A Brief History of Park United Methodist Church
1821 - Present
The Chancel of Park United Methodist Church - Maundy Thursday, 2019
METHODISM BEGINS AND SPREADS
The Methodist Church of Bloomfield was formally established on July 4, 1821, but actually it had its beginnings many years before. The seed was planted in 1729 when John Wesley, a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford University, met with a group of young men--his brother Charles and a friend, George Whitefield, among them for the purpose of acquiring holiness by personal effort. Other students at the university derisively called them The Holy Club and later dubbed them Methodists because of their well-ordered program of religious observances and good work.
The club disbanded around 1733, but, nevertheless, the three friends were still very sincere in their feelings and within a few short years they all had enjoyed a conversion experience which sent them forth as eloquent ambassadors for Christ. The turning point in John Wesley's life came at a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738. In describing his experience and the wondrous change which God worked in his heart through faith, Wesley said: "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation."
The conversion of John Wesley was the beginning of Methodism. His preaching resulted in so many people turning to Christ that he soon organized classes over which leaders were appointed. These were held regularly in the homes. Large preaching services were held out of doors. Meeting places were not called churches then because Methodists all went to the Church of England for the sacraments and still considered themselves members of that church.
Soon Methodists began migrating to America. British lay preachers came as missionaries to the colonies and Methodist Societies were formed. The first person to embrace the doctrine of Methodism in New Jersey was an Irishman, John Early. His intense zeal for God's cause and the work he did illustrates the secret of the success of early Methodism through the services of lay persons giving their time and talents as Christian leaders.
One of the greatest Methodist preachers to set foot in the Garden State was Francis Asbury. Often called the Founder of Methodism in America, he was sent here by John Wesley in 1771 and traveled throughout the country for nearly fifty years, preaching several times every day. It is believed he first stopped in New Jersey on November 7, 1771. From then on he visited here frequently. On May 12, 1772, he wrote in his journal, "Set off for the Jerseys. It is my desire to en entirely devoted to God, who opens the hearts of people to receive me; and my heart to deliver His counsel to them."
THE LITTLE STONE CHURCH
As is the case so often with new ideas and views, in the township of Bloomfield as elsewhere in America the Methodist doctrine was met with disfavor by other denominations. Even though the followers of John Wesley were given scant courtesy, a staunch little group of them continued meeting together in Bloomfield on a regular basis. We do not know exactly when these meetings began. But we do know that on July 4, 1821, they formally organized the Methodist Church in Bloomfield. They elected a Board of Trustees composed of John Moore, Josiah W. Crane, Anthony Brown, Dennis Osborne, Jacob Rutan, Dennis Harrison and John J. Kingsland.
There were only two other churches in Bloomfield at that time, the Presbyterian Church on the Green, founded 1794, and the Dutch Reformed Church in Stone House Plains (Brookdale), founded 1801. Since Methodist lay preachers weren't permitted to speak from those pulpits, the Wesleyans decided to build their own sanctuary. One of the leaders of the group who owned a large farm in the village, Nathaniel Coit, donated a site for the church on the west side of Broad Street in the Morris neighborhood about 300 foot north of Bay Lane, now Bay Avenue. It took a year to get the new church completed. But under the energetic leadership of Brother Coit and his sons, who later became eminent Methodist ministers, a small stone building with a flat roof was erected. It came to be affectionately known as the Little Stone Church.
No permanent Methodist preachers were assigned to churches in those early days. Following the plan of John Wesley, itinerant preachers or circuit riders filled the pulpits throughout New Jersey, indeed throughout America. They traveled over dusty and snow-covered roads; through deep forests and snake-infested swamps; across wide streams and high rocky hills. Usually they preached once a month at each spot and then proceeded on horseback to the next church often as many as ten miles away. Until the arrival of the first permanent minister, Benjamin Day, in 1821, such circuit riders performed all the religious duties at the Methodist Church in Bloomfield.
Church-going was an all day affair then and a time enjoyed by and benefiting all. Parishioners were mostly farm families who came from miles around. Some were affluent enough to travel in horse-drawn carts or carriages, but most folks had to walk. And for many this meant three or more miles each way! However, everyone looked forward to Sunday. It was a time when they could join in worship with friends and relatives to thank God for Gods blessings. It was a time, too, to share a mid-day lunch together and, of course, to catch up on the latest news and gossip.
THE OLD BURIAL GROUND
Most churches of that era had their own burial ground next to or behind the main building. The original Methodist Church was not that fortunate. So a lot belonging to the First Stone House Association located directly behind the Dutch Reformed Church, was offered to the Methodists for that purpose. It was a two acre strip of land and in it were buried most of the original founders of our church. The old brown sandstone slabs bear their names: Ackerman, Baldwin, Cockefair and Garrabrant.
Over the years the cemetery was neglected and became enmeshed in heavy weeds, brush and refuse. In 1996, under the leadership of church member Ted Barrett, the cemetery was reclaimed by Bloomfield Methodism's present day successors. It was thoroughly cleaned and a new plaque installed by the people of Park Church in honor of our founders. A service of dedication and gratitude was held on Sunday, October 20, 1996 with the pastor of Park Church at that time, Rev. Wayne Jack Plumstead and the President of the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference Historical and Archival Society, Rev. John Callanan officiating.
WE SEEK A NEW LOCATION FOR OUR CHURCH
In 1852, Nathaniel Coit sold his farm. Since most of the Methodists were now located in the lower part of the township, a new church was erected in the center of the village at the corner of Park and Broad Streets, our present location. The property had been purchased in 1845 from Dury Bromley for $125. The old church was torn down and parts of the foundation, roof and other materials were used in constructing the new building. The cornerstone of the structure bore the date 1853, although the dedication ceremony didn't occur until the following year.
During the summer of 1864 a parsonage next to the church on Broad Street was purchased for $2,500. By 1871, the church had grown to a membership of 161. In that year a chapel in the Watsessing section of Bloomfield was built by a group of members of the church, who went on to establish a second Methodist Church in the township. In 1881, the church changed its name from the Methodist Episcopal Church of Bloomfield to Park Methodist Episcopal Church (mergers and changes in our denomination resulted in subsequent name changes to Park Methodist Church in 1939 and then, in 1968, Park United