From The Centennial History of Camden Methodism, 1909
1809 was truly the “annus mirabilis.” That year chronicles the advent of the immortal Alfred Tennyson, the never-to-be-forgotten Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Grand Old Man, William Ewart Gladstone, and the best type of American manhood that ever lived — Abraham Lincoln.
These facts alone would have made 1809 a wonderful year. But the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Camden must have its share of glory in that great epoch.
In April, 1809, the Holy Spirit led the Rev. Richard Sneath, who traveled the Gloucester circuit, to organize a class in the unpretentious village of Camden, then familiarly known as “Billy Cooper’s Ferry.” James Duer, a member of Saint George Methodist Episcopal Church, of Philadelphia, having moved to Camden, was chosen the leader of the class. Seven persons constituted the class: James and Elizabeth Duer, Henry and Susanna Sawn, William and Martha Price and Phebe Peters. Hence we — “See how great a flame aspires, Kindled by a spark of grace.”
The first settlers of Camden were Friends, who built a meeting house on Mt. Vernon street in 1801, This building stands intact to-day, and doubtless the Camden Historical Society will safeguard and preserve it to posterity.
The Methodist Episcopal Church preceded all other denominations, save the Friends, by at least eight years. The Baptists were the next to follow as workers in the Lord’s vineyard in Camden.
When this regiment of the Lord’s army known as Methodists camped at Billy Cooper’s Ferry, there was no barrack for their shelter. In a certain sense they had to bivouac on the Lord’s battlefield. However, God is ever mindful of His own, and consequently better things were provided for these heroic few.
Having secured the use of the old academy, Sixth and Market streets, they had the beginning of a church home. Here every alternate Wednesday night the Gospel was preached, and every Thursday night prayer meeting was held. But at once satanic opposition to the Methodists was manifest. There was an unsuccessful attempt to oust this little band from the academy as their headquarters.
But as it was written of God’s people in ancient times: “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye,” so likewise these emissaries of his Satanic majesty suffered the recoil of their own action, and God’s people remained in the academy until they could build for themselves more favorable quarters.
When this little handful of people conceived the idea of building a church they undertook a Herculean task. But being possessed of an indomitable courage and an invincible zeal their efforts were crowned with great success. Great obstacles had to be surmounted when they launched this project of building a church. An attempt was made to purchase a lot from an old woman nearly a hundred years old. But this old antagonist to the Methodists determined no lot of her land should be sold for the erection of a Methodist Episcopal church thereon. And when she was besought to sell the lot she exclaimed, with all the vehemence of her nature : “No, no, the Methodists are only a nuisance here; they shall have no lot from me to build on.”
However, in November, 1809, a lot was purchased from Josiah Cooper, at the northwest corner of Fourth and Federal streets. The price paid for this lot was $70, and the deed was drawn by the venerable Josiah Atkinson. Every brother took a subscription paper to collect funds for the house. And so successful were they that on November 25, 1810, a wooden structure thirty feet square was dedicated to the service of Almighty God as the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Camden. Rev. James Totten, being the Presiding Elder, conducted the dedicatory service. This church attracted great attention.
The service of dedication was indeed a great one. Several joined the church by certificate that day, and the effects of the service were profoundly felt by the community.
James Duer, John Petherbridge, Henry Sawn and William Price were the first trustees elected. On March 1, 1810, the trustees authorized John Petherbridge to transact the entire business of the church. He purchased materials, paid the bills and managed the whole affair. He and James Duer were so indefatigable in their solicitations for money that by the year 1812 the entire cost of the structure was paid. Thus the early Methodists of Camden set all succeeding generations an example of possessing churches free of all financial encumbrance.
This house so wonderfully dedicated to the service of the Lord, like Solomon’s temple, was filled with the glory of the Lord. A “watch night” service was held in the new church on New Year’s eve. For some reason unaccountable, they were having a dull time. About 10 o’clock some of the older brethren suggested that they “break up and go home.” But James Duer cried, “No, brethren, that will not do, let us pray again.” Phebe Peters was called upon to pray. The heavens bent, the windows of God’s power house were opened and the baptism of the Holy Spirit fell upon the entire congregation, and the church seemed to be filled with the Divine Presence and the members’ hearts overflowed with love and joy. The meeting did not “break up” till nearly daylight. From this time on the church progressed in strength, and gradually increased in numbers.
So marked was the progress of the church that in 1818 it became necessary to build side galleries thereto, in order to accommodate the people. Though this alteration was a considerable expense, nevertheless, the people gave so cheerfully that this cost was also met in its entirety.
In 1819 the progressive spirit of these Methodists was clearly seen. Then a camp meeting project seized them. In July, of that year, James Duer was authorized to collect money for this purpose. This he did to the amount of $53. This tent was taken to the woods, and the first camp meeting in the State of New Jersey was instituted by the Methodists of Camden.
Those who left their homes for this camp meeting did not go to be idle, nor for “a frolic,” nor for a “feast.” They took a few bundles of straw and blankets for beds, cold ham and bread or crackers for their food. But the days and nights of the camp meeting were periods of isolation from the detracting and distracting world, and seasons of being face to face with God. Here was where souls were converted, backsliders reclaimed and believers built up in their most holy faith.
In the early history of this church, a number of times great tidal waves of Pentecostal influence swept through the church and over the community. A very remarkable revival occurred during the administration of Father Walker — 1832 and 1833. During the summer of 1832 that dreadful scourge, the cholera, prevailed in Philadelphia, Camden and various other places. The people, standing face to face with death, were susceptible to the influence of gospel preaching. The preachers declared the whole counsel of God and thousands were saved by Divine grace. During this revival one night a great display of Divine power was exhibited. “When the mourners were invited to the altar they crowded up, of all ages and both sexes, until the large altar was filled in lines three deep.
They were then separated by placing benches in different parts of the house, so that all were accommodated. The whole house was like a battlefield — the slain of the Lord lay all over the house! Shouts of praise and cries of ‘power, fire and glory,’ ‘hallelujah,’ filled the house with sounds which must have been awful to the wicked.” This description by one whose name is not known, clearly shows how the arm of the Lord was revealed among the Methodists of Camden.
Originally, the whole State of New Jersey was one district, and belonged to the Philadelphia Conference. Afterwards the State was divided into two districts. The whole of West Jersey embraced what was called the West Jersey District. James Totten was Presiding Elder of this district. The town of Camden was included in the Gloucester circuit of this district, and, as already stated, Richard Sneath was Preacher-in-charge of that circuit. Later the Burlington Circuit was formed, of which Camden was a part.
In the spring of 1833 Rev. Edward Page was appointed senior preacher of what was known then as the Camden Circuit. Rev. D. W. Bartine was the junior preacher. By the Christian co-operation of these two preachers a great work was accomplished. In the autumn of that year a revival broke out, continuing for six weeks, when about one hundred were added to the church. Then it was decided that Camden should not be on the circuit, but should be a charge by itself. Rev. D. W. Bartine was retained as the preacher, and this eloquent young man had the honor of becoming the first pastor of “Camden Station.” This responsible position Brother Bartine continued to sustain until the Conference of 1834, when, according to the time limit, he received another appointment.
Then Rev. William Granville was appointed to Camden Station. Steamboat and railroad facilities had now brought many people hither. With the influx of the population there had been added a great deal of strength, numerical and financial, to the church. Mr. Granville was just the man to lead the people at this period of time. There was a cry: “We must build a new church!”
Consequently the time was ripe for such action. The preacher in charge was a splendid general. He led this host from victory unto victory.
A lot of ground on the S. W. corner of 3rd Street and Taylor Avenue, between Bridge Avenue and Federal Street, was purchased. The old church and lot was sold for $775, and subscriptions taken to make up the sum of thousands! Then a splendid brick structure 45 by 55 feet, with wide galleries on the two sides and front end, was built. There was also a basement in which a large room was equipped for Sunday-school work. The pulpit platform was neatly carpeted, the church nicely illuminated. The whole church within and without was such an ornament to the community that it is safe to say, “There was great joy in the city.” The aged members, who had witnessed the consecration of their first temple, built of wood 30 feet square, in the year of 1810, now had their mouths filled with laughter and their hearts with joy as they beheld in the year 1834 the dedication of this splendid brick temple of such mammoth proportions. When this church was dedicated the Presiding Elder was the Rev. R.W. Petherbridge, a son of John and Mary Petherbridge, whose names will never die in connection with Camden Methodism. Of course this was a great service. The congregation was immense, the singing delightful, and the preaching worthy of the occasion. The administration of Mr. Granville was, for a greater part of the time, very prosperous. His praiseworthy efforts obtained for him a large share of the esteem and confidence of the members of his charge and of the Annual Conference.
In fact, the entire community highly respected him. But during the second year of his charge in Camden he became dissatisfied, withdrew from the charge, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Subsequently he united with the Protestant Episcopal Church, where he became an acceptable minister.
In the spring of 1842, at the close of Rev. J. K. Shaw’s pastorate, a great event took place in the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Camden. For the first time the New Jersey Annual Conference assembled in this church. Bishop Waugh was the presiding officer, and W. C. Hudson was the secretary. The scene at the close of the Conference is described as a very pathetic one. Bishop Waugh, as a servant of God, addressed the hearts and consciences of his fellow laborers in the vineyard in such a way as to prepare them to accept the appointments they were about to receive with Christian resignation. Each went to his field of labor with renewed zeal and quickened faith. And Camden Methodism, for the first time, felt the sweet, salutary influence of an Annual Conference. And every home that entertained these servants of God felt the blessing they had received was far in excess of the labor it had cost. At that Conference Rev. John L. Lenhart was appointed to the Camden station, and under his ministry the work of God grew and prevailed.
A bird’s eye view of the Mother of Camden Methodism reveals the fact that she has sheltered her children under the protecting wings of four church edifices. The original edifice was built and dedicated November, 1810. It was located on Fourth and Federal streets. The second structure was located on Third street and Taylor avenue. It was dedicated December 14, 1834. It was totally destroyed by fire on November 20, 1867. The third building, known as Third Street Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of Third and Mickle streets, was erected in 1868. The lecture room was opened December 30, 1868. The church was dedicated September 2, 1869. On account of so much noise, consequent to so much railroad traffic, a more favorable location became a necessity. Hence this property was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, for the sum of $65,000, and a handsome lot on the corner of Sixth and Stevens streets was purchased for the new church. A handsome edifice was erected thereon. The lecture room was opened in June and the church was dedicated October 21, 1893. The present property of this Mother church, which is so delightful for situation, beautiful for architecture, well planned for work and worship, is estimated to be worth $150,000. On this property there is not a cent of indebtedness.
In March, 1894, the mortgage on this new church building, which was dedicated October 21, 1893, was $47,378. Since then a handsome organ, costing $6,500 was purchased. $1,000 was received for the old organ, leaving a net cost of $5,500. Hence since 1894 the entire debt has been $52,878. There has been paid on this debt, interest aggregating more than $23,000. Therefore, in debt and interest this church has paid $75,878 during the last fifteen years. The mortgage was cancelled on March 1st, 1909, and a service of great rejoicing was held in the church March 7. Surely the members of First Church can say: “The Lord hath done great things for us whereof we are glad.”
The history of First Church can never be properly written without special mention of several of her pastors. Rev. Abram K. Street, familiarly known as “Father Street,” stands high on the roll of honor. He entered the ministry of the New Jersey Conference, 1831, was translated to Glory, August 15, 1898 — 91 years of age — after having been fifty years in the effective work of the ministry and after having been sixty-seven years a minister of the Gospel of the Son of God. When Rev. John K. Shaw was Presiding Elder, Rev. A. K. Street was pastor. And through the instrumentality of “Father Street,” with the co-operation of his Presiding Elder, the remaining debt on the church was entirely cancelled.
Hence by his ministry First Church took a great step forward in being free of all encumbrance. His entire pastorate has written his name among the best ministers of this charge.
Rev. Charles H. Whitecar was twice pastor of this church. During his first pastorate, November 20, 1867, the second church was totally destroyed by fire. Under the leadership of this great minister, after consultation with James M. Cassady, of beloved memory, and a man always abounding in the work of the Lord, a meeting of the officials was called that very night. Thus while the ruins were smoldering, they determined to erect a new building and at once opened subscriptions for that purpose. During the time of the erection of the new church edifice, the Sunday services were held in a hall at Fourth and Arch streets, and the prayer meeting was held in the Second Presbyterian Church. Dr. Whitecar was such an eloquent preacher, that in his palmy days he could draw a large congregation anywhere. Consequently there could have been no one more eminently fitted for holding together the congregation under such trying circumstances than he. He was the right man in the right place. And to this very day there are many who testify to his persuasive eloquence during both of his pastorates. It was very proper, therefore, that the minister who led the host in the building of Third Street Methodist Episcopal Church and then after a few years was again appointed pastor of the same charge, should have his funeral service conducted in the church wherein God had made him a great blessing to the people. On the day of that solemn occasion Third Street Church was thronged with people. Though he had been seven years a supernumerary, nevertheless, he was not forgotten.
The fearless, invincible Rev. Jacob B. Graw, D. D., like Dr. Whitecar, had two pastorates in this church. He was the man who, like John Knox, “never feared the face of clay.” He set his face as flint against wrong, and like his Lord and Saviour, denounced the wrong-doer in scathing terms. His preaching was with such marked ability that even his opposers were constrained to hear his messages. Hence the Mother Church had large congregations during his pastorates.
Too much praise cannot be given him for the successful negotiation with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for the Third Street property at the price of $65,000. His great part in connection with the committee in selecting this present site whereon now stands our splendid church, evinces rare judgment and wisdom. Surely his services to this church were of invaluable importance.
Therefore, while it is true that he now “rests from his labors,” nevertheless in our midst, “his works do follow him.”
During the century, this Mother Church has had sixty-five different pastors and sixty-eight pastorates. Revs. Joseph Ashbrook, Charles H. Whitecar and Jacob B. Graw each having had two appointments to this charge.
A great deal could be said about every one of these men of God but space will not permit it. Rev. Henry Boehm lived to he more than 100 years old and on his centennial anniversary preached a sermon. Rev. John L. Lenhart, went into the navy as a Chaplain and during the early days of the great civil war went down with the ill-fated Cumberland. Rev. Samuel Y. Monroe met his death by falling from a train.
The following is a list of the pastors who have served this church, in the order as they served :
Richard Sneath, Thomas Dunn, Charles Reed, Peter Vannest, Joseph Oshorn, Thomas Davis, John Woolston, George Wooley, John Price, Joseph VanSchaick, Joseph Rusling, James Moore, Joseph Lybrant, John Fox, Solomon Sharp, David Best, John Walker, James Long, John Potts, Benjamin Collins, Sylvester G. Hill, Walters Burroughs, Joseph Carey, Rohert Lutton, David Dailey, Jacob Gruber, Wesley Wallace, Robert Gerry, Thomas Sovereign, Henry Boehm, William W. Foulks, Levi M. Prettyman, Samuel Throckmorton, Joseph Ashbrook, John Walker, Jefferson Lewis, Edward Page, William Granville, Thomas Neal, James Dandy, Joseph Ashbrook, John K. Shaw, John L. Lenhart, Issac Winner, Abram K. Street, David W. Bartine, Charles H. Whitecar, Isaac N. Felch, Richard W. Petherbridge, James O. Rogers, John McDougal, W. E. Perry, Elwood H. Stokes, Samuel Y. Monroe, Joseph B. Dobbins, Samuel Vansant, Charles H. Whitecar, John S. Heisler, Charles E. Hill, Charles R. Hartranft, Jacob B. Graw, William W. Moffett, George B. Wight, John R. Westwood, Jacob B. Graw, John Handley, Wesley A. Hunsberger and Holmes F. Gravatt.
Of these sixty-five pastors, there are only five who survive, namely : Revs. W. W. Moffett, G. B. Wight, John Handley, W. A. Hunsberger, and the present incumbent, Holmes F. Gravatt. The others have passed from labor to reward and of them this mother church declares:
Servants of God, well done! Your glorious warfare’s past; The battle’s fought, the race is run, And you are crowned at last.”
The great success of this church is due to the faithfulness of her laity. Surely no church ever had a nobler band of “laborers together with God” than have always been found here. While it is impossible to mention them all in this history, nevertheless, it is highly appropriate to name those who represented the entire laity during the erection of the different church edifices.
When the first church was built in 1810, James Duer, John Petherbridge, Henry Sawn, and William Price supervised the work. It is true, however, that John Petherbridge was their agent for the transaction of the entire business. Nevertheless, these men represented the whole church.
When the second structure was erected, in 1834, the following men were trustees and had the oversight of the building: John R. Cowperthwaite, Edward Daugherty, Isaac McDowell, Andrew Jenkins, Andrew Sweeten, Isaiah Toy and John Duer. Before the church was completed, Sweeten, Jenkins and Duer resigned. Edward Kaighn, Riley Barrett and William Balser succeeded them.
During the construction of the third house of worship the Building Committee was composed of men whose devotion to duty lingers with us yet. They were : S. S. E Cowperthwaite, James M. Cassady, Thomas B. Atkinson, Morton Mills and E. S. Johnson,
Ten were on the Building Committee during the time the present temple was built, and while only a few years since they attended so faithfully to the duties that were theirs, relative to supervision, yet out of these ten, there are only three on this side — seven having passed over to be forever with their Lord. Their names speak for themselves — their lives were and are their own best eulogies.
The committee was composed as follows: Daniel H. Erdman chairman; S. S. E. Cowperthwaite, Dr. Melbourne F. Middleton, Frank S. Wells, Jonathan Duffield, Dr. William Shafer, secretary; Dr. W. A. Davis, Samuel Robbins, William C. Kean, Rev. J. B. Graw, D.D.
When there was a determined effort to wipe out our entire indebtedness before our Centennial, God very graciously gave us two men, who in this respect were indeed masters in the church. Dr. William Shafer and Brother W. A. Colescott planned and prayed for this great achievement. But very suddenly one morning, Dr. Shafer “was not for God had took him.” This for a time being but somewhat of discouragement in our way. But God certainly laid his hand on Brother Colescott and he was obedient to the divine touch and by prayer, plan and ceaseless endeavor, in twenty-nine months this man led in a financial campaign whereby the entire balance of the debt, $25,000, and the interest during that time, of $2,400, and the snug sum of over $1,200 for improvements, were raised. That was nearly an average of $1,000 per month for twenty-nine months, besides paying every item of current expense. The enthusiasm of this layman, with the energetic shout of the people: “We must hold up Brother Colescott’s hands,” did the work.
Music has always had a large place in Methodism. On the wings of song many souls, through the agency of Methodism, have mounted up to the very presence of God. First Church has never lacked in this respect. She has had the best organs and the best choirs. Then she has been enabled, through the generosity of a friend, to have chimes in her steeple that has pealed forth her music to the multitudes that walk the streets. Every Sabbath and every national holiday these bells chime forth their music. Here is an illustration of the great good accomplished through these chimes: One Sunday evening a husband and wife sat in their ‘home playing cards. The bells chimed out:
“Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee !”
Immediately the wife arose and said: “I’ll play no more cards.” They then agreed to go to church. Revival services were in progress at Broadway. They went to that church, yielding to the entreaties of the Holy Spirit. They were converted and lived a consistent life by faith in the Son of God. Not long since the husband went home to heaven and his wife, now surviving, declares that hymn chimed out that Sunday night led them at the feet of Jesus. Hence First Church and in fact the entire Methodism of Camden expresses unbounded gratitude to Mr. George Holl for this magnificent gift, in honor of his mother and to the cause of the Lord.
The Sunday School has been the recruiting station for this church, as it is for all churches. Hence on the roll of honor are emblazoned the names of all our Sunday School workers. Among them special mention must be made of the Superintendents. The following is the list: —
Edward L. Daugherty, Reiley Barrett, Benjamin A. Hammell, Hampton Williams, Charles Cox, Clayton Truax, Joseph De La Cour, David W. Bartine, Joshua Peacock, Morton Mills, Oliver M. Smith, James M. Cassady, Samuel Russell, James M. Peacock. Harry LaDow, Dr. William Shafer Charles Meves, A. K. Roberts, W. F. Kilgore, William C. Lore, Dr. William Shafer, Charles E. Graham, Robert T. Lee and C. Harold Lowden.
The work of the Sunday School in this church can never be properly written without mention of the invaluable service of Jennie T. King. For 37 years she was Superintendent of the Primry Department. Her devotion to her duty and her zeal to this cause made for her a large place in the hearts of both the children and parents. She had the privilege of having under her care children who passed out of her department through the other departments of the Sunday School, married and sent their children back to the same Primary Department through which these parents passed. Her long service gave her a grip on so many homes in the community that her name was like precious ointment poured forth in those families. And now while she rests from her labors, her works do certainly follow her. And though translated to the Glory Land, yet she continually speaks in her blessed influence, which will continue here to the end of time, and still live throughout the timeless state of eternity.
It is appropriate also to know the officiary of this church upon whom devolve very grave responsibilities. They are men who doubtless have the interest of our Zion at heart. Their names speak for themselves:
Official Board and Members of the Quarterly Conference of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, meets first Monday evening of each month.
District Superintendent, Rev. S. M. Nichols, Ph. D., Camden, N. J.
Pastor, Rev. H. F. Gravatt, 309 South Sixth Street.
Rev. W. A. Hunsberger. D. D., Instructor, Dickinson College.
Local Deacon, Rev. C. T. Fisler, 585 Mickle street.
Local Elder, Rev. James B. Nixon, Collingswood, N. J.
Financial Secretary, C. K. Morris, 428 Broadway.
Treasurer, Harry C. Archer, 219 South Sixth Street.
Secretary of Official Board, A. Lincoln Severns, 329 Washington Street.
Local Preachers — J. Howard Kirkbride, James L. Crawford
Exhorters — Charles Meves, John L. Bray, Isaac S. Walton.
Trustees — W. A. Colescott, President; G. Frank Davis, Dr. W. A. Davis, M. F. Ivins, H. C. Archer, Secretary and Treasurer; P. H. Powell, Samuel Robbins, Capt. L. B. Shaw, William B. Castor.
Class Leaders — John L. Bray, Isaac S. Walton, Mrs. Frank H. Powell, Frank H. Rice.
Sunday School Superintendent, C. Harold Lowden
President of Epworth League, Dr. Stanley Ironsides.
Superintendent of Junior League, Mrs. Leon A. Goff.
President of Ladies’ Aid Society, Mrs. Frank S. Wells
Stewards — Robert T. Lee, Recording steward; Robert W. Meves, District steward ; Henry Reeves, Alternate ; Dr. F. William Shafer, Dr. Cromwell Ironsides, Powell G. Fithian, Charles S. Lewis, Leon A. Goff, Charles K. Morris, Joseph Driver, Joseph H. Murray, Robert A. Batchelor, Dr. Albert B. Davis, Charles E. Graham, John Hollopeter, A. L. Severns, Frank Ellis, Elias E. Truax, Frank H. Rice, John D. Collins, E. S. Mosley.
Finance Committee — Robert T. Lee, President; C. K. Morris, Secretary; H. C. Archer, Treasurer; P. G. Fithian. A. L. Severns, Frank H. Rice.
Then also this Mother Church is not forgetful of those who were members of her flock, but now are ministers of the Gospel of the Son of God. Two veterans of the cross, members of the New Jersey Conference must be especially mentioned: Rev. Thos. S. Wilson and Rev. Edwin Waters. This Mother, on her Centennial Anniversary offers to these faithful and noble sons her most hearty congratulations. And now while — because of years — these sons have been compelled to lay aside the activities of the ministry, yet it is a pleasure to know that their lives are benedictions to those with whom they come in contact.
Among those who bowed at her altar and found Jesus Christ, their Lord and Saviour, and are now engaged in the active work of the ministry are Revs. Charles H. Elder, Edward Mount, Isaac Woodward, Orville S. Duffield and Samuel B. Goff, Jr.
The Choir of the Mother Church should have more than a passing mention. Among the most proficient leaders in the musical world have been her choristers. While every one of them have been men of marked ability and of great service to the church, yet, without uttering a word that may seem in the least invidious to any, it can be truthfully said, for efficiency in service and devotion to duty, the present organist and chorister, Professor Powell G. Fithian, has not been excelled. By his suggestion and under his direction a vested choir made its appearance in this church. At first this innovation met with somewhat of objection. But its utility and common sense so commends itself to the public that now it would he a very difficult matter to have the “vested choir” removed.
There are some things so commendatory in this, that they should not be overlooked. There is a uniformity of dress and no hats worn by the ladies. Hence the poorest of the poor, if there be a voice to sing, can enter this choir without any thought of distinction in dress. And those who hitherto have been kept out of this musical circle simply because they could not afford to buy fine clothes, now can sing for their Lord without any thought of embarrassment. This choir consists of about 80 voices, and their part in the worship of the Lord is indeed a very important one. In the regular service and in special revival efforts, they lead souls, on the wings of song, to the very presence of the Most High. Their religious service of song one night, during the Centennial Jubilee can never be forgotten. Their faithfulness to duty has the gratitude of the entire church and a number of times the Official Board has given testimonials to the choir, showing their great appreciation of this invaluable organization.
Then also the young men of the Mother Church have been and are still abundant in labors for God. For a long while Brother Frank S. Wells had charge of the ushering. Under his direction the young men were chosen as ushers. And with his careful eye everything went harmoniously. His selection of ushers were wise and his devotion to duty was without alloy. The Official Board felt that everything was perfectly safe entrusted to the care of this servant of God. But by the suggestion of Brother Wells, himself, authorized by the Official Board, an Ushers’ Union was organized. No one was more interested in this organization than the man who for a long while had had sole charge of directing the ushers. He was so anxious to have the organization perfected. Hence the night before he was translated, February 17, 1908, the organization was completed. He was present and seemed in perfect health. The young men would listen to no name for President but Frank S. Wells. He left the church about 10 o’clock, went to his home, attended to business the next day and seemed in perfect health and after reaching home from his place of business, delightfully happy, in an instant, at about 4 o’clock, God said: ”Frank S. Wells, you have finished the work I gave you to do,” and immediately he stepped in the eternal presence of God. But his spirit still lingers with the young men and his example is imitated by them. C. Harry Archer was chosen to succeed Brother Wells, and now this noble band of young men are doing great work for God and the church in devoted zeal and energy in this work.
Thus what a history is the history of this Mother Church. She began the century with a little band of seven. Now, including the communicants of her daughters and grand daughters there is a membership of 7,000 Methodists in Camden. Jesus spoke a parable of a sower; who sowed seed upon good ground, “that brought forth some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, some thirty fold.” But the greatest rate of increase as illustrated by this parable was the hundred fold or 10,000 per cent, increase. But the Methodism of Camden during a century has had a greater increase. A gain of 7,000 members means a 700,000 per cent, increase. Consequently the words of Jesus have been verified : ‘ ‘The works that I do shall ye do also and greater works than these shall ye do ; because I go to the Father.”
When that little coterie of seven people organized their class in April, 1809, then Camden had no Methodist church. In fact, Camden had no church building — save the Friends’ Meeting House. But now the Methodism of this city has $550,000 of equity in church property. This Mother Church, with her daughter, Broadway, only four squares apart, have properties whose combined value is at least $300,000. Upon these properties there is no debt.
Out of the home of First Church have gone loyal children to set up church homes for themselves. And by their spiritual devotion and consecrated earnestness in the Kingdom of our Lord, they rise up and call their Mother blessed.
The first child of this Mother is her daughter, “Union,” located at Mount Vernon and Fifth streets. Her more than seventy-five years of Christian service speaks eloquently for her. Beside this she has sent her daughters, Trinity, Kaighn Avenue, and Asbury out into the service of the Lord.
Broadway is the second daughter and after a life of more than fifty-five years she’s the strongest church numerically in the State. Wiley and Eighth Street are the children of Broadway and are favorably located for the extension of the Redeemer’s Kingdom.
Tabernacle is the third daughter and the fourth church building erected in Camden. She has done valiant service for God and has sent a strong, vigorous daughter into the field known as State Street Church.
The Centennial of American Methodism was properly celebrated in Camden when the Mother Church put her blessing upon some of her children and they set up a church on Fifth and Cooper streets, and named this daughter Centenary.
Bethany also belongs to the immediate family of the Mother Church, having begun her separate work more than a score of years ago at Tenth and Cooper streets.
St. George’s was organized under the leadership of J. H. Kirkbride, in 1894, and now is a commanding influence on the East Side.
Wesley is an adopted child from the Methodist Protestant Church, and now has a promising field of labor.
Bethel belonged originally to the Haddonfieid Circuit, but was organized into a society known as the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, February 11, 1843. In 1893, having moved within the city limits, she became an adopted daughter of Camden Methodism.
These churches will have their individual histories chronicled in this book. But the history of the First Church would be incomplete without mentioning her children and grand children of whom she is justly proud.
The membership of the Mother Church is about 1,000. The membership of the sixteen Methodist Episcopal churches is about 7,000. It is safe to multiply the membership of any church by three and thereby discover its constituency. The population of Camden is about 92,000 If the constituency of Methodism is 21,000, then Methodism sways nearly one-fourth of the moral and spiritual influence of the entire city. How glorious are our privileges and yet how solemn are our responsibilities!
Surely then the Mother Church has fought and is fighting the good fight and under her influence the Methodism of Camden enters the new century in experience clear as the sun; in reputation fair as the moon; in opposition to wrong as terrible as an army with banners.