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Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church

Historic St. George's UM Church is the oldest house of Methodist worship in continuous use in America. In 1767, Captain Thomas Webb, a veteran of the French and Indian War, organized a Methodist Society in Philadelphia. Two years later, the Society bought St. George's Church. The church had been built in 1763 as a Dutch Reformed Church, but was auctioned when the church was unable to borrow enough money to complete the structure.

A number of "firsts" are associated with Historic St. George's UM Church. In December 1769, Joseph Pilmore (one of Wesley's first missionaries to America) made the first public statement in America of Methodist principles and beliefs. A few days later, he held the first prayer meeting in America in the St. George's sanctuary.

The following year, on November 1, 1770, the first Watch Night service in America was held in St. George's, and a year later, Francis Asbury preached his first American sermon at St. George's.

In 1773, 1774, and 1775, St. George's hosted the first three conferences of Methodist preachers in America. Several years later, on November 7, 1784, Thomas Coke used the St. George's pulpit to publicly explain John Wesley's plan for a new American denomination, just prior to his meeting with Francis Asbury at Barratt's Chapel.

In 1789, the new Methodist Episcopal Church organized its publishing arm, then called the Methodist Book Concern, at St. George's Church.

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones became the first African Americans granted preaching licenses by the Methodist Episcopal Church. They were licensed by St. George's Church in 1784. Three years later, protesting racial discrimination, Allen led most of the black members out of St. George's; eventually they founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Absalom Jones became an Episcopal priest.

Francis Asbury called St. George's "The Cathedral Church of American Methodism." When purchased, the building had four brick walls, a roof, and a dirt floor. The walls were plastered in 1784 and the wooden floor laid shortly after the Revolutionary War. Altar candelabra and other appointments from the 1790s are still used regularly.

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: Many features of the sanctuary date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The church also maintains a museum which displays such items as the communion chalice sent by John Wesley to Francis Asbury in 1785; the manuscript journal of Joseph Pilmoor, St. George's first pastor and Wesley's missionary to America; Wesley's handwritten hymnal; and some personal effects of Francis Asbury.

Restroom facilities are available at the church. Minimal parking is available next to the church on New Street. Inquire within the church for additional information about parking.

Special events: A Christmas musical is performed the first Sunday of December at 3:00 p.m.

Area attractions: Historic St. George's United Methodist Church is part of the Independence National Historical Park and surrounding historic area. Many of Philadelphia's tourist attractions date from the era of St. George's early history. Other Heritage Landmarks in the annual conference are Albright Chapel, Boehm's Chapel, and Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church.

To visit:   Historic St. George's United Methodist Church is an active congregation and visitors are welcome at Sunday morning worship at 11:00 a.m.

The church is also open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; groups should call ahead. Contact the church office at 215-925-7788.

Location: Within the boundaries of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, in Philadelphia County. The church is at 235 North Fourth Street (corner of 4th and New Streets; between Race and Vine Streets).

Food and lodging: There are numerous restaurants and hotels in Philadelphia.

Directions: Coming south on Interstate 95: Take the Center City exit and turn right to Fourth Street. Turn left on Fourth Street and proceed two blocks to the church (on the left hand side).

Coming north on Interstate 95: Take the center city exit at 3rd & Callowhill; go one additional block to Fourth Street; turn left on Fourth Street and proceed two blocks to the church (on the left hand side).

From Route 676: exit at "Ben Franklin Bridge" exit (Sixth Street); at the light on Sixth Street turn left on Race Street, left on Third Street, left on New Street to Fourth Street; the church is on the left.

For further information about this Heritage Landmark and to learn more about United Methodist church history in this area, contact: Donna Miller, Historic St. George's UM Church, 235 North Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106, 215-925-7788; E-mail: office@historicstgeorges.org.  

Website: http://www.historicstgeorges.org

Charles W. Ferguson, Organizing to Beat the Devil; Methodists and the Making of America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971).

Jesse Lee, A Short History of the Methodists (Rutland, VT: Academy Books, 1974; originally published in 1810).