History of Methodism
The United Methodist Church traces its roots back to 1739 when John Wesley and his brother, Charles, began a rival movement within the Church of England. While studying at Oxford, the brothers and several other students formed a group devoted to disciplined Christian living known as the Holy Club. Outsiders labeled them “Methodists” to describe the odd, systematic spiritual exercises and methods of the Holy Club.
Influenced by the Moravians, the brothers Wesley began preaching an evangelistic message with an emphasis on conversion and holiness. Over time, the brothers were banned from preaching in most established pulpits in England. Dedicated to their mission, the Wesleys began preaching in homes, open fields, cemeteries—wherever they found an audience.
The Wesleys did not set out to create a new church, but instead to revitalize the Church of England through small groups. Soon, however, Methodism spread to America. In 1771, at a gathering of Methodist ministers, John Wesley asked, “Our brethren in America call aloud for help. Who are willing to go over and help them?” Francis Asbury, an English-born local lay preacher for Methodist meetings, volunteered.
Methodism in The Lehigh Valley
Francis Asbury traveled 270,000 miles in America, preached over 16,500 sermons, and ordained more than 4,000 preachers. His journal recounts two visits to the Lehigh Valley area. In July of 1807, Asbury visited Bethlehem to observe the Moravians. He found a comfortable German community with a fine organ. He then recounts crossing the Lehigh River to Allentown, which he proclaimed to be “beautifully situated.”
In 1842, the Reverend John Boyle of Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) began preaching in the Lehigh Valley. His energies led to the formation of a Methodist Society in the home of the sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Muffley. They generously opened a small house behind their home on Walnut Street west of Ninth Street for services. Occasional meetings were held in this place. They then asked the Conference to assign a preacher.
Asbury Church’s Story
As membership began increasing, they moved into a house at Law and Linden Streets in 1844. In 1872, the Chew Street Methodist Episcopal Church (Calvary) building was completed. By the 1900s, the Calvary congregation continued to grow, and the church purchased a new site at Hamilton and Jefferson Streets (where the Allentown Library currently stands). With this purchase, the Linden Street congregation agreed to merge with the Calvary congregation at the new location. The cornerstone was laid in 1921, and on October 1, 1922, the building, named for Francis Asbury, was dedicated.
Asbury continued to flourish in Allentown, but as the church was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1972, the church was destroyed by a fire on October 22. In the aftermath, the congregation decided to move to a new location at Springhouse Road and Walbert Avenue, where ground was broken for the new church building in 1974. The move to this location helped Asbury to grow even more which allowed them to add additional worship services and facilities.
Today, Asbury Church continues to thrive at 1533 Springhouse Road in Allentown, offering multiple worship services with varied styling elements as well as many different programs for children, youth, and adults. It is through our mission and ministries, both inside and beyond our walls, that we will continue to live out our purpose of leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.