Church History

Wesley Church Historian From the first time I walked into Wesley United Methodist Church sixteen years ago, I was struck by the beauty of the sanctuary and what a friendly and welcoming atmosphere it provided for worship. Since then I have learned a great deal of the building’s history and now have the opportunity to help the church celebrate sixty years since the sanctuary was renovated to its present look. Wesley’s beautiful church, which opened in 1897, was built with a fairly plain sanctuary. The main ornamentation consisted of three windows of simply designed stained glass spaced across the back or south wall, while the altar in keeping with the traditions of the time was also simply adorned. It was centrally placed with the organ pipes to the right. By the time twenty- five years had passed, a decision was made in the early 1920s to remodel and make the sanctuary more elaborate. The central stained glass window behind the altar was covered and the organ pipes and choir loft repositioned to the center to provide a new focus of worship, while the lectern and altar were placed on a low platform to the front.

This was the way the sanctuary remained for nearly thirty years until planning began to once more redesign the look of Bloomsburg’s Methodist house of worship and replace the now fifty-year-old organ with a modern instrument. Leadership for this was provided by James G. Law, who chaired the Project Committee, and Elvin C. Myers, chairman of the Building Committee. They oversaw the work, paid the bills, and borrowed the necessary funds until donations caught up with expenses. Plans for the work were drawn up by architects with the firm C. S. Buchart and Associates of York, PA, and over the summer of 1952 construction began under general contractor John J. Kohler of Hazleton. The front of the sanctuary was gutted back to the stone wall and the old organ and pipes removed, exposing for a briefChurch History 2 time the central stained glass window. The wall to the left of the altar was moved back to make it flush with the rest of the building, allowing for the construction of a loft area where the new organ pipes would be placed. Scaffolding went up to put in place interior walls that would cover the stone and provide a framework for the new design.

The open altar that was the centerpiece of the sanctuary was to feature the stained glass window depicting Mary and Jesus, the “Raboni” window. It had been purchased in 1911 from the C. Day Rudy Company of Harrisburg and for forty years was an exterior window to the left of the altar. In its new setting the original window behind it was to provide backlighting during the day, and it would be partially covered by a wooden reredos. The plaster on the back wall above and around the “Raboni” window was painted, as were the other new decorations in the sanctuary, by Robert J. Wellsman of Baltimore, Maryland. New carpeting for the sanctuary came from the Magee Carpet Company.

One unplanned change took place high above the altar when it was discovered one of the three stained glass windows near the ceiling had broken panes of glass. When it was determined the glass could no longer be matched, all three were removed and replaced with brilliantly colored “story” windows created by the Baut Studios of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania.

The work on the three windows cost $700, but by far the largest single expense during the entire renovation project was the new organ that featured 1800 pipes. Purchased for $27,000 from the M. P. Moller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, it was not Sixty Years of the Sanctuary: Celebrating the Beauty of Wesley United Methodist Church until late November that the components were delivered to the church for installation. The Moller Company was also responsible for the new furniture and hand carved woodwork in the sanctuary and for restaining the pews to match the lighter color. All construction work was completed in December, and plans were made to celebrate the formal reopening of the sanctuary and to dedicate the organ. The celebration was to last a week, with the main rededication service set for January 18, 1953.

Large congregations packed the building for both morning and evening services that day as the church members celebrated the end of the $106,000 project. The message during the morning worship was presented by Sunbury Distr ict Super int endent, The Reverend Dr. Charles F. Berkheimer, while the centerpiece of the evening service was the first- time lighting of the rebuilt “Raboni” window. Although the organ was played that day, a recital by Minister of Music Franklin Perkins was held five days later, and a week of celebration concluded with Victory Sunday on January 25. Nearly sixty years have passed since that week when the sanctuary became complete. It was a time of joy, a joy that has not diminished for those members who come each week to praise God in their beautiful house of worship, Wesley United Methodist Church.