The year is 1873. There is financial panic in Vienna and New York. Several banks have failed sparking what is now known as the “Long Depression”. The first U.S. post card is commissioned. US Marines attack Panama and the first Preakness is held. Slavery is abolished in Zanzibar and Puerto Rico. Tolstoy writes Anna Karenina. The spirit of the living God is moving and flourishing of Methodism with the word and especially in Philadelphia. This year also commemorates the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the First Annual conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The celebration of this occasion is honored by the dedication of several Methodist Episcopal churches in Philadelphia, one of which is Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. On May 23rd, 1873, the temporary chapel of Grace Methodist Church located at Broad and Master St was dedicated to the glory of God.
However, the idea for formulating this church was conceived in 1867. A group of neighbors gathered at the house of a Mr. Dean along with the Rev. Williams C. Robins and Rev. Robert H. Pattison. Their goal was to establish a Methodist Episcopal Church in their neighborhood. Plans were made to purchase land on which a permanent chapel was to be built. The acquisition of the land for the church site did not occur until January of 1873. At a cost of $36,000 a lot was purchased on the northwest corner of Broad and Masters Streets. Prior to the building of the Permanent chapel, church services were initially held at the homes of various members. The Congregation was then known as the North Broad St Methodist Episcopal Church. In an attempt to have a designated worship center, space was temporarily rented at the Athletic Club at Broad and Jefferson Streets.
On February 3, 1873, the church congregation began to advertise for public worship. Three services were held every Sunday. The morning and evening services were full sermons. The 3 pm service was called an “address” where formal speeches were given. The first morning text was taken from Nehemiah: Chapter ll, verse 20 that reads, “The God of heaven will prosper us. Therefore, we His servants will arise and build.‘? Once a regular gathering place was established the congregation decided the name of the church should be Grace Methodist Episcopal Church.
1932-1968: The Modern Era of Grace United Methodist Church
This was a time of great change for Grace Church. In 1932 Grace Methodist Episcopal Church decided to relocate from its home in North Philadelphia to the West Oak Lane community. A property on the northeast corner of 71st Street and Ogontz Avenue was acquired from Alexander and Catherine Robins, Frank Warner and Katherine Schwingle.
In addition a portion of the property was bequeathed to the church by Edward F. Schwingle. A temporary frame chapel was built on the site in 1932. On December 15th 1934 additional property was secured to expand the size of the church and create a permanent structure. For a sum of $30,000 a property was secured that extended the east side boundaries of the church further south and further east. A permanent worship facility as then erected. The buildings of the church at this time consisted of a stone parsonage and a religious education center.
In 1944, after years of gradual growth and in an effort to better serve the West Oak Lane Community, plans were made to erect a new sanctuary and remodel the religious education building. It was thought that such a building would immediately assure large attendance and a steady rapid growth in membership. A building committee was formed and authorized to obtain architectural services and determine the growth potential of the church and community. This committee also inaugurated a campaign to secure additional funds for this rebuilding. The original plans of this structure included details for a balcony, several classrooms and dressing rooms for several choirs. The auditorium used for worship service was converted into a social and reception all. The twelve year period from 1932-1944 represented physical and structural change for Grace Methodist Episcopal Church.
The year 1968 would bring internal change to Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in a variety of ways. First, the Methodist Church which was now comprised of the Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South would merge with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which was comprised of the Evangelical Church and the Church of The United Brethren, thus forming the United Methodist Church. Under this umbrella Grace Methodist Episcopal Church became Grace United Methodist Church. Reverend Bear was the minister at this time and openly invited African Americans into the church. The congregation accepted this change without discord. Eventually the community and the church became completely African American.
1968-2016: The Present Era
The Present Era of Grace United Methodist Church has been blessed with the leadership of several talented Ministers and Assistant Pastors. Assistant ministers who are groomed here and have gone on to establish themselves as Senior Pastors within and outside of the United Methodist Church. Each of these pastors has left indelible marks on the character of Grace United Methodist Church. Past Senior Pastors include:
- Reverend Thomas W. Bear
- Reverend Jerry Rardin
- Reverend C. Edgar Jordan
- Reverend William T. Kennedy
- Reverend William Gary George
- Reverend Grant L. Johnson
The present church is under the leadership of Reverend Steven Michael Pittman. It through his leadership and guidance that Grace United Methodist Church continues to be a beacon of light and a steadfast support for the West Oak Lane community. Reverend Pittman inspires each member to stay true to the mission and vision of Grace United Methodist Church.