The Old Radnor Methodist Church, part 3 – Christian Conference

It was in the same year that the old Radnor Meeting House was completed – 1784 – that the celebrated Christian Conference convened in Baltimore. At this Conference the Methodist Episcopal Church was actually formed after a letter from John Wesley had been read by Bishop Thomas Coke, who had been ordained by Wesley himself. By vote of the Conference, Bishop Ashbury, who was to have much to do with the little church on Methodist Hill in Radnor, was ordained. Preachers appointed for the circuit in which Radnor was situated were Leroy Cole, Joseph Cromwell and Jeremiah Lambert.

Bishop Ashbury has been called “the first organization genius of Methodism on the American continent”. In answer to a plea made in 1771 by John Wesley for volunteers to go to America. Francis Ashbury volunteered and shortly thereafter sailed from Bristol. Soon he had methodically arranged  his route over a circuit having Philadelphia as its center. One historian states that “often his (Ashbury’s) bodily strength was exhausted or weakened by disease, yet he preached two or three times a day . . . In those early days Ashbury’s consummate wisdom in distributing preachers and in sound administration methods was invaluable. No general ever stationed his troops with greater skill”.

In 1787 Bishop Ashbury in his Journal makes his first mention of Radnor–”July 2, 1787–on Monday, spoke to a few simple hearted souls at Radnor”. And again in 1791 we find in his Journal that the good Bishop dined at Radnor a few days later on his way to Philadelphia. It was several years later, ini June, 1804, that he told in the Journal of a mishap that befell his horse, “My little Jane” as he affectionately calls her.

“Saturday, June 2, 1804–I rode through the rain to the valley, twenty-eight miles . . . On the Sabbath Day I reached Radnor. Here my little Jane was horned by a cow and lamed. She is done, perhaps, forever for me; but it may all be for the best. I am unwell and the weather is bad, but, except for my feelings for the poor beast, I am peaceful and resigned. I am able to write, but not to preach on the Sabbath.”

An entry of August 7, 1805, states that “We set out and reached Radnor. We stopped to dine with Brother Gyger, and had a serious time at prayer, in his new house, which they are about to move into. We lodged with Daniel Meredith, an old disciple, in the valley. Thursday brought us to Sandersburg.”

Preachers such as Ashbury and those he appointed for the Radnor circuit are strikingly described in the booklet commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of “Old Radnor”. “Let us picture the Methodist preacher of these Revolution days. He wears a ‘shad-breasted’ coat, and a low crowned hat, usually white. He is without money, and as he goes forth does not expect to find either church or salary. After journeying until both he and his horse are famished, he stops at a house and is met cordially and invited to share the frugal meal. The dinner over, he begins to speak on the subject of salvation. Some listen from curiosity. Perhaps only one shows a real interest. But he seeks an opportunity to pray, and before the prayer is ended all feel that a strange, even an awful visitor has come among them. He sings a hymn, and as the plaintive strains rise on the air, all are impressed, and the children are fascinated. In such manner, reminiscent of the apostles of old, was the nucleus of Methodism founded.”

By 1785 the Methodist Church throughout the Philadelphia section had so increased is membership that its work was divided into three Annual Conferences. In that same year the office of Presiding Elder was originated. The first Presiding Elder under whose supervision Radnor came was Thomas Vasey, who had come to America with Bishop Coke. Among those who preached in Radnor at this time was William Penn Chandler, who was noted for his eloquence. Another famous man in early Methodist history, Joseph Everett, occupied the pulpit frequently. It is said that he began one of his sermons at Old Radnor by this statement: “It is just six weeks since I was here last, and some of you are six weeks nearer hell than you were then.”

During the years 1801-1803 repairs were made to the little log church and the graveyard that surrounded it that cost $161.40, a sum raised by subscriptions and collection though it was first advanced by the trustees. Some twenty years or more later the burying ground was enlarged by the purchase of one-fourth of an acre of ground, for which twenty-five dollars was paid. At that time, (article ends abruptly)