120 Years of Methodism in Allentown
On September 16, 1962, in conjunction with Allentown's 200-year celebration, Asbury proclaimed 120 years of Methodism in Allentown, and 40 years as Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church.
Bishop Fred Pierce Corson, resident bishop of the Philadelphia area and President of the World Methodist Council, spoke at the service. The pastors, Rev. S. F. Lewis Walley and David W. Powell, Jr., and the district superintendent, Dr. Price M. Collins, assisted in the service. Bishop Corson took his text from Romans 15:20-27.
A report included in the anniversary program indicated a membership of 1444. The church property was noted as including the church edifice, two parsonages, the new Gress-Miles Organ and the newly acquired YWCA property for a total valuation of approximately $1,278,349. The parsonages were at 413 N. 28th Street (acquired for the Pastor in 1955) and 1839 W. Congress Street (acquired for the Associate Pastor in 1961).
A series of minstrel shows began in the 1950’s. Members and clergy sang, danced and told jokes in these programs, which were created by members of the congregation, but open to the public. Large crowds attended the programs. Later the new fellowship hall hosted a couple of additional shows.
National Church Mergers
Asbury continued to be the only Methodist Church in Allentown until the 1968 national merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Suddenly, there were four United Methodist Churches in the city, with Asbury being the largest. Former EUB churches included Covenant at 6th and Washington, Ebeneezer at 633 Turner Street, and Salem at 14th and Linden Streets. Nearby Wescoesville now had a United Methodist Church also. Zion EUB of Emmaus and Emmanuel EUB of Wescoesville had merged to form Bethany EUB in Wescoesville.
Asbury soon began discussions with other Allentown Protestant churches regarding possible mergers or joint efforts. The effort was known as COCU, or the Committee on the Church Uniting. No further mergers resulted at this time, although the discussions with sister protestant churches was quite interesting.
Fiftieth Anniversary Plans
Many special events were planned for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the “cathedral.”
There would be a congregational dinner in the Masonic Hall. Special music and speakers were planned.
A special publication with pictures of Asbury past and present was provided. All of this and our new Bishop would be coming to the church for a reception. The reception was held on October 23, 1972 for Bishop James M. Ault. His message turned out to be the last preached in this "house of worship" which had stood for fifty years.
As the congregation began the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the church in 1972, on October 24th, a disastrous fire destroyed the building. George Schneeberger, church sexton, and L. Roy Muncy, a trustee, discovered the fire about 2:20 p.m. Schneeberger attempted to fight the fire while Muncy called the fire department. But both men had to retreat from the blaze. While the origins of the blaze were never precisely established, the "fire pit" was definitely in the wind chamber of the much-prized organ. The fire Marshall opined that an oily rag might have been left in an inaccessible spot and spontaneously ignited. Whatever the initial cause, the fire spread rapidly to the roof and burned unabated along the entire roof of the sanctuary. Approximately 80 Allentown firemen used seven pumpers and two ladder trucks in a valiant attempt to douse the blaze, but were hampered by the false ceiling of the sanctuary and concerns for the safety of firemen working inside the collapsing structure. The gathering crowd of members gasped as the fire hoses shattered the prize imported stained glass windows in an attempt to fight the fire from the outside. Some members who were employed nearby were able to rush in and save some hymnals, plaques at the entranceway, etcetera. Pastors Earl C. Carver and Thomas Gallen observed the blaze on Route 22 as they returned from a funeral service in Easton. They were photographed by the Morning Call helplessly watching the destruction, with a gathering crowd.
The fiftieth anniversary service the following Sunday had to be held across Hamilton Street in Christ Lutheran church. The sanctuary was packed.
The Morning Call ran an editorial entitled "Churches Don't Burn", which was very complimentary to the efforts of Asbury's membership in the Allentown community. After noting the destruction of many of the beautiful aspects of the building, the editorial concluded:
“A church, however, is not a building and a fire cannot destroy it. Buildings burn, but churches remain. This will be so long as even a handful of people have the kind of faith the members of Asbury have demonstrated in this community over so many years. It's a faith that cannot be obliterated. It lives anywhere and can everywhere.”