Friday, February 4, 2011

Ebenezer Methodist Church

The second incarnation of Ebenezer Church
 It's been a while since we've looked at an active congregation in a post, and since I've been focused a lot recently on the western part of our little corner of Delaware, I thought we'd focus now on one of the older churches in Mill Creek Hundred -- Ebenezer Methodist Church. Some people may not be familiar with this church, maybe because it's situated above much of the commotion of the busy southern corridor of the region. It may also be because, if you drove by it today, you'd have little reason to think that this was a particularly old congregation. The truth is, though, that Ebenezer is an old church hiding in a new building.

The roots of what would become Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church date back to the early days of the 19th Century, when the members of that faith in the area held meetings in private homes. These meetings were often led by itinerant Methodist missionaries, and it was these missionaries, along with the local help of Alexander Guthrie (who lived off of Paper Mill Road just north of Milford Crossroads), who were instrumental in the formation of the church. In 1824, the first Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed on the west side of Polly Drummond Hill Road, just south of Pleasant Hill and the Eastburn-Jeanes lime quarries and kilns. This first church measured 28' x 24', was built of stone, and had a gallery. There was no permanent pastor at the church at that time -- circuit pastors were provided every fourth Sunday by churches in neighboring hundreds. In between visits, though, the local congregants held prayer meetings, class meetings, and Sunday school lessons.

Try as they might, by the mid 1850's the little church was struggling. When the Methodist Conference met in Wilmington in 1855,  the Bishop wanted to close the little stone church. This is not all that surprising, considering that there were only six members at the time. At the behest of Alexander Guthrie's son Joseph, though, it was agreed that the church could stay open if its members could raise $25, which they did. About this time, the pastor who had been serving the church had to leave due to health reasons. In 1858, a new pastor arrived who seems to have turned around the history of this church.

The new pastor who arrived in March 1858 was Rev. James Brindle. The record doesn't indicate how long he stayed at Ebenezer, but he probably wasn't there long. Methodist preachers of the time seem to have moved quite frequently, and just from a brief search I found records of Brindle in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and several other churches in Delaware (Wilmington, Newark, and St. Georges). His stay in Mill Creek Hundred seems to have been very eventful, however. He quickly increased attendance at the church, and held revivals that featured capacity crowds. Actually, more than capacity crowds. They had so many worshippers in the 35 year old stone church that the floor began to give way, and the building was pronounced unsafe. A new, larger church would have to be built.

So in 1859, the old stone church was dismantled, and some of the stones were reused for the foundation of the new frame church. This second church (pictured above) was 35' x 50' and cost $2500. This church would be used for worship for over 115 years, and would stand for almost 140 years. The late 1800's was a time for growth for Ebenezer Methodist, as Scharf lists the membership in 1888 at 60, a healthy increase from the six of thirty years before. Some of the prominent families of the congregation included the Whitemans, Guthries, Chambers, Buckinghams, Harkness, and some of the Eastburns. Another new addition to the community's calendar was the Harvest Home picnic, first held in 1887. This was mentioned previously in the Carrie Nation post, and if I can find more about it, will be the topic of its own post. Briefly, though, it was originally begun as a temperance rally, but soon become more of a social event. It was held in several different locations, and lasted well into the 20th Century.

By 1897, Ebenezer had grown enough to to be made a separate appointment, which (I believe, and maybe someone can verify this) meant that a permanent, resident pastor was assigned to the church. For that reason, a parsonage was built near the church, and it would be home to the church's ministers until it was dismantled in 1968. The church continued to grow throughout the 20th Century, especially when suburbia began to creep closer in the post-war years. This church history (PDF) gives a more in-depth account of the later history of the church, for those interested. As soon as the congregation began to blossom in the 1950's, talk began of erecting a new, even larger church. This came to fruition in 1976, with the dedication of the new sanctuary that stands today.

Stained glass windows removed from the old church
For more than two decades, the old church continued to be put to use, housing Sunday school classes and a Korean United Methodist congregation. In 1998, however, church officials decided that upkeep on the old building was too costly, so the 139 year old church was torn down. It stood to the south of the new buildings, nestled between the cemetery and the road. An expansion of the parking lot now covers the site. All was not lost from the venerable church that served generations of worshipers, though. Eight stained glass windows were carefully removed, and rededicated in the new sanctuary. They hang as a beautiful reminder of the proud history of this nearly 200 year old congregation.

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