Picking Up the Pieces

Zion Church Quarters

Two formerly EUB churches in the process of consolidation, had an empty sanctuary on the real estate market. Zion Church was taken from the market and offered to Asbury for as long as needed without cost! (Asbury made voluntary contributions to these churches in lieu of rent.) Thus the community of worshippers began to call 9th and Linden Streets home for worship and study, and offices were rented at the rear of Christ Lutheran Church .

While these facilities were cramped, the congregation realized certain advantages. The entire elementary Sunday School met in the basement facilities and experienced joint opening exercises and other activities only available in that format. The youth department was located in the former parsonage, which immediately adjoined the church. During worship services the congregation experienced the semi-circular sanctuary design, which enabled more visual unity than the familiar cathedral style sanctuary.

The choirs sang together and were not divided as in the previous church building.

Church Program Adaptations

A program of ecumenical Bible-school began in the summer of 1974. St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, St. Timothy's Lutheran Church , and First Presbyterian Church joined with Asbury to present a common experience for all of the children. The children came from different backgrounds, but returned home each day singing "We Are One in the Lord."

Another innovation during this difficult period was to have Lenten Bible studies in the homes of parishioners. At least one of the groups continued to meet for many years after this initial experience.

And so Asbury continued to cope with the lack of quality facilities it so long enjoyed, but the entire membership (about 1200 at this time) looked forward to new facilities to continue the work of the Lord.

Future finances were helped considerably because of the insurance knowledge of Trustees President Earl G. Wray, Jr. Shortly before the fire the insurance levels had been adjusted. The church realized over $800,000 in insurance settlement!

Rebuilding

A building and facilities committee had been formed and was ready to make preliminary recommendations for remodeling the building before the fire struck. Interestingly, one of the recommendations was to make the structure more fire safe by enclosing the main stairwells and upgrading the electric. But now the committee was charged with a much greater task. William Kemmler was chosen to lead the committee and the congregation in this undertaking.

The immediate decision announced by the Trustees was to rebuild, but where? Should it be at the same location, using the remaining walls as a frame; to demolish the remaining structure and build anew on the same site; or should the church seek another location? The committee conferred with structural experts and church growth experts, and extensive surveys of the congregation were undertaken. This work included one entire Sunday morning setting goals and priorities for the program of the church the congregation envisioned. The surveys of the congregation established that the congregation had been moving west. Over 90% of the members drove to church and had difficulty finding parking.

A series of architects were interviewed and members of the committee toured representative examples of the work of each of the firms. The firm finally selected was Coston, Wallace, and Watson. Bethlehem Steel Company had chosen this group to do much of their work, and the firm had relocated from Oklahoma . Mr. Coston was very familiar with Methodist theology, and the committee admired many of the design features of Mr. Wallace's Baptist Church in Bethlehem . Soon after agreement was reached Mr. Coston retired. The contractor chosen was E.C. Machin, Inc. Ellsworth Machin was a member of the congregation.

Congregational Meeting

On April 29, 1973 a congregational meeting was convened at First Presbyterian Church at Cedar Crest Boulevard and Tilghman Street . The attending membership gave its approval to the relocation. A building committee report was presented. The report presented population growth estimates for Allentown and surrounding communities. The conclusion reached was that western suburban areas would be increasing rapidly and Asbury would "have a marvelous opportunity to locate our facilities nearer to this growing western edge of our community and to serve the families who are moving into that area." It was next noted that since the 1968 church mergers there were now six United Methodist churches serving the Allentown area. The only region currently not served was in the west and northwest areas, and "yet the greatest single concentration of our members is located in that part of town."

The next section of the report reviewed three options considered by the Building Committee. The first was to rebuild to current safety standards utilizing the remains of the former church buildings at an estimated cost of $1,123,000. The second option was to build a new building on the present site, including the demolition of the former structure and Aldersgate House, and provide more parking, at an estimated cost of $1,191,000. The third, and recommended proposal, was to purchase a four-acre site, construct new facilities, provide parking spaces for 200 cars, and sell the Hamilton Street property (at an estimated price of $1,033,000).

A final portion of the report included a letter from the Reverend Dr. Ezra Earl Jones of the research office of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church . He recommended that if the church decided to move, it should be into an area Northwest of the city. He predicted the growth of the church would include many new young families. He noted that downtown Allentown was "becoming more commercial and office building oriented, rather than the main center of retail trade." This would mean fewer families coming downtown to shop, and the downtown church would be less visible to newer residents in the area. Finally, he noted that the United Methodist Church would not be abandoning the downtown, as Trinity and Salem churches would remain there and continue their ministries to the area. Asbury would support their efforts!

New Location

The congregation voted in favor of the committee recommendations "to search out a new location lying to the west of the present church site,” and "solicit Agreement of Sale for the present church properties."

Soon, a Site Search Committee chaired by Richard Black located a site in South Whitehall Township having 10.22 acres at the corner of Walbert Avenue and Springhouse Road . The Robert V. Ritter family, whose home was directly across Walbert Avenue from the site, offered the property for sale. On July 22, 1973 a congregational meeting was convened immediately following worship. The meeting approved the purchase of the property for the total price of $126,800. Asbury could continue its inner city ministry by supporting those churches which remained in Allentown !

The Allentown School District purchased the former church site at Jefferson and Hamilton Streets on behalf of the Allentown Library board in the Spring of 1974. The Library constructed a modern facility utilizing the entire block. This was ironically appropriate, since during World War I the Allentown Public Library was closed for renovations, and the only library available to the public was located in the basement of the old Linden Street Methodist Church . The income realized from the sale was $280,000. Asbury retained the right to remove up to 4,000 pounds of stone remaining from the demolished structure. This stone was then used as a wall in the new building, and later as pillars for the drive-up overhang.

Proposed Design

In a congregational meeting convened on November 11, 1973 , the Building Committee presented a design proposal to the congregation. The new church facility would be very modern in concept, including a triangular shape for the sanctuary. The design allowed the continuance of the "gathering" format enjoyed in the temporary facility, and the choirs would sing together. Some members were troubled that it was so different from the former "cathedral." But most were intrigued by the possibilities of an eye catching modern facility in a rapidly developing area with many modern homes. The cost of the new church, Sunday School, and parking lot, including architect's fees, was estimated to be $1,405,540. The additional option of a lounge (later parlor) and furnishings and fixtures brought the estimated cost to $1,502,440.

The proposal included a recommendation for the construction of an electronic organ to be built by the Allen Organ Company of Macungie , Pa. An Organ Research Committee chaired by Paul Rau had received proposals from five organ companies and had visited a number of churches with representative organ installations in eastern Pennsylvania , and one in Long Island , N.Y. The recommendation of an Allen organ included the use of the chimes which had been saved from the Gress-Miles Organ. The organ would be composed of three 5-octave (61-note) Manuals and 57 ranks. The cost would be $45,000, the lowest price submitted. Some members of the congregation regretted not having the pipe organ, but the majority liked the flexibility of the instrument and the possibilities for quick and effective servicing. (Service had become a real problem for the Gress-Miles Organ.)

The proposal to spend a total of $1,547,440 also indicated the need to raise $175,000 in a fund drive. The entire proposal received congregational and charge conference approval.

Ground was broken on Sunday April 28, 1974 . Pastors Earl C. Carver and the Thomas J. Gallen conducted the service. The scripture chosen for the occasion was Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13,15b-16. District Superintendent Harvey W. Marsland brought the message. A memento packet of soil was available from the ushers after the service.

 

Researched and Compiled by John H. Gauger, Asbury Church Historian