History of Coventryville United Methodist Church
(Adapted from the 1999 Anniversary Committee)
At the Philadelphia Conference in 1774, Chester Circuit appears for the first time. The Society at Coventry was formed later that year. Itinerant Pastors appointed to the circuit were William Watters and Benjamin Abbott.
Historians credit Mrs. Rebecca Grace with the founding of Methodism in Coventry, after she read John Wesley’s sermon “Falling from Grace”. She was part owner of Coventry Forge and Warwick Furnace.
A frequent visitor to Coventry Hall was Benjamin Franklin, a friend of the Grace family. His Franklin stoves were cast at Warwick Furnace. General George Washington visited after the Battle of Brandywine. Munitions were forged here for the Continental Army.
Colonel Caleb North, a Revolutionary War officer under General Anthony Wayne, a relative of Mrs. Grace, resided at Coventry Hall after the war. He was an important worker in the growth of the Society following Mrs. Grace’s death in 1800. Both pioneer Methodists are buried in the family graveyard known as Potts Cemetery on the grounds of Coventry Hall.
The Society, increasing in influence and membership, began making plans to build a church edifice or meeting house for worship. The ground, ninety-three perches of land, located on the hill north of the village, was deeded by the Grace Family to the Board of Trustees for the erection of the church and provided for a cemetery.
Bishop Francis Asbury continued his ministry on horseback, preaching and organizing churches. On April 10, 1812, the Bishop stayed at Coventry Hall and gave Colonel North the plan for a church building “forty feet wide, fifty feet long, with an end gallery and a vestibule”. The building was completed in 1813 and was named Grace Chapel in honor of Rebecca Grace.
Grace Chapel held services from 1813 to 1862 and the preaching and teaching there brought many souls to the Lord. Located in what is now our church cemetery, some of the stone from the dismantled building was used to build the cemetery wall. A granite monument marks the site where Grace Chapel was located and also commemorated the organization of the Sunday School.
The first school in Coventryville was the Sunday School at Grace Chapel, which offered its first lessons in September, 1821. Teachers were Methodists, Episcopalians and Quakers. Although it was non-denominational, the school was strongly Christian. At the end of the first year, the Sunday School manager reported that of his 95 students, only about half could read. But he proudly asserted that thousands of Bible verses had been recited from memory. Classes met every Sunday from 2:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon. As public schools began to appear in America in 1840, the Sunday School at Coventryville became a strictly religious organization.
The present church building was built on land in the village donated by George Chrisman Sr. and deeded to the trustees. Construction by local craftsmen began in 1860, using stone and timber from the surrounding area. The construction was completed in 1862 and the new church was dedicated by Bishop Levi Scott. Ministers during this time were Rev. H. B. Dennison, Rev. Valentine Gray and Rev. L.D. McClintock. Private donations, peach and strawberry festivals, suppers and musical programs helped to pay off the debt incurred in the erection of the new building.
George Chrisman Sr., who owned and operated Coventry Forge and the grist mill, was vitally interested in the progress of the church. His family was a generous contributor to the new building and paid most of the expenses to erect the bell tower with an eighty foot high steeple. The family also donated the church bell. The bell rotates slightly when rung to slowly distribute the clapper blows across the entire interior of the bell. This bell has been ringing over the hills and valleys for 148 years.
The church building served as originally designed for many years. The first floor was a meeting room with pews for classes and two pipe-less coal heaters, two small classrooms and a vestibule. Sunday School classes were held in the first floor meeting room. Two stairways led to the second floor which consisted of the sanctuary and a vestibule covered by a gallery. Church lighting was initially accomplished using kerosene lamps, followed by carbide gas lights and finally in the 1920’s electric lighting was installed. The chandelier in the sanctuary originally burned kerosene and was converted to electricity in 1957. During cold weather, many worship services were held downstairs as the second floor was difficult to heat. Wooden sheds containing privies and storage were attached to the west side of the church.
Music was always a part of the Christian ministry at Coventryville. Adult, Youth and Junior choirs sang at Sunday services, anniversaries and special services. The original church organ was a reed type with foot pedals to operate the bellows and equipped with knee swells to increase the volume of the music. This organ was later equipped with electrically operated bellows as an aid to the organist. The original organ was replaced in 1956. The church’s present organ was purchased in 1983. In 2010, a Chimes Choir was added to compliment the music program.
Itinerant Pastors or Circuit Riders served the church until 1867 when pastors were assigned, usually to a circuit that is appointed to more than one church.
In 1902, the church’s original shuttered rectangular windows of clear glass were remodeled. The shutters were removed from the sanctuary windows which were then fitted with an arched top and all of the clear glass windows were replaced with stained glass memorial windows. The partition wall between the second floor vestibule and the sanctuary was also removed, providing for additional, much needed pew space.
In 1912, the Coventry Cemetery Association was formed to remove the administrative role of the church cemetery from the church trustees. The Association is charged with the maintenance of the sacred and beautiful burial ground north of the church. These grounds include the original site of the Grace Chapel, the original cemetery and other lands that have been acquired by or donated to the Association over the years.
Active organizations in the church were the Christian Endeavor Society for the youth and the Ladies Aid Society, later known as the Women’s Society for Christian Service and still later known as the United Methodist Women. Today’s group is entitled The Owls, and along with a Bible Study, is heavily focused in mission work.
After World War II, new and expanded facilities were a necessity if the church was to grow and meet the needs of the rapidly growing community. In 1956, construction had begun by contractor Horace Fries. It included an annex housing a kitchen, educational / recreational facilities, a new steam heating system, a plumbing system for kitchen and bathrooms, painting the exterior of the church and macadamizing the parking lot. With the gift of numerous hours of donated labor, the work was completed and consecrated on June 1, 1958 as the Grace Memorial Annex.
In 1966, the first full-time pastor, Rev. Herbert Snyder, was appointed to Coventryville. The Coventryville-Nantmeal pastoral circuit was retired. Coventryville’s long association with the circuit rider / pastor, begun in 1773, had come to an end, 193 years later.
The church building was improved again in 1968 with the Asbury Historical Chapel, a choir and youth room, storage, renovations to Grace Hall and a handicap accessible ramp with access to the sanctuary.
Major building renovations were performed in 1993 – 1994, when a second story was added to Grace Hall containing classrooms as well as the modernization of bathrooms and storage areas. The church kitchen has also been modernized and is now a licensed food handling facility.
Through faith, dedication, prayer, hard work, trust in God and Christian preaching and education, Coventryville United Methodist Church has served the surrounding communities for 236 years and continues to be a spiritual guide in the new millennium.