Today we bid adieu to New York City, crossed through the Holland Tunnel (and were VERY glad we weren’t going the other way based on all the traffic!), and drove to Madison, NJ. There we drove on to the beautiful campus of Drew University, home of the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH). Dr. Alfred Day, pictured here with Elaine, met us and explained the work of the GCAH — he called it “the keeper of Methodist DNA.” Fred was very helpful to us as we were planning the trip. It was a pleasure to meet him in person.
The GCAH staff showed us around the building and described how they go about their work. I found particularly fascinating a display of class meeting tickets. In the early days of Methodism, it wasn’t the worship service that primarily formed the identity of early Methodists, but the class meeting. These groups of 8-10 people met weekly to hold one another accountable in love to living out their Christian faith. To be part of a Methodist Society, you had to have a ticket given out quarterly on the basis of your faithful attendance at class meetings. “No tickie, no washie,” as they say. The former General Secretary of the GCAH observed, “It used to be hard to get in to the Methodist Church, but easy to get kicked out (for non-attendance). Today it is easy to get in and hard to get kicked out (for non-attendance).”
Another highlight of the day was seeing the thumb of the Rev. George Whitefield. Whitefield was a classmate of John Wesley’s at Oxford University. He followed Wesley as chaplain to the Georgia colony, where he attempted to raise money to build an orphanage. While on a preaching tour in Bristol, England in service of this cause, he taught Wesley the art of field preaching which later became a staple in the Methodist revival in England. Whitefield went on to become the Billy Graham of the 1730s First Great Awakening in America. A few years after he died in 1770, Patriots Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold (he was still on our side then) hatched a plan to steal some cannons from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate NY to reinforce Boston, and to invade Canada, hoping they would join the American cause. On their journey north, they stopped in Newburyport, MA, to visit the tomb of George Whitefield. While there, they removed some buttons and pieces of his collar to take with them for divine favor. Later, in 1830, the American cousin of a Whitefield enthusiast in England actually shipped his cousin Whitefield’s whole left arm, which was returned about 20 years later. Today, we actually got to view the thumb of the great Methodist evangelist.
Following our tour, we had a charming lunch in the historic Mead Hall, once the home of the owner on whose estate Drew University was created. We then paused for a group photo in front of the statue of Bishop Francis Asbury before boarding our bus for the 3-hour trip to Lancaster County, where we are tonight. Tomorrow, we visit the Mennonite Historical Museum and then have a tour of Amish Lancaster County. I’ll share tomorrow the Mennonite roots of United Methodism.
Be sure to check out all our photos here.