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5th Avenue Methodist Church's History

We are the second oldest Methodist Church in Wilmington, after Grace UMC. In 1847, Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church was organized by the Rev. Abel M. Chreitzberg of Front Street Methodist Episcopal Church (now Grace), who served as pastor to both churches. The Rev. Abram Weaver first pastored the church after it became a separate congregation, but the Rev. Dr. L.S. Burkhead was the first official pastor of what was then Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church. The first permanent structure was erected in 1849 on the property, which was donated by Miles Coston. It was a one-room frame building, with a balcony along the back and sides. It was in this small building that Charlie Jones Soong, founder of China’s Soong dynasty, was baptized on November 7, 1880 by the Rev. Thomas Page Ricaud. The original pews, piano, podium, and altar table are located in the back of the present sanctuary, known as the Lecture Room, and the original baptismal font is still in use.

 

Mr. B.D. Price of Philadelphia was the architect of the current sanctuary, built in 1889-90 and dedicated on September 26, 1890, in the Neo-Gothic style using the Akron Plan, which was common for Methodist Churches at the turn of the century. The builders were Porter and Godwin of Goldsboro, North Carolina. Special features of the Akron Plan are its Cross shape (the sanctuary runs lengthwise with educational rooms on the side with roll-up doors), the semi-circular seating, and more educational room in the back (Sunday School is a Methodist creation, after all). The pews in the back will reverse to face the other direction if necessary. The chandelier was a “gasolier,” with electric lights on the outside and gas jets on the inside.

The stained glass windows were designed by a local craftsman, Mr. E.V. Richards, so they are unique to our sanctuary. Made in Germany, they are both mystical and practical. Mystical in that they reflect the Jewish heritage of Christianity—you will notice the Star of David in the portals and the stair-step design that is symbolic of Jacob’s Ladder. They are practical in that the hot reds and yellows are placed so that they warm the light as it enters the sanctuary in the winter, and the cool blues and purples catch the summer rays and cool them as they come in. Each window also has prisms to reflect more light and to serve as joists to hold the window together. The ceilings are 39 feet tall, and are hand-laid heart pine. The pipes from the original manual organ, which also featured wooden pipes and leather clappers, still adorn the wall behind the choir loft, although the organ is now electric. The 1876 Knabe concert grand piano is made of walnut and was once at Hemingway Hall. It was purchased by Mr. Harry Gardner, who donated it to the church. It was restored in 1991-92, and dedicated on May 1, 1992 to the memory of James Z. Godwin, whose family sponsored the restoration.

The congregation is celebrating 175 years of Christian ministry, and our sanctuary is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in America. In 160 years, our ministry has taken on many faces, adapting as necessary for the cause of the gospel. Most recently, in 1998, we became the first Mainline Protestant congregation in Wilmington to become intentionally multi-cultural. Our church is made up of people of all ages, nations, and races. If you would like to visit for worship, we have regular services on Sunday mornings at 11:00, as well as special services throughout the year, including Christmas Eve Candlelight, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter Sunrise.