Wesley United Methodist Church to celebrate 240-year anniversary

– Wesley United Methodist Church on S. State St. in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — It seems like the Wesley United Methodist Church calls out to members of the Dover community several times each day as heart-warming music is transported from the carillon of the church that sits on State Street and rings across the city’s landscape.

While the welcoming, beautiful bell music that sings out to residents, workers and visitors as they stroll around Dover’s historic district, the church’s ultimate mission has run much deeper than that for more than two centuries.

In fact, Wesley UMC Senior Pastor Amy D. Yarnall, her staff and congregation are excited to share that mission — along with the church’s history — as it will celebrate the church’s 240th year anniversary this Sunday with a homecoming.

“We are excited,” Pastor Yarnall said. “We’re having a combined service at 10 o’clock. We are one of the oldest churches in Methodism, so it’s exciting and an honor to celebrate 240 years of ministry, of serving the community, of loving God and loving people.

Amy Yarnall, pastor of Wesley United Methodist church In Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“I’m a history buff, so I’ll admit that I just think it’s really cool to get to serve a church this old.”

Sunday’s homecoming celebration will include a reunion of church members, former members and former ministers. Everyone is welcome to be a part of the celebration.

A luncheon will be provided following Sunday’s service and church leaders are requesting interested members to submit a RSVP to the church office at 678-9626.

Becky Davis, music director for Wesley UMC, cannot wait to see some of the church’s history, in the form of former pastors and members, return to the church on Sunday.

“I am most excited about our church’s 240th anniversary,” she said. “So much planning has gone into this homecoming event and we are looking forward to people we have not seen in years returning and celebrating with us.”

Ms. Davis said the church normally has three separate church services every Sunday but decided to combine them all into one big celebration this week.

“The 240th Anniversary Committee has chosen to have one combined service on Sunday, so we can all celebrate our church and its history together,” said Ms. Davis. “I am sure we will raise the roof celebrating such a long and spiritual journey with God.”

History oozes from the sanctuary

One can get an instant sense of the church’s history just by walking into the sanctuary.

Inside the ship-inspired confines of Wesley United Methodist Church of Dover, with its tall wooden support beams that run from the floor to the ceiling that pair perfectly with its inspiring and colorful stained-glass windows, it is obvious that a lot of history has taken place on State Street over the course of 168 years at the church’s current location.

On its website, Wesley UMC Dover said that a first “permanent” Methodist Church in Dover was built in 1782 on land donated by Vincent Loockerman at the corner of North and Queen Streets.

Wesley United Methodist Church sanctuary. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

After many improvements to the old church, a new house of worship was considered by the mid-1800s.

With bricks from the old building, the present church on State Street was built with cornerstone laid on Sept. 23, 1850. Six years later, a three-story brick parsonage was constructed to the north.

Ms. Davis said she and church members need just walk through the doors to feel the power of history than runs throughout the structure.

“Our church building, although not the original building, is old and beautiful, with artistic-stained glass windows of the most cherished depictions of Jesus’ time on earth,” she said. “When I have brought my friends and relatives into the sanctuary of Wesley United Methodist Church, they gasp in surprise and awe at the beauty of our sanctuary.

“The history within these walls is a testament to God’s faithfulness to His believers.”

Service an opportunity to ‘jump on the train’

Pastor Yarnall said she will be touching on the church’s history and foundation throughout her message on Sunday morning.

“I’m going to share stories of our history and I’m going to talk about the ways that God has used this church through the years,” said Pastor Yarnall. “The image that I’m going to use is of a train that God sets in motion in which people get on and off over time.

“I had the privilege of climbing on the train when I got here in 2011 and together we get to see where God is taking us and go on that adventure through God’s kingdom.”

Wesley United Methodist church pastor Amy Yarnall (left) with congregation members (from left) Becky Davis, Larry and Donna Josefowski, Alex Vaughan and Connie Strickland. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Ms. Davis said that music will also be a large part of Sunday’s special service.

“We will indeed have plenty of music to celebrate such a special occasion,” said Ms. Davis. “To open the service, oboist Brenda Morris will play with Wesley Church organist David Wilkins three different pieces as the prelude to the service.

“Since Sunday is also the day the United Methodist Church celebrates All Saints Day, the day we celebrate the lives of those loved ones who have gone to heaven during this past year, the Chancel Choir will sing an arrangement of “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal,” a traditional American hymn arranged by Alice Parker.

“For the postlude, Brenda Morris will play a special piece on her violin with David Wilkins accompanying. All in all, it will be a most musical service.”

During the luncheon following the service, the church will unveil a new publication created by members of the church, titled, “Wesley United Methodist Church History 1778-2018.”

There will also be a PowerPoint presentation of historical photos from the history of Wesley Methodist Church of Dover, one of the oldest Methodist churches in the country. There will be many historical items and memorabilia will be available for individuals to peruse as well.

Giving back, looking to the future

Pastor Yarnall said that while Sunday will be a special day, the church does its best every day to be a vital, contributing neighbor in downtown Dover and the city’s residents.

Wesley UMC participates in Code Purple housing for homeless women during the winter months, providing meals, a shower and clean beds for homeless women and children, as well as donating funding and labor to the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity organization.

The church also provides a community meal for the homeless and anyone else wishing for companionship and sharing on one Saturday noon each month, and even hosts a Clothing Closet, which provides gently used clothing, toys, books and shoes at very minimal prices, allowing those who struggle financially the chance to provide for themselves and their families.

However, Pastor Yarnall said that doing things like that are not what will keep Wesley UMC Dover open for another 240 years.

That, she said, is up to a higher power.

“That can be accomplished by continuing to focus on the gospel,” Pastor Yarnall said. “One of my favorite proofs of God’s existence is that the church is still here. If it were up to humans, I don’t think it would have lasted this long.

“I think as we are faithful to God’s call and God’s claim on our lives, as long as we are living and proclaiming the good news, then we’ll be good for another 240.”

Ms. Davis agrees that it is God who has kept the front door opening each Sunday at the church on State Street for 240 years.

“If the Methodists of these two centuries had tried their very best to keep the church going, indeed they could not have,” Ms. Davis said. “Only God could do a long-lasting and faith-filled work like that of the Wesley Church.

“It is with great humbleness of spirit that we believers worshiping now at Wesley are blessed with the celebration of more than 240 years of worship by this Methodist congregation.”

She added, “I am pleased to be a member of this old, anointed church, and look forward to many more years making history at the hand of God.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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