Historic St. Georges church in Old City, Philadelphia, was our first stop of the day. The uncompleted church was acquired by Methodists in 1768. The building was almost torn down in the 1920s during the construction of the Ben Franklin Bridge (which you can see in the picture). However, the willingness of Bishop Neely to sue the Delaware River Port Authority – and winning! – resulted in moving the bridge and saving the historic church, which has seen Methodist preachers Francis Asbury, Joseph Pilmore, Richard Whatcoat and many other notables in its pulpit, including Dr. Alfred Day, who we met at the Methodist archives just the other day.
After hearing the story of the church and having a time to tour its museum, Jim Turley and I had an opportunity that makes a Methodist pastor’s heart leap! We had the privilege of serving Holy Communion to our pilgrims using a chalice sent over to the church by John Wesley himself! You can see it on the table in the picture to the right. The order of service we used was from my 1808 Book of Discipline. One of our pilgrims said she (in her mind) heard a door open and Bishop Asbury stepped through the door!
After lunch in the church’s fellowship hall, we then boarded our bus for the very short ride to Independence Hall. We were privileged to view the courtroom that once served as our Supreme Court, and the room where the Continental Congress first debated whether to separate from England, which it did on July 4th, 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. And the room was used again 11 years later, after the Revolutionary War was miraculously won, to debate the first US Constitution. We saw the very chair that President George Washington sat in for three months during the Federal Constitutional Convention, with its sun crest on the top. James Madison reported Benjamin Franklin saying, “I have often looked at that (sun) behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.”
After touring Independence Hall, we were on our own for the afternoon. My group decided to see the Liberty Bell, which had called many sons of liberty to their political debates in the 1770s. Many of us were surprised to learn that the crack so obvious on the front of the bell is actually a repair attempt made in 1846 to repair a crack that opened up shortly after the Revolution. The repair held only for a short time, and then another crack opened up, which has permanently silenced the bell.
As we were waiting for our assigned time to visit Independence Hall, we came into the presence of a very special visitor to Philadelphia. Apparently, the Holy Father so enjoyed his visit two weeks ago, he decided to visit again. We invited him to our “Farewell to Philadelphia” dinner tonight at the famous City Tavern (built in 1773), but he unfortunately had other plans.
Tomorrow, we drive south to Baltimore with a stop off at Barratt’s Chapel, the place where Dr. Thomas Coke first met Francis Asbury and together they planned “the Christmas Conference” in 1784 that resulted in the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church. We will have a very special experience while we are there. Stay tuned.