Church History

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 200 YEARS OF METHODISM IN NORTH EAST, PENNSYLVANIA

THE BEGINNING – CIRCUIT RIDERS AND THOMAS BRANCH

The last history of Park United Methodist Church was presented in 1987 and since then new books have been published which document in more detail the earliest appearance of Methodists in North East. In the early 1800's, Methodist circuit preachers served and traveled the Erie Circuit. We gain insight into the life of a circuit rider with an account of Robert Roberts, a rider from 1804.

Robert R. Roberts returned from his more eastward labors in the autumn of 1804, and traveled the Erie Circuit. His Circuit required more than four hundred miles of travel every four weeks "along blind paths found by marked trees, across swollen unabridged streams, over rugged precipices and high hills, now winding around steep, rocky mountain sides, and then plunging through deep miry morasses; he sometimes camped in the woods all night, wearied and hungry, resting his head upon the root of some forest tree, while his faithful horse stood tied up without a mouthful to eat, and not infrequently he encountered wild beasts, savage men, and venomous serpents." In his second year on the circuit it was so enlarged as to require six weeks' travel around, and a sermon every day.

By 1812, there was only one place of worship in North East, described as the "Calvinistic Church". This was to change, with the journey of a New Englander, Thomas Branch, who was on his way to Marietta, Ohio, seeking a warmer climate for his pulmonary conditions.

The following stories are early histories of Thomas Branch and how the Methodists began to worship in North East, Pennsylvania. The time, 1812, makes North East one of the oldest preaching places in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Thomas Branch

By Mrs. J.K. Griffin of the North East Methodist Episcopal Church.

Written and read by her at the Jubilee in 1898.

"Let me tell you of the first Methodist preacher who came to North East. Rev. Thomas Branch came from Preston, Conn., in the winter of 1800 and was admitted on trial in the New York conference in June 1801. So rapid was his progress and eminent his talents and great his usefulness that in 1806 he was appointed Presiding Elder in the New London District. In 1807 he was transferred to the Vermont District where he continued to labor with great success for four years. His zeal was too great for his strength and toward the close of his term in this district his excessive labors brought on pulmonary consumption.

Hoping to improve his fast declining health by change of climate, he obtained a transfer and was stationed to Marietta, Ohio. In the spring of 1812 he started on horseback for his new, distant field of labor.

On arriving in North East he found himself so far reduced in strength that he could proceed no farther. There were no Methodists here then nor within twenty miles of it with whom he could stop or of whom receive kind attention. But Dr. Tristram Brown came forward and took him to his home.

Mr. Branch's condition became known to some citizens, who visited his sick room. It was his constant practice to converse on the subject of religion and pray with all who called and, ill as he was, these occasional visits would find him preaching to his callers, sometimes sitting in his chair and at other times lying upon his bed.

Thus from his bedside an extensive religious awakening was produced in the settlement, but this precious man of God soon died and, like Lazarus, "was carried by Angels to Abraham's bosom." The day of his funeral found a few of his friends present who had been blessed through his instrumentality and who desired to give him a respectable Christian burial. At the appointed hour a prayer was offered, and the sainted man was laid away in a beautiful grove about a mile and a quarter west of the village on the north side of the Erie and Buffalo road.

In 1888 Rev. G.H. Humason, then stationed here, purchased a lot in the North East Cemetery and had the remains of Rev. Thomas Branch and Rev. Andrew McCannon (Pastor 1832) tenderly removed into it. Many visit the grave of the lamented Branch and say, as they look on the turf that covers his sacred dust, "eternity alone can tell of the widening influence started here by this good man."

The story of Thomas Branch continues with this account.

From Annals of the American Pulpit: Methodist

by William Buell Sprague (in 1859)

News came to the friends of Thomas Branch that he had died somewhere in the Western wilderness; but it was not until some fifteen years after that a satisfactory account of his death was received. A friend of Branch, Bishop Hedding, traveled to North East and wrote the following story of his visit:

"As I came through that part of the country, I made inquiry respecting the sickness, death, and burial of our once beloved fellow laborer in the cause of Christ. An intelligent friend, who said he had frequently visited and watched with him in his last sickness, and attended his funeral, gave me in substance the following circumstances. When brother Branch came into the neighborhood where he died, it was a new settlement, where there was no Methodist society, and but few professors of religion of any name. He preached on a Sabbath, and, at close of the service, stated to the strangers that he was on a journey, that he was ill and unable to proceed, and desired that someone would entertain him till he should recover his strength sufficiently to pursue his journey. There was a long time of silence in the congregation, at last one came forward and invited him home. At that house he lingered manyweeks and finally expired.The accommodations were poor for a sick man; a small log-house, containing a large family, consisting of part in small children; but doubtless it was the best the place could afford. In his sickness (which was a pulmonary consumption) his sufferings were severe; but his patience and his religious consolations were great also. He frequently preached, prayed, and exhorted, sitting on the bed, when he was unable to get out, or even to stand. And so he rejoiced in the Lord to the hour of his death. The above-named eye and ear witness informed me that Brother Branch frequently said to him,- "It is an inscrutable providence that brought me here to die in this wilderness." But, said the witness, "that providence was explained after his death. For, through the instrumentality of his labors, his patience, fortitude, and religious joys, in his sickness, a glorious revival of religion shortly after took place, and a goodly number of souls were converted to God – other preachers were invited to the place, and a large Methodist society was organized after his death." That society continues to prosper, and they now have a decent house for worship. After the soul of our brother had rested in Heaven, his body was conveyed to the grave on a sled, drawn by oxen. The corpse was carried to a log-building in the woods, called a meeting house; but the proprietors denied admittance, and the funeral solemnities were performed without. As I came through the woodland in company with a preacher, having been informed where the place of our friend's interment was, leaving our horse and carriage by the road, we walked some rods into the forest, and found the old log meeting house which had refused the stranger the rites of a funeral; but it was partly fallen and forsaken. Then following a narrow path some distance farther through the woods we came to a small opening, which appeared to have been cleared of the wood for a habitation for the dead. After walking and looking some time, a decent stone, near one corner of the yard, under the shade of a thick-set tall forest, informed us where the body of our dear departed friend had been laid. We kneeled, prayed, and left the lonely spot, in joyful hopes of meeting our brother again at the Resurrection of the just. Little did Thomas Branch think that the fruits of his last labors and sufferings would be so abundant after his death."Soon after the death of Mr. Branch the preachers of the Erie Circuit established an appointment for preaching in North East.

 

 

History of the UMC

On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, representing The Evangelical United Brethren Church, and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The Methodist Church joined hands at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, Texas. With the words, "Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church," the new denomination was given birth by two churches that had distinguished histories and influential ministries in various parts of the world.

 

Theological traditions steeped in the Protestant Reformation and Wesleyanism, similar ecclesiastical structures, and relationships that dated back almost two hundred years facilitated the union. In the Evangelical United Brethren heritage, for example, Philip William Otterbein, the principal founder of the United Brethren in Christ, assisted in the ordination of Francis Asbury to the superintendency of American Methodist work. Jacob Albright, through whose religious experience and leadership the Evangelical Association was begun, was nurtured in a Methodist class meeting following his conversion.

 

 

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