News and Views

Shrine looks at how history illuminates today

Posted by Melissa Lauber on
Marian Gottee, the Tour Guide Coordinator at Strawbridge Shrine, plays the piano during the Shrine's annual meeting.

Marian Gottee, the Tour Guide Coordinator at Strawbridge Shrine, plays the piano during the Shrine's annual meeting.

The called session of General Conference in February is raising many questions about the future of The United Methodist Church. Members of the Strawbridge Shrine Association are finding answers from history, and the year 1712, when Francis Asbury first confronted Robert Strawbridge.

Helen Kemp, the curator of Strawbridge Shrine in New Windsor, tells tourists and pilgrims everyday about this Irish farmer who is credited with bringing more than 1,000 souls

to Christ. A preacher at heart, Robert Strawbridge is credited with many of Methodism’s

firsts: class meeting in America; Methodist meeting house; first Methodist baptism; first Methodist Communion service; and converted the first American-born Methodist local preacher.

And all this, was done, it is noted at the shrine, while he remained a devout lay person.

At the Shrine Association’s annual meeting, the Rev. Douglas T. Tzan, a pastor, professor and historian; John Strawbridge, the lay leader of Lovely Lane UMC and a descendent of Robert Strawbridge; and Delores Martin, the conference lay leader, explored how the legacy of this renegade of faith might shape the church today.

Tzan unveiled a case study on Robert Strawbridge, which will be part of new pilgrimage initiative being created by the BWC’s Archives and History committee.

The case study was written through the eyes and experience of Francis Asbury, who became Methodism’s first bishop. In it, Asbury knows that an unordained lay person is celebrating Communion and performing baptism, contrary to Christian practice, and it might split the church.

As Tzan continued to speak,

the case study unpacked the two approaches to church, obedience and discipleship held by Asbury and Strawbridge, and in the end, the group was asked to discern how they, acting as Asbury, would move forward. In the discussion that followed, history came to life in a spirited way.

The church today needs to more boldly claim that spirit, said Robert Strawbridge, who pointed out that his ancestor was ministering in a time of political tension and divisiveness and the people of the colonies debated about rising up against the government.

“He knew the world was his parish, even when the bishop said, ‘go back and stay in your place,’” John Strawbridge said. “He lit a ire that warms us today.”

 Strawbridge left no sermons, letters or other written words. But his actions are a witness, John Strawbridge said. “We need to show a divided world that we’re not as different as we fear. We all have a holy spark within us.”

Martin echoed this call for the laity to claim their passion for ministry. “Our legacy should be proclaiming Jesus and living out our faith in the world,” she said.


*The Strawbridge Shrine is located at 2650 Strawbridge Lane in New Windsor. Learn more about the site, its history and how you can tour the site at The Shrine will host a candle- light Advent service Dec. 9, from  4:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the historic Log Chapel. The Rev. Sarah Dorrance of Middletown UMC will preach.