Arch Street United Methodist Church is an historic, architectural treasure located in the Center Square neighborhood of the City of Philadelphia. We were established in 1862 – before Philadelphia’s City Hall (which is the largest municipal building in the United States) was even built.
We are literally located at the crossroads of the city and, as such, we have one of the most diverse congregations in Philadelphia. Look below to read a little more about our history including information about our free tours.
For decades in the mid-20th Century, Arch Street UMC used as its motto the title of an old hymn, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”, since the church was so centrally located, one half block from City Hall in downtown Philadelphia.
This was not always so.
Established in 1862 as a neighborhood church long before City Hall was completed. ASUMC was built with the vision of greater things to come…both for the City and the church’s role in that grand view of the future.
In the mid-1800’s, ASUMC was the church home of Bishop Matthew Simpson who served as a close friend and ally of then-President Abraham Lincoln and was selected to deliver the eulogy of the fallen Commander-in-Chief.
The building itself has historical significance as it was only the 2nd American Methodist church built in the Gothic style. Architecturally, the church holds its own against the large Gothic structures of the Masonic Temple (1868) and City Hall (1901).
The sanctuary is large, seating over 900, and has been packed to capacity on many occasions. Some 40 annual conferences have been held here over the years. It has witnessed the merging of the Delaware and Philadelphia Annual Conferences to form the current Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in 1968. In 2012 the sanctuary was filled to overflowing with local activists who formed the Occupy Philadelphia Movement. In addition, on November 9, 2013 the sanctuary was the site one of the largest weddings in the congregation’s history when over 30 clergy officiated at the Ceremony of Sacred Marriage for long time members who just happened to be gay.
The baptismal font was created from a section of column taken from the high altar of City Road Chapel, in London, where John Wesley once preached. The Celtic cross, above the altar, was given in 1928, by 2 daughters of Bishop Simpson, who had been members for over 40 years. The egg-shaped spotlights shining down above the altar are a reminder of God’s promise of the renewal of life. Other symbolism, such as the Trinity in various forms, can be found carved or plastered throughout the sanctuary.
Adapted from Arch Street UMC History
By Dale Shillito, Church Historian
Call the office to arrange a tour with the church’s historians at 215.568.6250. Or you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the book “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” which describes the first century of Arch Street Methodist Episcopal Church.