East and West, Iron and Stone

Two churches, one on the eastern edge of downtown, the other on the western edge. One remembers its past with iron, the other with stone.

On the eastern edge of downtown, on Elm Street, the building of Allen Chapel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church celebrates its centennial this year. The church was founded in 1870.

The building’s architect, William Sidney Pittman (photo from Drexel University), was the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, the ex-slave who became an educator, author, orator, and political leader. The building is gothic in style, of brick and stained glass. But look again at the first photo. See the white pedestal in the lower-right corner?

Atop that pedestal sits an anvil. Why?

Richard Allen (1760-1831), a slave who bought his freedom in 1780, founded the AME denomination in 1794 in Philadelphia (photo from Wikipedia). Members of the new denomination needed a place to worship, so they converted a blacksmith’s shop into a sanctuary. Thus, the anvil came to symbolize the enduring spirit of the founders of the denomination.

We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.

—Henry Ward Beecher

 

On the western edge of downtown, on Bluff Street, is Gethsemane Presbyterian Church.

It was founded in 1927 on Florence Street as a school for Mexican immigrant children, who were taught English, manual skills, leatherwork, and domestic sciences.

In 1941 Gethsemane moved to Bluff Street. The congregation also moved its wooden sanctuary building. At its new location the congregation added a mission-style stone front porch to the old sanctuary building.

The congregation also dug a stone well beside the sanctuary. Over the years church members have decorated the well with marbles and tiles.

In 1994 the white sanctuary building was built on the lot, and the old wooden sanctuary that had been moved from Florence Street was torn down. But the stone porch, like the stone well, was retained as a link to the church’s past.

Every charitable act is a stepping stone toward heaven.

—Henry Ward Beecher

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