History Unlocked-April 2017, Faith in Concord, Elam United Methodist Church

By: Karen Kendus, Concord Township Historical Society

As a child, I had a pretty consistent schedule. During the week, I had school, sports, and music obligations. Saturdays were usually for more sports and music (depending on my age and the season). Sundays were family days, which included a morning of worship at our local church. We would be up, dressed in our suits and skirts, and out to 9:30am Sunday school. During the years both of my parents taught Sunday school, we joined them for church afterwards at 11am. Occasionally, my father volunteered to count offering, and for part of my childhood, my parents were also the custodians. In both instances, we would be at the church into the afternoons some Sundays.

As I am sure you have noticed, Concord Township (and surrounding townships) is not short on places of worship. One even has his or her choice of denomination. In Concord Township alone, St. John’s Episcopal, St. Thomas’ Catholic, Elam United Methodist, Concord Friends, Concord Liberty Presybeterian, Valley Point and Covenant Fellowship are all located within its boundaries. I grew up attending Elam United Methodist Church[1], situated right down Smithbridge Road from Wilmington-West Chester Pike (Route 202), in Elam, Pennsylvania (previously known as Pleasant Hill). Elam UMC was not always located in that spot. As a matter of fact, Elam grew out of the Brandywine Summit Camp Meeting in 1875. Camp meetings[2] were part of a growing trend in the years following the end of the Civil War, as citizens sought spiritual healing and a closeness with God. After the Brandywine Camp Meeting that year, Reverend Edward Kenney, the pastor at Siloam UMC, continued preaching in a tent at Johnson’s Corner, where Beaver Valley Road meets Route 202. In the fall of 1875, a board chapel was built about 100 yards south of Johnson’s Corner, where the Camden-Valleybrook Apartments sit now. The building held sermons, Sunday school, and was also used as a schoolhouse to handle overflow students from the No. 3 schoolhouse located across Route 202.

It was not until 1879 that the Ladies’ Aid Society purchased the land upon which Elam UMC now stands. It was part of Daniel Husbands’ farm. The wooden chapel was moved to the site in 1880, about the same time a charter was granted to the church. In September 1883, under Reverend Maris Graves, the wooden structure was replaced by a one-room, thirty by forty-five foot stone structure, using serpentine stone from Daniel Husbands’ quarry nearby. In my youth, this chapel served as the youth lounge. The beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel were not installed until 1892, when the pulpit furniture was also added. Even in the late 1990s, this room offered a subtle glow, mostly from the sun through the stained glass. Today, this portion of the church is once again a chapel and used for smaller ceremonies. It was recently renovated in 2005.

 

In 1928, a vestibule was added and subsequently, in 1929, a social hall was added. The vestibule had classrooms for Sunday school when I was a child. The new social hall held more classrooms as well as a large main room where people could gather. The social hall also had its own door to the outside. Today, the social hall is used for Children’s Day Out programs. There were no additional significant renovations until 1967 when a new sanctuary and gallery area were added. The new sanctuary boasted a floor to ceiling stained glass window called the “Children’s Window.” The window is made of multicolored stained glass, and because of how the pieces are situated, one can see a distinct cross within the windows. When the sun is on that side, streaming in, the sanctuary is surprisingly bright and very warm. The hallway connecting the social hall and new sanctuary had floor to ceiling windows and lovely red brick flooring. In the winter, when the sun roasted those bricks, I loved removing my dress shoes and sliding around on the warm floor in my stockings. In more recent renovations, this area was expanded out and enclosed, but I will always remember those beautiful red brick floors.

In 1986, a preschool complex, narthex, kitchen, and family life center were dedicated. The preschool complex is still used in that fashion. The narthex (like a vestibule) was used as a gathering space before and after services. The family life center and kitchen continue to hold potlucks, parties, and some casual church services. The features added in 1986 remain largely the same today.

In the early 2000s, Elam UMC went through more renovations to add an education center, improved office spaces and additional meeting rooms. This particular renovation expanded the front hallway (with the beautiful red brick floor) out into the front courtyard. This created more gathering space in the foyer, larger offices, and improved space for the library. These renovations also added a second floor where the majority of Sunday school classrooms are located now.

Elam UMC will always be a fundamental part of my childhood. My brothers and I spent a lot of our time there, and despite the physical changes, Elam UMC will always be an important and formative part of our youth.

[1] Elam United Methodist Church started out as Elam Methodist Episcopal Church, as chartered in 1880. The name went through some changes as relationships changed. In the 1940s, the Methodist Episcopal Church merged with the Methodist Protestant Church, North and South. In the late 1950s, the Methodist Church merged with the United Brethren Church, which created our current United Methodist Church.

[2] Camp Meetings were held in the summer. Entire families spent their summers in simple cottages surrounding a central meeting area for group sermons and prayers.

References

Ashmead, Henry Graham. 1884. History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. L.H. Everts & Co.: Philadelphia. Pp: 491

Brandywine Summit Camp Meeting Website. 2017. Brandywine Summit Camp Meeting – History. http://brandywinesummit.net/history/ Accessed: 3/27/17.

Pennington, Beula. Unknown Year, but pre-1984. “History of Elam United Methodist Church.” Handwritten, Unpublished.

Did You Know?

The mushroom industry was first introduced to Concord at the Willits Farm on Smithbridge road

Pierce-Willits House