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Church celebrates its 165th anniversary

Feb 16, 2015 11:27AM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The St. John African Methodist Church is celebrating its 165th anniversary in 2013.

“We’ve been doing things to mark the anniversary all year,” said Robert Anderson, the president of the board of trustees for the church, which is located at 77 New London Road. Anderson is one of the longtime members of the church.

“I’ve been going to St. John since I was 25 and now I’m 66,” he said. “I’m extremely excited about the anniversary. I’m a history buff anyway, and this is a story that needs to be told.”

The church has a distinguished history in Newark.

“We are the oldest black institution in the city of Newark,” Anderson explained.

The congregation was first organized in 1848. Early meetings were held in a log cabin at the intersection of what is now Cleveland Avenue and Hillside Road. In 1866, the members of the First Colored Methodist Protestant denomination merged with the African Union Church to form the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. In 1890, the church was formally incorporated as St. John’s A.U.M.P. Church.

The first house of worship—the log cabin—was replaced by the present structure in 1867. At one time, the structure had to be moved to make room for the road. It was extensively remodeled in 1960. It was renamed the St. John African Methodist Church in 1996.

Anderson said that it’s important to celebrate the history of the church and to preserve it as a part of Newark’s history, particularly since the black community in Newark has dwindled in the last 20 to 25 years.

Anderson researched some of the church’s history. He said that it’s great to have people like Marva Smith around.

“I know the church’s history because I researched it,” he said. “She knows it because she lived it.”

Smith said that it’s exciting to celebrate the anniversary of a church that she’s belonged to for about 65 years.

“I’ve been there since I was 11 or 12 years old. It’s exciting,” she said.

Smith said that she keeps in mind “the ones who paved the way for us. They did the good work so that the church has been here in one spot for all these years. It’s really like a family church. We’re that close.”

Over the years, the church has changed. “We’ve seen many changes—many families have come and gone,” Smith said.

Anderson said that the church undertook a survey to see how it could better serve the community and some changes are being implemented to strengthen its place in the community.

“The community has changed and we have to adapt to what is going on. We’ve come up with ways to maintain the church,” he said. “We’re definitely not going to change the name of the church because that it what it is.”

The church does want to emphasize the fact that it is a community fellowship ministry and anyone and everyone is welcome. Several dozen people typically attend a church service, but former members frequently visit when they are in town. Anderson said that they would like more people to experience a church service in one of Newark’s most historic places.

“We want the entire community to be involved,” he said.

To that end, church members are very active in the community in a variety of ways, including a food ministry that serves a lunch to those who need it on the fourth Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Even though the 165th anniversary year is coming to a close, there are still many anniversary-related activities to come.

Smith said that on Wednesday, Nov. 13 and Thursday, Nov. 14, the church is hosting a two-night revival. Rev. Dr. Ralph Lampkins will be the guest minister on Wednesday night. On Thursday night, Bishop Joe Nathan Hunter will be handling those duties.

Then, on Saturday, Nov. 16, the 165th anniversary banquet will be held at the Executive Center on Route 896. The guest speaker is Rev. Dr. Marci Bryant of BVT Ministries.

“She is quite well-known,” Smith said.

St. John African Methodist Church pastor Blaine Hackett will be delivering the sermon at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17. At 2 p.m., the church will host a fellowship dinner. Then, at 3:30 p.m., the guest minister will be Bishop Albert Jarman, Jr.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.

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