Wesley UM Church to celebrate 150 years of Methodism Saturday and Sunday

For the last 150 years, Methodism has been an integral part of Tyrone.
To celebrate those 150 years, special services are planned for this weekend, including guest speaker Rev. Brian Fetterman, who was pastor at Wesley UM from 1987-1988. Fetterman will speak at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service.
There will also be a dinner Saturday night with Tyrone’s Richard Searer acting as host and master of ceremonies. During the dinner, short videos of past services will be shown, and singing will be provided by the children’s choir.
Also, there will be past photos of the church and local Methodism faith celebration on display throughout the church.
The following information was provided to The Daily Herald by current pastor, Charles A. Fitzgerald.
American Methodism began with 316 people who were recorded as the people who made up “circuit number 50 – America” in the year 1770. By 1784, Methodism was on its way to being a large part of the fabric of American life. The Christmas Conference of 1784, in Baltimore, opened the door for Methodism in America and the church began to grow with great speed and effectiveness.
In 1852, now 150 years ago, the population of the United States was about 24 million people. Membership in the Methodist fellowship of Christians stood at about 1.3 million. In other words, about 1 out of every 20 Americans was a Methodist. In Tyrone in 1852, the ration of Methodists to the general population was probably even higher.
Just 80 years after Methodism came to America, the first Methodist Class Meeting was taking place at the home of William Burley on Logan Avenue on Dec. 5, 1852.
Plumber Waters preached the first sermon to the church family in 1852 at the City Hotel. Records show that worship then took place for many years at the building at Washington Avenue above 12th Street. The First Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1856 and was dedicated by Bishop Waugh. This church building had two floors, with Sunday School classes and other class meetings being on the first floor. Light was by oil lamps. The organ was a “parlor organ.”
On April 25 in 1857, the Rev. R.W. Black baptized Charlotte Elizabeth Wood Leber in this first church. Apparently, Rev. Black was the first “regularly appointed” circuit rider to be stationed for Tyrone…the area around Tyrone being served by various circuit riders week-to-week.
As the congregation grew to nearly 350 members, a lot was purchased at the corner of Logan Avenue and 12th Street (the vacant lot to the west of the present church, across from the new parking lot) for the purpose of building a new church. The cost of the new church, all things included, was $23,000.
By 1920, the First Methodist Episcopal Church was showing a membership of nearly 1,000. Familiar words told of the commitment of the members: Sunday school, Epworth league, Junior League, Young Ladies Aid Society, Mystic Circle, Olive Branch, Foreign Missionary Society, The Wesleyan Society, and The Queen Esthers.
In 1927, construction began on a “modern” Sunday school building on 12th Street (our current education.) The cost would be $95,000. The building provided the room for many social fellowship events, as well as the regular meeting of the Sunday school class. If the walls could speak, what a story they would tell of children on their way to being Christians under the watchful eyes and tender hands of hundreds of former Sunday school teachers and nursery workers. Pictures displayed at worship will tell part of the story.
In 1940, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Epsicopal Church (South), and the Methodist Protestant Church were united nationwide to form The Methodist Church. Here, it became, of course, First Methodist Church.
Then, in 1968, Methodists were united with their United Brethren family members (the traditions shared common roots and common early leaders) to form the United Methodist Church.
In the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, there was a problem. What do you do when there is a town with a “first” Methodist Church and also a “first” United Brethren Church? How can they both be “first”?
It was decided that across the conference, the churches involved in these kinds of “firsts” and “seconds” would have to choose a new name.
The folks here chose “Wesley.” The United Brethren Church in Tyrone became the new “Christ United Methodist Church.” The loss of “first” was probably a good idea in that Scripture admonishes that “the first shall be last.”
By 1963, Wesley was at worship in a new sanctuary after the condemnation of the previous church structure in 1958. A new parsonage on Clay Avenue was built at the same time. We still remember and respect the vision and hard work it must have taken to begin and complete these new projects. We enjoy the fruit of o much labor…a labor of love.
Wesley established itself as one of the most influential churches in the Altoona District and within the Annual Conference. Wesley was recognized by many for its excellent program, choirs and fellowship. The pastors at Wesley were respected church leaders (Bucke, Cummings, Brubaker, Hopkins, Sherwood and Thomas.) The people of Wesley worked countless hours to establish their church as a place of worship and fellowship. They worked well.
As with all churches in the conference, the “golden years” of the 1950s and 1960s are now well past. Church choirs no longer welcome 60 children and 40 adults. Churches built to hold 500 people now greet 100.
Tyrone reflects this trend and Wesley feels the grief of these changes, too.
The current membership (about 203) now stands at less than the membership of the church in 1880. As the church looks to the future, one of the greatest concerns is to find future members for the family that has stood the test of time for 150 years. It will honor the work of those who have gone before us by taking up the cross of Christ in new generations with new names and faces.
Wesley has just completed six years of work at Logan Avenue and 12th Street. Thanks to a wonderful gift from the estate of James F. Kirk, a gift dedicated in 2000, and from other estate gifts and church offerings, Wesley has been able to accomplish renovations and improvements totaling more than $1.1 million. Wesley has added two parking lots, renovated the church with total replacements of heating and electrical systems, cleaned and repaired the stone exterior of the church, painted the sanctuary, placed a new roof on the sanctuary, renovated the kitchen, added stained glass windows and other memorial gifts, and so much more.
When people worship at Wesley, they know that others are with them in spirit. The caring and love of all those who have gone before us is still present in every hymn and prayer.
Sermons still echo with the voices of faithful preachers past. Children’s voices still fill the rooms where so many children spoke before. God still has work and blessing for Wesley United Methodist Church.
As with any history, there are important things that have happened that are not recorded here. There are important people not mentioned. Then again, the history of any church remembers that it is not about “us” and it is “about God.”
In closing, Pastor Fitzgerald offered these words:
“We are a caring and committed church in the autumn of 2003 – as we celebrate our 150 years a year late because of the major renovation of our church that limited us to two rooms for all intents and purposes in 2002-2003,” he said. “We have very gracious and talented people here. We have lovely children.
“We have members who are older and wiser and who can easily recall much of the history here. These ‘senior’ members are a blessing to us still and provide us with grace and stability.
“We are a church open to all through Food Bank, Counseling Clinic, worship, dinners, mission work, and more. Our charity and caring reach around the world.
“Wesley United Methodist Church is a wonderful place to be in Christ. May God bless us all.”