Preachers on horseback founded York’s Asbury United Methodist Church

asburysteeple
The steeple of Asbury United Methodist Church in York, Pa., rises high above East Market Street. The church was in the news this morning after firefighters responded to a roof fire. Also of interest: Asbury involved in York’s own Civil War.

Asbury United Methodist Church is one of those original York-area houses of worship.

Other York-area English Methodist Churches – York Township’s Aldersgate United Methodist Church might be the best known – grew from its trunk.

Here are some facts about the church, drawing deeply on Georg R. Sheets’ book on Asbury: ‘Children of the Circuit Riders’ and the church’s website.

Founding date: 1781
Original location: A log house on present-day Roosevelt Avenue.
Prior address: Philadelphia and Beaver streets
Year congregation moved to present 340 E. Market St. building: 1925.
Facts about Asbury’s founding: The church grew after visits from circuit riders – preachers traveling on horseback. Freeborn Garrettson is credited as the father of the church. Here’s an excerpt from my “Never To Be Forgotten” about Garrettson:

“The frequent circuit riders passing through the county put up with rain, sleet, hail, lame horses – and superstitious residents. Freeborn Garrettson, one of the pioneer American Methodist preachers, loses his way when heading toward East Berlin. He hears terrible groans from a woman who claims she sold her three children to the devil. The woman’s husband tells Garrettson that his wife has been carrying a razor in her dress and has vowed to kill her children before the devil can take them. Garrettson invites the woman to a worship service the next day. By the end of the meeting, the woman is apparently calm. Later, the preacher learns that the woman has become “a blessed, pious woman” and her children are saved from an ill fate. Garrettson also ministers to a disturbed James Worley and his wife, Abigail, of York. The Worleys fall under conviction after hearing Garrettson preach and commence to rid themselves of their possessions. They start burning clothes, blankets, furniture and even money. Neighbors plead with the Worleys to stop and devise a plan to guarantee that they do so. A neighbor climbs onto the roof, stops up the chimney and the Worleys emerge. Garrettson returns and finds the Worleys in bad shape. He exhorts from the Bible and prays with them. Garrettson notes that the Worleys are restored physically and spiritually: ‘In the end, it was for good; many were astonished and brought to serious consideration.’”

freeborn
Freeborn Garrettson made the first official Methodist missionary trip into Central Pennsylvania in 1781. In York, his work: When riding the Baltimore circuit, he made the first official Methodist missionary trip into central Pennsylvania. Asbury United Methodist Church traces its beginning to this circuit rider. This photograph came from a re-enactment at Lewisberry’s Methodist Church.

*Photos courtesy York Daily Record/Sunday News

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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2 Responses to Preachers on horseback founded York’s Asbury United Methodist Church

  1. Al DeFilippo says:

    Hello Jim. thank you for the post on Freeborn Garrettson. I derive my email address from his name. I am a novelist who is currently finishing the first book in a three book series on Francis Asbury. I have researched the circuit riders of the colonial Wesleyan movement for nearly 20 years. I hope to release the opening book, Black Country, this summer. It captures Asbury’s work in England before departing for Philadelphia in 1771. This work will highlight what many authors have overlooked. Naturally, Freeborn and a host of other circuit riders are planned for the two follow up books. I would love to correspond with you about York, PA. It will find numerous references in the two final books in the series.

    • Jim McClure says:

      Al, glad to discuss. You, of course, can find a lot of content about York on this blog and also in my books about York County. This county was an important circuit rider location because it is so near Baltimore and points west, north and east. I also am sure you’re aware of Georg Sheets’ book on the founding of Asbury, which discusses the circuit riders’ link with the start of English Methodist around here. Rich topic you have there!

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