United Methodists in West Chester in the 1800’s
Methodism first raised its voice, with an Irish brogue, in the borough of West Chester in 1810. In that year, William Hunter, an Irish Methodist preacher who often had traveled with Methodism’s founder John Wesley, spoke at West Chester’s old court house.
Other Methodist preachers made West Chester a regular stop on their preaching rounds. In 1816 the Methodists had gained sufficient members to build a one-story stone church at 143 West Gay Street. Thomas Ogden, a prominent layman, supervised the work of stone mason William Ingram. The church stood at the back of the lot, with stores facing Gay street. A school, with Cheyney Nields as its teacher, completed the group of buildings.
West Chester Methodists worshiped in this church until 1841 when a new, two-story brick structure, designed by Thomas U. Walter and constructed by Thomas Ingram, arose on the northeast corner of Market and Darlington streets. Sunday school and social rooms occupied the first floor and the sanctuary filled the second. To provide space for an expanding education program, additional facilities — planned by architect T. Roney Williamson — went up in 1886 at the rear of the original structure. A final remodeling of the Market and Darlington building, including installation of a pipe organ, occurred in 1896.
The Twentieth Century
By the early years of the twentieth century, West Chester’s Methodists acknowledged that they needed a new church. They purchased the home and land of I. Newton Wynn on the northeast corner of High and Barnard streets and engaged Philadelphia architect Wesley Lesher Blithe to prepare drawings. Laborers razed the Wynn mansion. Church officials broke ground for the present gothic style structure on July 1, 1916, during the pastorate (1912 – 1922) of the Rev. Jay Dickerson. Contractor Joseph M. Burns found his work on the stone building delayed by World War I. The new church, dedicated by Bishop Joseph F Berry, opened its doors to worshipers on June 29, 1919. The church counted 785 members and 980 Sunday school students.
A four story education building was added in 1961. This completed the present facilities, which have experienced a number of renovations. The Chapel and the Dickerson Lounge, named for Pastor Dickerson, appeared in 1958. 1990 witnessed the creation of a new chancel area in the sanctuary and a memorial garden adjacent to the playground of the United Methodist Children’s Center, which opened in 1986.
Through more than 175 years — the church celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1991 — the church has remained Methodist, but the denomination was changed its name several times. Beginning as a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, it became the Methodist Church of West Chester in 1939, and the United Methodist Church in 1968.
In 1998 the church developed a new vision/mission and reorganized to fulfill its mission. Today the mission of the church is to call, equip, send, and support people to share the faith (Matthew 28:16-20); celebrate the faith (Psalm 150); receive people as they are and connect them to the faith (Luke 18:15-17); develop people in the faith (Matthew 5-7); and send people to serve the faith (Luke 10:25-37).
In 1999, the congregation supported the development of a new congregation to serve the growing Latino population in the area. Today, the El Buen Samaritano United Methodist Church worships each Sunday in the West Chester Church.