Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1962 Volume 12 Number 2, Pages 22–28

The Emma L. Simpson Memorial Methodist Church in Paoli

William T. Cherry

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Since we owe much to the past, and are indeed the product of days gone by, it is of interest to us to recall those events since our founding that have combined to make us what we are today. The half-century of our existence as a church is perhaps not at all unique, but it is history; it is the story of life as a church, and can be a present inspiration to us, and a stimulating challenge for us as we face the opportunities of the future.

Opposite the years of special significance for us, we record here the story of our church's life:

1907 - The people of Paoli, called Methodist, organized themselves into a fellowship of dedicated believers, meeting regularly on Tuesday evenings in their several homes, assisted by their good neighbors of the Malvern Methodist Episcopal Church.

1908 - During this summer, T Edwin Redding, pastor of the Malvern Church, held preaching services in Paoli, but with the coming of fall they were discontinued.

1909 - In March, the people again zealously sought the services of a pastor, and on June 13 Mr. Redding resumed his labor among them, preaching on Sunday afternoons in Schofield Hall, which was then Town Hall of Paoli. Under his leadership various supplies filled the pulpit until the charge was duly organized on November 28 of that year, with 23 members. The Rev. Josiah Bawden was appointed pastor at this time by the District Superintendent, Rev. William H. Shafer, and regular services were held in the Paoli Library.

1910 - On March 25, the Rev. W. Howard Michener was appointed to the charge by the new District Superintendent, the Rev. E.C. Griffith. Under Mr. Michener's aggressive leadership, the church was chartered on July 5, to be known as the Methodist Episcopal Church of Paoli, and ground was broken for the church edifice on Tuesday evening, July 12.

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1911 - After more than a year of earnest effort, the new church was completed at a cost of $3,800 and was dedicated with services each day of the week of September 3, culminating in the dedicatory program on September 10, with the District Superintendent preaching.

1919 - With the gift of a substantial sum of money, on August 25, the name of the church was officially changed in honor of the donor, from the Methodist Episcopal Church of Paoli to the Emma L. Simpson Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.

1930 - Since its founding, the membership of the church has grown to 130, with prospects of an annual accession of 15 to 20 children.

1936 - From October 4 to 7 the church observed the 25th anniversary of its dedication, with Henry C. Turner its present pastor. Highlights of "The Silver Crown" were the preaching of Dr. John Watchorn, District Superintendent, greetings from neighboring churches by way of their pastors, a reception to former ministers of the church, and a recital by Mrs. Avirta L. Kepler on the new Hammond organ just purchased.

Original Emma L. Simpson Memorial Methodist Church in Paoli

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1939 - When with the union of the three major branches of Methodism throughout the world, and the name of the general church was to be known simply as "The Methodist Church", the word "Episcopal" was duly dropped from the official title of our church, and we became "The Emma L. Simpson Memorial Methodist Church."

1946 - With Benjamin G. Gould as pastor, the Sunday School was suffering growing pains, and through the District Superintendent, Dr. Levi H. Zerr, the overcrowding was relieved somewhat by the erection of a structure against the rear of the church (formerly a C.C.C. war-time building) which provided a classroom for the Nursery and Beginner Departments.

With the war over, the greater Paoli area welcomed many new residents, and with other churches in the vicinity we began growing, so that more radical measures had to be taken to meet the need for additional facilities.

1952 - Under the new pastor William T, Cherry, ground was broken on October 26 for an educational unit to replace the now condemned lean-to on the back of the church, and to provide the much-needed Sunday School space. Dr. Leon T. Moore, District Superintendent, preached the sermon, and inserted the spade to turn the first shovelful of dirt, followed by the pastor, William F. Isinger, chairman of the Building Committee, and others of the church, along with the architect and builder.

1953 - Occupancy of the building took place in the spring, with the consecration service on Sunday, April 19, with Dr. Moore preaching the consecration sermon, and the building presented to Thomas A. Clark, president of the Board of Trustees.

1954 - Growth in church attendance necessitated the addition of an 8:30 Sunday morning service, begun on Easter Sunday but continued thereafter as a regular part of the church program.

This year saw, too, the complete refurbishing of the church sanctuary, with painting and varnishing done, new carpets and lighting fixtures installed, and new pulpit hangings and furnishings added. Many of the latter were presented as memorials to the church, and were so dedicated in a special service on December 26.

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1955 - With the new facilities rapidly filling up, long range thinking by the church and the Conference resulted in the purchase in June of this year of a four-acre plot on the corner of South Valley and Devon (or Old State) Roads, where a relocation of the church could be made when and if future need dictated.

1957 - On January 31, the Quarterly Conference elected a building committee, headed by Emil F. Weitz, to make preliminary investigations, in accordance with the Discipline, so that in due time the church corporation might decide with regard to a full-scale building program.

1961 - On December 17 the congregation held its first services in the completed first unit of the building, in time for its annual Christmas observances.

1962 - On January 7 Bishop Fred Pierce Corson, Resident Bishop of the Philadelphia area of the Methodist Church, was present to conduct the consecration services for the new building. Dr. J. Vincent Watchorn and Dr. Leon T. Moore assisted in the service.

To appreciate something fully we must know something of what went into its making. A new church certainly deserves the greatest appreciation of those who see it and worship in it, and it is to this end that this summary statement has been prepared. This briefly describes the thinking and planning and effort that has issued in this building "consecrated to the glory of God and the service of men."


With the growth of the Greater Paoli Area during the mid- 1950's it was apparent that the educational addition to our old church made in 1952-53 would shortly be inadequate. Therefore, the Fourth quarterly Conference , on January 31, 1957, elected a Building Committee to proceed immediately with plans for the ultimate relocation of our church to the four-acre site purchased by the Philadelphia Annual Conference in June of 1955 for this purpose.

The first duty of the Committee was to select an architect, and after screening a number of them and hearing a personal presentation of three, it decided upon Harold E. Wagoner, of Philadelphia, whose work is exclusively with churches and whose experience and acclaim is nation-wide.

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Before the Committee asked for any preliminary sketches from the architect, it studied the whole question of a new church from two points of view, first, it examined the character of our fellowship under such headings as faith and doctrine, worship and liturgy, education and fellowship, and included a brief description of the social and economic characteristics of the community; second, after a complete study of our immediate and long-range needs, it drew up a summary of the church's space and facility requirements. These two reports- both quite extensive - were given to the architect to guide him in his planning.

After repeated revisions of the preliminary sketches, a master plan was adopted by the Committee, and a Church Conference was duly convened for the purpose of considering it. At this session, on August 27, 1959, approval was given and the Committee was instructed to proceed with the program as outlined.


The picture of the proposed building presented to and approved by the congregation was strongly contemporary, and, we were told, quite unique in the realm of church architecture. The Committee had not given the architect any mandate in favor of a specific style of building - be it classic or colonial or contemporary. The decision to accept was based perhaps on two factors: first, that the Committee liked it, and increasingly so; and second, that since the age and area we live in are up to date in every way, a church with a modern flavor can be a ready reminder of how our faith must keep pace with this contemporary spirit all around us.

One of the problems that the Committee had to work out early in its thinking was which part of the master plan should be built first. A church is really a complex of buildings, with four distinct kinds of facilities that must be provided: those for worship, education, fellow - ship and administration. In planning for the growth that was projected, it was obvious that more church would be ultimately be needed than could be built all at once. As a consequence, the program would have to be undertaken in two, or perhaps even three, stages. The question then arose as to which facilities ought to be provided for first.

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The logical solution was to build a multipurpose fellowship hall which could be used temporarily for worship as well as for education and recreation, and also build an educational wing that would see us through the first few years.


The triangular shape of the hall, while unusual in plan, avoids the long, narrow lay-out of the more conventional building, and allows a sort of "Gathering-around" principle to function, in which people are as close to the worship center and the minister as possible. This shape, by its converging lines, also draws attention to the chancel where it ought to be during worship. It was decided to have a "divided" chancel, that is, accessible from the center, with an altar in the middle and a lectern and pulpit on either side. There are doctrinal reasons for this: we come to church to hear and learn the Word of God, and that Word is presented in two ways: first, vocally, so that we have on one side the lectern where the minister reads that Word from the Scriptures, and on the other the pulpit where he expounds it in the sermon; second, the Word is acted as well as spoken, and in the center of the chancel is the symbol of this "acted" Word; it is an altar insofar as it invites the dedication of our lives before it, but it is also a free-standing table symbolic of the fellowship we have with Jesus Christ at the table of the Lord's Supper.

The brassware on the altar has a special meaning too; the candles stand for Christ who is "the light of the world" and we have begun using an acolyte to light and extinguish them in order to take greater cognizance of their significance; the altar Bible desk and open Bible on it remind us of the central piece of the Bible in Protestantism as "the sufficient rule both of faith and of practice;" the vases hold flowers which are symbolic of the church's belief in eternal life; and the offering plates, placed on the altar only after they are full, are representative of the devotion of the people by way of the tithes and gifts they contain. The cross which we are used to seeing on the altar or communion table is prominently displayed on the wall over the pulpit; its position there, far from removing it from a place of importance, gives it the additional meaning that now the minister preaches "In the shadow of the cross." The chancel paraments, which include the altar drop, the pulpit antependia and the lectern Bible markers, are in four colors, which will be changed as the seasons of the church year come and go. Purple (the color for mourning,

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humility and preparation) is used for Advent and Lent; white (for light) is used during Christmastide, Epiphany and Eastertide; red (for spirit and Zeal) for the Day of Pentecost, Whitsuntide (or the season of Trinity), and other special church holidays; and green (for life and growth) during kingdomtide.

The chairs used in the hall were purchased in lieu of pews because the room is a fellowship hall, and its multi-purposed nature dictates the occasional need for altering its arrangement.

Many of the appointments of the church have been given by families of our membership, and rather than make note of the donors on the items themselves where such note would be scattered and largely unnoticed, a record of all these gifts, as well as those given in former years at the old church, will be made in our Book of Remembrance which will be on permanent display in the narthex.


Careful thought was given, too, to the facilities for education, with the general rule followed that the spaces provided be as roomy and flexible as possible. Therefore we did not plan any small, individual classrooms, but large ones, several of which will have folding partitions, and in which several classes can meet together with portable dividers used if required.

We included a kitchen in our planning, and it is well equipped to serve meals either for church fellowship or for fund-raising purposes. There is an office in the building which will serve the minister as his private study as well as the secretarial staff for church administration. Ultimately, when space is available, this will most likely become a Church School office and library.

We believe the building as it has been conceived and executed is exceedingly attractive, with its Valley Forge field stone construction and white wood trim, and with the liberal use of glass for brightness and appeal.

The records of the church reflect a life within this fellowship fraught with the joys and sorrows, the mountain tops and valley depths, and the births and deaths, the coming and goings, typical of every devoted church people; but above it all, with providential guidance a good God has reigned. We thank him for these abundant years past, and pray his continued beneficence in the challenging days ahead.


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