Allentown Churches Merge
As described in the November 1926 Asbury Methodist, business took Mr. Charles Fluck of Calvary Church and Mr. Harry Troxell of Linden Street to the Chamber of Commerce one evening.
Said Mr. Fluck, "Mr. Troxell, did you know that Calvary has purchased a lot on Fifteenth Street and intends to build?" Answered Mr. Troxell, "Wouldn't it be fine for Allentown Methodism if we could accomplish a merger, build an outstanding place of worship on a conspicuous location and do things in a large way?" Responded Mr. Fluck, "I have had that in mind and I believe it should be done."
Both churches were put up for sale to help finance the new building. Calvary Methodist was sold June 1920 to the Italian Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Linden Street Methodist Episcopal church was sold to the Knights of the Mystic Chain, Alton Castle #149 in January of 1921. The combined congregations worshipped at Linden Street until the new structure was completed.
The Reverend George E. Archer, the active pastor of Calvary Church, cared for the needs of the two congregations during that most difficult merger period.
Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church
The officials of the two churches worked out the wrinkles, and decided to name the new church for the founding bishop of American Methodism, Francis Asbury. Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated in January of 1921.
A building committee was formed, and L.S. Jacoby, a member of the church, was engaged as the architect.
Bishop Joseph F. Berry appointed the Reverend Wayne Channell as the pastor of the "new congregation." He immediately began work with the building committee.
The lot for the new Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, situated at the Southeast corner of Hamilton and Jefferson Streets, was purchased from the estate of Mrs. F. W. Koch.
Cornerstone laying ceremonies were held at 7:30 on Thursday, June 30, 1921. Despite what the newspaper called, "unfavorable weather,” a large crowd gathered in the 600 chairs placed on the unfinished flooring of the church and conducted a full worship service. The Reverend Dr. J. M. G. Darms, pastor of Salem Reformed Church, and chairman of the Federated Churches, offered an address of welcome, and discussed the important role the previous churches had played in Allentown, and the many facets a church provides for a community.
Reverend Channell asked that the other protestant churches of Allentown not consider the erection of this new church in the spirit of rivalry, but rather "as a cooperative movement revealing the unity of the Christian Church and the common faith binding them all together in working for the good of mankind.”
Bishop Joseph F. Berry, resident bishop of Philadelphia and the principal speaker for this occasion, continued the theme of Christian unity. He expressed pleasure at the greeting brought by Reverend Darms on behalf of Allentown churches, and regret concerning past divisions. He proclaimed that if all churches were removed from the city, it would have a chaotic condition within six months, and the city would have to hire more police and firemen at an increase of taxes. "If the church contributes nothing moral, educational, social, or aesthetic to the community, the commercial value alone is of the greatest importance.”
The ceremony concluded with a metal box being sealed in the cornerstone containing various items from both previous churches, including a Bible, a book of hymns, the church discipline, church newsletters, newspaper accounts of the undertaking, lists of members, contributors, and various other items. (After the fire in 1972 this box was opened and the contents found to be badly deteriorated.)
Planning for the educational program proceeded along with the erection of the structure. Forty members of the church attended a dinner meeting addressed by the Reverend Stanley F. Davis of New York, director of the Eastern Division of the Board of Methodist Episcopal Sunday Schools. He spoke for two hours about the latest thinking in Christian education, the departmental system of Sunday School organization. It would be so arranged that the several departments would have a separate organization throughout and follow their own lines of study, regardless of the main school and beginners' departments, "then so much in vogue." Members of the board were "so well pleased with the new idea that it voted unanimously to adopt the program."
While Allentown residents gaped in amazement at this "Methodist Folly,” the cathedral-proportioned Gothic place of worship, with its unheard of financial outlay ($283,000), rose against the skyline.
Dedication ceremonies were held on October 1, 1922 for the new Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Joseph T. Berry praised the facility as one of the most beautiful in the United States, and preached the dedicatory sermon based on the sixth chapter of Corinthians, entitled “For Our Light, Affliction.”
Subscriptions totaling $36,000 were received. Money earning programs were begun. By the time of Conference in 1923, $29,000 was reported paid. In 1924. $24,543, in 1925 $10,000, and in 1926 $7,000 was applied to the debt. To cover the balance, bonds totaling $118,000 and bearing interest at 5 1/2% were sold. The trustees held notes totaling $8250.
The November 28, 1922 edition of the Allentown Leader devoted most of the issue to the newly constructed cathedral. Articles described most aspects of the structure, and the various firms ran large advertisements responsible for aspects of the construction. The headline read: "In the Asbury M. E. Church, Allentown Boasts Finest Edifice of Its Denomination in Penn'a." The architects responsible for the design and supervision of construction were noted as Jacoby and Everett.
The new sanctuary inspired reverence and awe, with its pointed stonewalls, beautiful dark wood, stained glass windows imported from Germany, and Moravian Tile floor from the Mercer Works of Bucks County in the aisles. The main entrance had three doors, symbolic of the trinity. There was a sizeable balcony, and, including choirs, the church could seat about 800. The organ , built by M.P. Moller of Hagerstown, had four separate expression chambers located in the four corners of the sanctuary, providing four separate and distinct organs.
The furniture and pews in the sanctuary were designed by DeLong Furniture Company of Hamilton street, and constructed in its Topton plant.
The building also included a large recreation room, or fellowship hall, and church schoolrooms planned by departments, both new and trend-setting ideas for the Lehigh Valley. The fellowship hall included a banquet hall 85 x 62 feet, and equipment to use the hall for recreational purposes such as basketball, volleyball, and bowling.
Choir leader Charles Davis engaged some of the greatest musical talent in the country, and world-famous organists presented concerts in the “cathedral like” sanctuary.
Membership began to grow rapidly, seeing an increase of 400 members in the first four years.
Not long after dedication, Asbury instituted an annual candlelight service, the first in the valley. Thereafter, the true start of the Christmas season for many people in Allentown became the second Sunday in December, when Asbury held its candlelight service.
A striking feature soon added to the chancel was an oil painting by A. N. Lindenmuth, a local artist. A member of the Hersh family donated the painting. It depicted Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, portraying the many natures of those who hear the gospel. Since some members thought the faces seemed unpleasant (while others viewed the faces as just natural), the painting became controversial.