Heritage Landmarks: Old Otterbein UMC, Baltimore
August 11, 2017
A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Sacred Places in The United Methodist Church
By Jared Burke, General Commission on Archives & History
Old Otterbein Church is the mother church of the United Brethren in Christ and the oldest church edifice still standing in the city of Baltimore.
In 1771, a German Evangelical Reformed Church was organized and a temporary chapel erected to house the congregation. (On June 22, 1772, pastor Benedict Schwope lent the chapel to Joseph Pilmore as a place to organize the Lovely Lane Meeting House congregation.)
Schwope and Asbury persuaded Philip William Otterbein (1726-1813) to accept the pastorate in 1774. Otterbein had come from Germany in 1751 as a missionary to German colonists in Pennsylvania. The Baltimore pastorate was his fifth, and he stayed for the rest of his life, a thirty-nine year pastorate.
Otterbein had a close relationship with Francis Asbury; in 1784 he assisted in Asbury's ordination at the Christmas Conference which founded the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Asbury preached at Otterbein's church many times, and on March 24, 1814, some months after Otterbein's death, Asbury wrote the following in his journal: "Forty years have I known the retiring modesty of this man of God; towering majestic above his fellows in learning, wisdom, and grace, yet seeking to be known only of God and the people of God; he had been sixty years a minister, fifty years a converted one."
Otterbein's evangelical preaching and his increasingly Wesleyan theology led to conflicts with the Reformed Church. An entry from Francis Asbury's journal for June 4, 1786 is evidence of Otterbein's growing interest in the Methodist movement: "I called on Mr. Otterbein: we had some free conversation on the necessity of forming a church among the Dutch [Germans], holding conferences, the order of its government, &c."
Otterbein and Martin Boehm helped found the United Brethren in Christ in 1800, and Otterbein's church in Baltimore became the cradle of the new denomination.
The present church structure was erected in 1785 and the 1811 parsonage stands nearby. Philip William Otterbein is buried in the churchyard and a monument was placed over his grave in 1913. The interior of the church has been remodeled at various times, but the sanctuary remains the oldest in continuous use in Baltimore and the only extant eighteenth century church in the city.
Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: Along with the church's significance to United Methodism, the building itself is of historical interest. It is the oldest church in continuous use in Baltimore City. The sanctuary, erected in 1785-86, was built for about $6,000 of ballast bricks discarded by ships in the nearby harbor. All the nails used in construction were hand-made. The church bells, cast in London were installed in 1789 and have been sounded for nearly every important event in American history since the end of the Revolutionary War. The organ was built by Henry Nieman; only five examples remain, including that in the Otterbein Church.
Visitors may also see Otterbein's grave and monument in the churchyard, exhibits on the history of the church and its surrounding neighborhood, and a rare, recently restored 6x15 foot 1869 Bird's-Eye View map of Baltimore.
Special events: Bishop Otterbein Day is observed on the first Sunday of June. A "Souper Supper" is held in November and a Christmas Candlelight Concert in December.
Area attractions: There are many museums and other attractions in the city of Baltimore, a number within walking distance of the church. Of particular interest to United Methodists is the Lovely Lane Museum (see address below). Other Heritage Landmarks in this annual conference are the Robert Strawbridge House, the Cokesbury College Site, and the Lovely Lane Meetinghouse Site.
To visit: This is an active congregation, and visitors are welcome to Sunday morning worship services at 11:00 a.m. To arrange a tour, please contact Rev. Statesman (contact info below).
Location: Old Otterbein UMC is within the boundary of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference in Baltimore City, Maryland. The church is on the corner of Sharp and Conway Streets in Baltimore, two blocks from Harborplace, next to the Baltimore Convention Center and across the street (Interstate 395) from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Food and lodging: There are many eating places at Harborplace, two blocks from the church, and numerous other restaurants and hotels in Baltimore.
Directions: From the north: take Interstate 83 South to the end. Turn right on Lombard Street. Turn left on Light Street to Conway Street.
From the north, west, or south: take the Baltimore Beltway (Interstate 695) to Interstate 95 to Interstate 395 to Conway Street.
From the east: take U.S. 40 to St. Paul Street. (changes to Light Street at Baltimore Street) south to Conway Street.
For further information, contact: Rev. Jessica Hayden, 112 W. Conway Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-2412; 410-685-4703 or E-mail: .
To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:
Lovely Lane Museum, 2200 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21218; Robert Shindle, Archivist.
J. Bruce Behney, The History of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979).
Lynn W. Turner, Philip William Otterbein (Lake Junaluska, NC: United Methodist Church, Commission on Archives and History, 1976).
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