dropping, boundarybreaking, new-life-igniting, ALL consuming, merciful, redeeming, perfecting, ALL sufficient love for ALL people as raison d'etre and passion for outreach;

-Offering opportunities to gather people together in groups, experiencing God's love, mercy and justice in Jesus Christ AND in relationship to one another, striving to incorporate God's love into daily life;

-Propelled by personal and community experience of God's love, moving from inward change to outward service, becoming difference-makers in the wider world, offering new ways of thinking, acting and being, discovering that TOGETHER (connectional) is better than alone.

This is United Methodism 101.

"I would describe this church as helpful to the community because they give us breakfast, and clothes and counseling" one of the formerly unchurched, new members said. "This has helped me understand how God cares and helps the community." "I'd like to see the church serve the community as it did when I was younger," said one returning church member absent for 20 years. A white man in what is now a minority congregation, he doesn't mind how much things have changed culturally but is instead focused on the impact being made in people's lives. "I was one of the people the church served when I was younger. I would come and play basketball. Now that I've come back, I'm trying to provide that. I saw all the work that needed to be done and figured I'd help out."

These are testimonies to the contagious results of the Wesleyan way. This isn't a matter of history looking backward to Methodist roots without seeing it shape the present and envision the future. Call it the power of good leadership. Check. Call it a matter of location and timing. Check. But how about a nod to the Methodist source, soul, heart and spirit intertwining; the genetic material that makes us who we are and still lives and grows in each of us? How about an enthusiastic "AMEN!" when we live in and up-to being the church our forebears bequeathed to us?

We live in a time when so much denominational energy swirls with uncertainty about the future viability of the Church we know and love, about how to best engage complex questions on credo, life, behaviors and faithfulness to covenants that have wrestled us to the ground for 50 years or more. Some predict these issues and struggles will find us as the UN-TIED Methodist Church instead of the UNITED Methodist Church. What I witness at St. James gives me great hope. It reconnects me with more than just my home church. I reconnects me with my home CHURCH, my place in a heritage and legacy---not by cradle but by choice---to the essence of what drew me to be called by her name in the first place, to the deeper, purposeful and historic roots of a grace-filled, outreaching movement centered on a passionate desire for people to experience the love of God. This movement sparked revival in two continents and might reach even further today.

Rev. Fred Day, General Secretary
General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH)
By understanding the past, GCAH helps envision the future!

NOTE: Information this piece comes from personal experience and an article in the The
Philadelphia Tribune, May 13, 2017. "St. James United Methodist: Grass Roots Ministry Meets
Community Needs" by Samaria Bailey and reprinted in United Methodist Daily Digest the same

GCAH Distributes $17,000 in Grants, Awards

The General Commission on Archive and History (GCAH) of The United Methodist Church (UMC) today announced the 2017 recipients of five awards, grants, and scholarships: The John Harrison Ness Memorial award, the Josephine Forman scholarship, the Women in United Methodist History Writing award, the Women in United Methodist History Research grant, the World is My Parish Research grant, and the United Methodist Racial/Ethnic Research grant.

“At GCAH, we believe and experience every day the power of history not merely as remembrance but as an active engagement, the past pointing to purpose, the DNA that makes us who we are, forming how we live-into the future,” said Rev. Fred Day, general secretary. “By pulling the stories of difference-makers in our tradition off the shelves and presenting them to the church, we inspire the church to challenge and pioneer new mission opportunities. These awards help ensure that this vital ministry of the church is continued by the next generation.”

The John Harrison Ness Memorial Award was presented to Deborah Creagh, for her entry “Dr. Clara Swain: First Medical Missionary of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society." The award, given annually in memory of John Harrison Ness (1891-1980), pastor, conference superintendent, and denominational executive in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, honors students enrolled in M. Div. programs in United Methodist or other seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools who submit the best papers on one aspect of United Methodist History.

“I am thrilled to have received the Ness Memorial Award,” said Creagh. “It encourages me to continue my interests in research and writing, and in exploring the history of women serving The United Methodist Church, both at home and abroad.”

The Josephine Forman Scholarship was presented to Jeannie Chen, a 2018 Master's Candidate in the Library and Information Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The scholarship, administered by GCAH in partnership with the Society of American Archivists (SAA), provides financial support to minority students pursuing graduate education in archival science, encourages students to pursue a career as an archivist, and promotes diversity within the American archives profession. The scholarship is given to applicants who demonstrate excellent potential for scholastic and personal achievement and who manifest a commitment both to the archives profession and to advancing diversity concerns within it.

“The Josephine Forman Scholarship award will be an extremely vital support towards the successful completion of my MLIS Program at UCLA,” said Chen. “I would like to thank the Society of American Archivists and GCAH for this opportunity to develop my knowledge and skills in the archival studies field.”

The Women in United Methodist History Writing Award was presented to Dr. Rachel Cope for her paper “Dwarfism and the Evangelical: Mary Garrettson’s Call for the Reform in Mabel and Her Sunlit Home and Little Mabel’s Friends.” The award is given to encourage and reward excellence in research and writing in the history of women in The United Methodist Church or its antecedents. Selection is made by a committee consisting of three persons who are historians of women in United Methodism.

“As a historian, I love discovering the forgotten,” said Cope. “I see this award as a credit to Mary Rutherford Garrettson’s remarkable life; it was an honor to write about her.”

The Women in United Methodist History Research Grant provides seed money for research projects relating specifically to the history of women in the UMC or its antecedents. Selection is made by a committee consisting of three persons who are historians of women in United Methodism. The newly announced 2017 recipients are Dr. Josephine Whitely-Fields for her proposed research on Black clergywomen in the North Central Jurisdiction of the UMC and Dr. Ken Tyrell for his proposal for Trinity UM Church’s “Women in the Windows” project in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

“The GCAH award will aid in documenting the spiritual formation stories of Black clergywomen whose voices are seldom heard, but who have significantly contributed to the ministry of the UMC. These stories will contribute to the written legacy of Black clergywomen,” said Whitely-Fields, a retired ordained elder in the UMC. “Some of these women are trailblazers and pioneers in local churches, cross-racial appointments, conference staffs, district superintendents, general boards, and as seminary personnel. Women and men can benefit from these journeys as they consider entering or continuing as clergy in the UMC. These stories can also be used to facilitate better relations in our denomination as we strive to dismantle racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and other “isms” that divide us as the body of Christ. Moreover, the findings of the research can be used a teaching tool in spiritual formation, by our boards and agencies, seminaries, other institutions of higher learning, and in spiritual formation academies. Meanwhile, the autobiographies and biographies will be beneficial for any reader who enjoys interesting stories.”

The “Women in the Windows” proposal from Tyrell sought to preserve fourteen stained-glass windows constructed between 1911 and 1912 at Trinity UMC. In his letter of recommendation of the project, Regent professor at Oklahoma State University James L. Huton wrote, “…the scenes have important relevance to the historical period in which they were made—the end of Populism, the middle of Progressivism, and the period of early statehood of Oklahoma. In those times, Oklahoma was a leader in the progressive movement, its state constitution causing Theodore Roosevelt to declare it to be the most radical in the nation. These windows have a connection with those times and the desire of American progressives to attend to the social ills of the nation. Thus the scenes demonstrate, for the time period, a connection between political policy and religious duties—and as well the role of women in these decisions and activities.”

The World is My Parish Research Grant was distributed to Dr. Elezar S. Fernandez, President/Academic Dean of Union Theological Seminary, and Dr. Elaine Robinson, Professor of Methodist Studies at the St. Paul School of Theology/Oklahoma City University. The grant is given to enable the collection of written and oral history and encourage research regarding the development of the UMC and its antecedents in any of the conferences not in the United States.

Robinson’s project entitled “A Historical Perspective on Global Methodism: Central Conference Origins” is an attempt “to fill a gap in education our of clergy and local pastors in the U.S.,” she said. “It will help us all to think more deeply about what it means to be a global church, by understanding the origins and development of United Methodism in the central conferences. If it can help us all to develop greater global sensibilities, the connectional system will inevitably be strengthened.”

The Racial/Ethnic History Research Grant was distributed to Dr. Karl Hele, Associate Professor of the First Peoples Studies Program at Concordia University in Montreal, for his project entitled “Methodist Missions at the Sault: An Investigation into their Relationships with the Anishinaabeg as well as Canadian and American States in the Borderlands;” and Dr. Kale Yu, for his study of Asian immigrant churches and communities in the greater New York region, specifically Korean churches in the United Methodist Church, in the history of American Christianity.

“I am very excited to receive this research grant,” said Hele.  “It will allow me to pursue a week-long examination of key records concerning Indian Affairs in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.  This award and the associated research will also form the basis for a larger application to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council in Canada to study the international border at the Sault. Additionally, I am hopeful that this study and the larger grant application will place belief and religion at the forefront of cultural negotiation in nineteenth-century Sault Ste. Marie.  Moreover, it is wonderful to see that support still exists for studies of religious interactions and how Christianity played a multifaceted role in Settler-Indigenous actions at all levels.”

For more information on grants, awards and scholarships offered by GCAH, please visit:

From “Mr. Methodist” to China: Two New Papers Now Open to the Public

The General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH) is pleased to announce the release of two new sets of papers to the public: Edward Pearce and Lily Anderson Hayes Papers; and Charles Coolidge Parlin Papers.

The Hayes papers provide a personal glimpse of United Methodist mission work within the Fuzhou area in China during the tumultuous mid-twentieth century. Reverend Edward Pearce Hayes (1895-1979) and Lily May Anderson Hayes (1895-1988) were missionaries who spent nearly thirty years together in Foochow, China. They were married in 1917 and sent to China in 1921 where Edward was appointed District Superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church Board of Foreign Missions. Edward Pearce Hayes supervised the development of churches, schools, and hospitals. During World War II, the Hayes' spent time apart, with Lily living in California until 1947. While living in China near the end of the 1940s, the Hayes' experienced the turmoil of the Chinese Communist Revolution. While many missionaries left by 1949, they stayed behind in China to continue their work until 1951. For the rest of his life, Edward Hayes was outspoken about communism and the effect it had on Asia. The Papers of Edward Pearce and Lily Anderson Hayes are comprised of correspondences, journal entries, informational files, photographs, speeches, newspapers, and conference programs.
To view this finding aid, go to

Charles Coolidge Parlin (1898-1981) was probably known as the most influential layperson within United Methodism and global Methodism during the mid-twentieth century. He was nicknamed “Mr. Methodist” and known throughout the world due to his denominational positions and ecumenical work. Any serious researcher interested in mid-twentieth century Methodism, especially pertaining to the 1968 merger or the ministry of the World Methodist Council, must review Parlin’s papers.
Parlin, a senior Wall Street lawyer with Shearman and Sterling, grew up in the Methodist Church. He was a member of a number of important commissions and committees for the church which included the 1968 merger between the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. During the McCarthy era, Parlin gained considerable attention when he counseled Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam in a hearing before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and its investigation. Parlin also served as President of the World Methodist Council and had a leading role in the establishment of the National and World Council of Churches. The records reflect his work with the 1968 church merger and the Bishop Oxnam hearing.
To view this finding aid, go to

“At GCAH, we believe and experience every day the power of history not merely as remembrance but as an active engagement, the past pointing to purpose, the DNA that makes us who we are, forming how we live-into the future,” said Rev. Fred Day, general secretary. “By pulling the stories of difference-makers in our tradition off the shelves and presenting them to the church, we inspire the church to challenge and pioneer new mission opportunities.”

History in Your Own Backyard.

For those of us of a certain age, you may remember the beginning of a famous TV car advertisement jingle from long ago. " See the U.S.A. in your ...." Yeah, you know it. It is the time of year to travel. With school out, summer awaiting, and vacation plans underway, now is the time to think about visiting some of our denomination's historic places. You will find them across the country and the globe. You'll find plenty of places which mark some aspect of our denomination's 200+ year history. Within your area you'll easily find UM historic sites, which are sites marked by your annual conference to commemorate United Methodist history in your area. And without too much effort, or driving, you can probably find a UM heritage landmark. Those are sites that have been deemed by General Conference to be of denomination-wide significance to tell part of our denomination's history and mark significant moments or events in our past.

To help you plan your trip take a look at our Travelers' Guide. You'll find a link to it here: You can download a PDF of the older booklet or read the most up-to-date version on-line. It is arranged by state and has 2 page descriptions of the landmark, including its historical significance, travel directions and contact information. At the back of the Guide you'll find a list of the annual conference historic sites. You can then check your conference's web site to learn more about them. At some of our landmarks there will be docents and guides to help you understand the site and its place in our history. There is often interpretative literature which you can take with you. And if after visiting the site or heritage landmark you want more information, you can always contact us, or your conference archives, to recommend a good book.

And when you do travel, don't forget about the Amazing (G)race which is a fun and informative way tolearn about our past, our heritage landmarks and win some neat stuff. See more at So enjoy your summer and make a plan to visit a bit of our history, it is in the neighborhood. You'll be glad you did.