History of Wesley United Methodist Church

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WESLEY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Our rich religious heritage started in England in 1738 when John Wesley shared his philosophy of “do all the good you can, by all the means you can…as long as you can.”  His brother Charles Wesley wrote “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” the next year to commemorate their conversion.  Two lay preachers sent to America were Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.  Meeting in homes at “preaching stations” and later becoming “societies”, Dover became a center for the early preachers.  Kent County was especially supportive to the itinerant circuit of riding preachers.  Chief Executive Caesar Rodney defended them with his political influence and made Francis Asbury a citizen of Delaware.  Asbury realized that “fervent Dover” needed to have more of a permanent status and he sent Freeborn Garretson to preach.  He is credited with organizing the Wesley Society of Dover on September 13, 1778.  Realizing that a “preaching house” was needed, Vincent Loockerman donated the land at the corner of North and Queen Streets to the trustees.  Judge Richard Bassett built the 40’ x 40’ brick chapel with galleries on three sides for $2,000 in 1782 donating half that amount.  Bishop Richard Whatcoat preached his first sermon there in 1784.  Whatcoat was a dear friend of Bassett, and after devoting his life to the Methodist movement, died at Bassett’s home on The Green.  He was interred under the altar of the original church with his tombstone later placed in the entrance hall of the present church.

After many improvements to the old church, by mid-century a new house of worship was considered.  With bricks from the old building, the present church on State Street was built with cornerstone laid on September 23, 1850.  Six years later a three story brick parsonage was constructed to the north.  At this time, certain behaviors were prohibited such as chewing tobacco or snuff during the service and “indiscriminate sitting” together.  The women of Wesley wanted to see change and, among other things, wanted to allow “promiscuous sitting”, meaning men and women could sit together.  In 1866 this was allowed.  They also wanted an organ for music citing that Methodism was founded in song.  Two harmoniums were secured instead, one for the balcony in the sanctuary and one for the Sunday School.  The first organ was installed in 1871 with the proceeds from a festival hosted by the choir.  Two more organs followed in 1907 and 1960. The grand pipe organ of 1907 had large colorful pipes behind the pulpit and choir, some speaking and some decorative.  In 1897, nineteen stained glass windows were placed, most with memorials to colorfully visualize symbols of the faith.

Our Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church merged with Grace Methodist Protestant Church, located on Governors Avenue between Reed and Loockerman Streets, in 1948.  Fellowship Hall, built in 1950, was named for this church.  In 1960 St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, located on Division Street between Governors Avenue and New Street, became a part of Wesley with the naming of the chapel on the first floor.  The pulpit in the sanctuary came from St. Paul’s Church.

Major enhancements were the remodeling of the sanctuary in 1951 to create a divided chancel with decorative organ pipes removed.  The Old Post Office was purchased in 1967 becoming the Educational Building in 1968, and the properties on North Street in 1995 (with subsequent demolition of the Arden Building) were acquired.  A new Gothic inspired steeple was installed in 1971 after the old one sustained lightning damage.  New chimes were added after the bell was taken down.  Recent Jeremiah projects have expanded and remodeled the kitchen, music suite, music library, Pre-School rooms, bathrooms, new classrooms and portico entrance.  The latest addition was the elevator tower and reopened exit to State Street.  Wesley Church has been at the center of the Dover community geographically and continues to open doors to serve people beyond our congregation.

First Site of Wesley Church