CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

The Centennial Celebration of Camden Methodism
531 York Street

The following is derived from
The Centennial History of Camden Methodism
published in 1909

HISTORY OF THE
FirstME/BenjaminFisler-001a.jpg
OF CAMDEN, N. J. 

One hundred years marks a great epoch in any life. 

A centennial celebration is always a great event. Perhaps there is none more vitally significant than the centenary of a church life. One hundred years having sped and gone since the beginning of a church in Camden, N. J., it seems that more than ordinary attention should be given thereto. 

In April, 1809, under the direction of Rev. Richard Sneath a class was formed in Camden with James Duer as the first leader. From the nucleus of seven persons the church was started, until now there are about 7,000 members and sixteen Methodist Episcopal churches. The Methodist Episcopal Church being the first of all churches in this city save a Friends' Meeting House, on Mt. Vernon street, built in 1801 the history of the city cannot be related without generous reference thereto.

The Centennial having been appropriately celebrated with the co-operation of all the churches, it seemed very necessary that this great event should have more than a passing notice. Hence, there was a determination by the Official Boards of all these churches to give the history of this event permanent form. Hence, historical data having been contributed by each of the sixteen churches, the collation of all this material into one book became a logical necessity. 

Each church appointed a member of the Quarterly Conference to write the history of that individual church. 

Consequently this is a book of many authors. Different committees also were appointed relative to printing, securing cuts of preachers, electrotypes of the churches, and a multitude of other details so necessary for the completion of this most important work. This, therefore, has been an illustration of the old proverb that declares "Many hands make light work." However, it has required a great deal of patient labor and much of painstaking effort for the completion of this book. It has not been done in a brief period. It has required several years of labor to secure the co-operation, write the histories, collect the data and arrange the work. Consequently, the work should have a large appreciation in the hearts and minds of the Methodist people. Of course mistakes will be seen, and many places where improvement could be made. Nevertheless, under the existing circumstances this is the best that could be done. Hence, to generous and charitable readers we commend this work. 

This is not a money making scheme. The book, at its cost price, is to be given to each purchaser. No church, therefore, will derive any revenue therefrom. The only aim and object in publishing this work is a preservation of historical data as a source of information that will cause many children to rise up and call their parents blessed and serve as an inspiration to other laborers in the vineyard of the Lord. We believe, as this book is read, many who have been blessed by the power and influence of Camden Methodism, will be constrained to say: "The Lord hath done great things for us whereof we are glad." 

This book, beside having many pages devoted to literature, is a splendid picture gallery. The electrotypes of the different houses of worship will give to one, by the power of observation, a splendid idea of the steady growth of Methodism in Camden. The cuts of the different preachers will bring before the mind an array of men who have led the hosts of God in this city from victory unto victory. Some of them were indeed great captains in the army of the Lord. They marched out under the blood-stained banner of King Immanuel, with the shout of victory in every command, and the ring of conquest in every step. The pictures of the present Quarterly Conferences will preserve for the church the faces and names of the men and women who are now to the front in the Lord's battle, and who are now laying the foundation upon which succeeding generations must build. 

To every one, therefore, who has contributed in any way to this work, gratitude is due. The reader is urged to peruse these pages in such a way so as to be inspired to emulate the example of them, who out of their poverty have made us rich, who out of their sacrifices and privations have brought us salvation and comforts, who out of their meagre advantages and few privileges have brought to us glorious opportunities. Surely such a perusal will make this book worth its weight in gold, and in this spirit it is commended to the public. 

And now as we, at this the first centennial, are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, in the faith and works of our fathers, by which we are encouraged to lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset up, so that we may run with patience the race that is set before us, so likewise let us hope that when the Bi-Centennial of Camden Methodism shall dawn, our faith and works will bring a similar cloud of witnesses to our children and successors whereby they will be able to demonstrate "Glorious brings of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God." 

Benjamin Fisler

The first man preaching the gospel of Christ under the Methodist dispensation in Southern New Jersey. From his preaching the Methodist Church in Camden really started. The following verse from a poem by Rev. E.H. Stokes, refers to the work of this servant of God: 

One silent man. almost unknown. 
With joyful heart, yet weeping eyes. 
Came through the southern pines alone 
And lit the lamp that flushed the skies. 

His name was Fisler! Benjamin. 
Like Rachel's son, beloved so. 
He brought the light, and those in sin 
Saw paths of light begin to glow; 

Then others o'er the river's tide,
In bounding bark, with dipping oar, 
Came on to tell how Jesus died. 
And told the story o'er and o'er. 

Methodism though the youngest Protestant Evangelical Denomination is by far the largest in numerical strength. 

There have been several Centennial celebrations in her history that has brought her prominently to the front of the ecclesiastical world, and thus it has been clearly demonstrated: "What htAh God wrought!"

In 1839 the world had its eyes opened to a great achievement in the religious realm through the agency of a man.

Just 100 years before this date while listening to the reading of Luther's Preface to the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, in Aldersgate street in London, John Wesley felt his "heart strangely warmed." He then knew that, "The Spirit answered to the blood, And told him he was born of God."

It was like a fire shut up in his bones, and while he was musing over this matter his heart burned. Then he did speak with his tongue and in unmistakable terms: 

"He did tell to sinners round,
                  What a blessed Saviour he had found."

When the centennial of that event arrived a resume of that history convinced the world that, there was a man sent from God whose name was John Wesley, to found a society whose chief business it is to spread Scriptural holiness over the world. And so clear was it then that this organization was fulfilling this mission that everywhere it was admitted that this regiment of the Lord's Army was forging its way to the very front of the battle.

In 1866 another centennial revealed the potency of Methodism in America. A century before, the Holy Spirit inspired Barbara Heck and Philip Embury to inaugurate a movement that, in the language of Abraham Lincoln, "sent more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospitals and more prayers to heaven than any other church."

Hence the Century of American Methodism revealed the significance of this denomination in the life of our republic. 

In 1884 the centennial of the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church again called the attention of
the world to the great progress of this band of "laborers together with God." At the Christmas Conference at
Baltimore, Md., in 1784 God moved upon the hearts of the delegates there assembled to organize their society into a mighty ecclesiastical factor which should ever thereafter 'be known as the Methodist Episcopal church. The effective work of this organized society for that century revealed the wisdom of the organizers and also the guiding hand of Divine Providence.

While these are centennials of General Methodism, that have had universal consideration, nevertheless, Methodism has had her Local Centennials that very clearly has shown the guiding hand of God.

When the Official Board of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Camden, N. J., began to think of the near approach of the completion of the first 100 years of Methodist History in this city, plans were at once laid for a fitting celebration of this important event. The first thought was that this should be inaugurated by a
session of the New Jersey Annual Conference in the Mother Church. Rev. Richard Sneath, having organized
the first class in April 1809, it became apparent that a session of the Conference in March 1909 would be both appropriate and timely. It having been learned that Broadway was about to invite the New Jersey Conference to meet in her church March 1908, the Mother Church asked this daughter in view of the coming Centennial of Methodism in 1909, if she would kindly forego the pleasure of having a session of the Conference and thus permit the Mother Church to have that session upon the completion of her first century. Thus, this splendid daughter, Broadway, immediately and very heartily acquiesced in the Mother's plan.

Consequently on Thursday evening of the Conference session a Centennial service was held. The large auditorium was taxed to the utmost capacity. The former pastors of the church had seats on the platform and participated in the service. The music by the choir was indeed very finely rendered and very gratefully appreciated.

Mr. William A. Colescott who had been the general in leading the forces whereby the debt of First Church, had been completely wiped out, made the first speech. He spoke upon the topic: "How We Did It." And as he detailed the plan and told of the execution of the same, the hearts of the people became so enthusiastic that fervent "Amens" were heard. Bishop Luther B. Wilson, D. D., the President of the Conference made the Centennial Address. He was indeed the man for the occasion. The Bishop, always good in speech, clear in statement and fervent in utterance, according to universal testimony excelled himself on this occasion. Then Rev. John Handley, D. D., who for five years, from 1886 - 1891, had been pastor of the church was called upon to speak on, "The Centennial Evangelistic Note." Despite the fact that the Bishop, by his eloquence bad swept everything before him and that it seemed impossible to hold the audience to hear anyone else speak, nevertheless, Dr. Handley at once got hold of the audience and they hung upon the message of his lips. Thus ended this First Centennial Service with hearts overflowing with joy, mouths filled with laughter and tongues speaking in praise to God for a 100 years of great achievement.

It having been the custom of the Mother Church to hold her Anniversaries during the month of October- since the dedication of the present church edifice took place in that  month- t was deemed advisable to defer the completion of the Centennial Jubilee until that time. Consequently plans were matured for a 10 days' celebration in October. 

All of the Methodist Episcopal Churches were invited to co-operate in the plan. This being the time when the Mother was 100 years old, it became clear that it would express love and gratitude if the children would come home to see the mother. Thus accordingly the services were planned to be held in the Mother Church. And it certainly was a great sight to see 16 churches uniting in praise and holy Thanksgiving to God for His wonderful works to the children of men.

The first service began on Friday evening, October 8, 1909. His Excellency, John Franklin Fort, Governor of New Jersey, was present and graced the occasion. His promise to deliver for his an address at this time, put a desire in our hearts to show him some special mark of courtesy. Accordingly a banquet was planned at which he should be the guest of honor. The banquet was held in the dining room of the church. To this banquet every one was invited provided the stipulated sum be paid which indeed was but a meagre charge. The banquet hall was beautifully decorated and many guests were present. The four former pastors of the Mother Church, who are now living responded to toasts. Thus Revs. W. W. Moffett, George B. Wright, Wesley A. Hunsberger and John Handley made after-dinner speeches that were indeed interesting
and inspiring. The Hon. Charles VanDyke Joline, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Camden, being present, was called upon to speak. In a very felicitous and appropriate manner he delighted his hearers. It was a great pleasure to have the Judge present on that occasion. While it was stated that Governor Fort would deliver his address in the auditorium, yet there was a feeling that would not subside that he must say a few words in the banquet hall.

The Governor graciously responded and then the people repaired to the auditorium where a Methodist Mass Meeting, presided over by the Rev. Sanford M. Nichols, Ph. D., District Superintendent of the Camden District, was held. 

The Governor was at his best. He seemed very much inspired over the thought of his Methodist training and of the conquest of the Church of Jesus Christ. His words were words of grace seasoned with salt and his statement of doctrine fastened him and his hearers to the old land marks of divine truth. Surely no greater service could have been given to the event than that contributed by Governor Fort.

On Sunday October l1th in the morning, Rev. Charles L. Mead, D. D., of Hoboken, N. J., preached the sermon. His theme was, "A Century's Progress," and so well did he handle his subject that the audience felt encouraged to undertake greater work for God. In the afternoon at the Sunday school session a Centennial service was held.

The Intermediate and Assembly departments were congregated together and Rev. W. A. Hunsberger, D. D., a former pastor delivered the address, which was forceful and fitting. In fact it is not probable that Dr. Hunsberger ever did better than at that time. His theme, delivery and Spirit preeminently fitted the occasion. At this service also Brother W. S. Carter of Brooklyn, N. Y., who was a Sunday school scholar in the Mother church 75 years ago spoke a few words. It was refreshing to hear him refer to the work of the Sunday school in the first of all churches built in. Camden. In the evening Rev. John Handley, D. D., a former pastor, now District Superintendent of the New Brunswick District preached an excellent sermon on "Visions." His text was, "Where there is no vision the people perish." Thus the day ended with visions of a glorious future.

On Monday evening every class meeting of the city was requested to meet in the Mother church. The weather was very inclement. However, there was a fine audience present. The mingled testimonies and prayers with the spirited singing made this a Love Feast never to be forgotten. It revealed very clearly that the class meeting has not outlived its usefulness in Camden.

On Tuesday evening Sunday school workers and those interested in this great work were invited to a Sunday school Centennial service. Inasmuch as the Sunday school is the church's recruiting station the event could not pass without great emphasis being laid upon the necessity of a lively interest in this cause. Hence an expert in this work was selected to address the people Rev. Edward S. Lewis, D. D., assistant editor of the Sunday School Journal, came with his valuable information concerning this cause. Although there was not a large audience present, nevertheless interest in the Sunday school was awakened.

Wednesday evening was indeed a Red Letter Service in the Centennial Jubilee. Every Prayer Meeting assembled in the home church. There was a roll call and every church but one responded. Every church took some part in the service. It was a time when Methodism was with one accord in one place and there seemed a repetition of the Day of Pentecost. The influence of that meeting will never be lost. Many testified that it was the most wonderful prayer meeting they ever attended.

Thursday evening there was a great musical festival by the choir. A cantata, "The Song of Thanksgiving," was splendidly and artistically rendered. The choir that always does itself credit, went beyond anticipation in this musical. Very few audiences ever hear sung such a "Song of Thanksgiving" ending with, "The Hallelujah Chorus," as was enjoyed that night. It was worthy of the occasion and very clearly expressed the gratitude of the heart for God's guidance and blessing during the century.

Friday evening was set apart for a celebration by all Epworth League Chapters of the city. All the Presidents of the different chapters were invited to a seat on the platform. Mr. S. Earl Taylor, who has traveled extensively in behalf of the Missionary cause was present and stirred the people as he spoke on, "The World Wide Kingdom." Everyone felt he must do something to extend the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour.

Saturday evening a large audience assembled to hear Rev. W. R. Wedderspoon, D. D., of Pittsburgh, Pa., formerly a member of the New Jersey Conference, lecture on "The Real Aristocracy." All were ready to conclude that the Methodist Episcopal Church had contributed very largely to, "The Real Aristocracy" and that Camden Methodism had not failed in this respect. Dr. Wedderspoon 's lecture and his inimitable style gratified the people very highly.

On Sunday Morning, October 17th, Rev. Sanford M. Nichols, Ph. D., the District Superintendent, preached. He was very happy in the selection of his theme, "First Things First." "Make me a little cake first," was his text. In the delivery of his sermon there was evidence that when the sermon was written, the preacher had dipped the pen in his own heart. In fact during the preaching, the audience could feel the pulsations of the preacher's heart. It was reckoned a great discourse. In the evening Dr. Wedderspoon preached from the text, "Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name." His discourse claimed the attention of all and his magnetic influence added very much to the delivery of the same.

Tuesday and Wednesday evening were set apart as purely evangelistic services. Three of the boys who went out from the Mother Church into the ministry were the preachers, Rev. Edward Mount, of Williamstown, N. J.; Rev. Orville S. Duffield, of Pedricktown, N. J., and Rev. Samuel B. Duff Jr., of the Philadelphia Conference. These boys all acquitted themselves splendidly and thus made the Mother feel glad that she has thus contributed towards the preaching of the Gospel of the Son of God.

Two other boys, Rev. Chas. H. Elder because of special care for his health and Rev. Isaac Woodward on account of distance could not be present. Thus the Centennial Service closed with a feeling that we must enter the new century with an understanding that, "There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed." But such encouragement to work was given by a resume of the past that all felt like shouting, "We are able to possess it!"

The following is a hymn composed by Dr. Aaron Howell, a member of the Quarterly Conference of Centenary church, and set to music by Professor Powell G. Fithian, the organist and a member of the Quarterly Conference of the First Church. It was sung several times and deserves to have a place in the history of Camden Methodism and to be handed down to the coming generation who
may sec the talent and devoted interest of our laymen during this age.. 
 

 

 
 

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