We are a “link” between generations. Organized Methodism arose under the leadership of John Wesley. A clergyman of the Church of England, he did not intend to found a new denomination. His spiritual struggles during the decade before his heart-warming experience of May 24, 1738 led into his great work for more than a half-century, to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
Methodism established its initial foothold in America in 1766 when the first Methodist Society meeting was held in New York City. Two years later, a Methodist meeting house was erected in New York City and named Wesley Chapel. Today, it is situated amid the financial district at 44 John Street.
In 1771, Wesley sent 26-year-old Francis Asbury to America. In the providence of God, he was destined to become the great leader and organizer of the emerging American Methodist Church. For the next 45 years, until his death in 1816, Asbury traveled by horseback through cities, villages and settlements, promoting patriotism, education, morality and religion in the American republic.
In 1784, at the conclusion of the American Revolution, John Wesley, now 81, took the steps which resulted in the organizing of the Societies of his Movement into the Methodist Episcopal Church. Methodism has not always remained united. The Methodist Protestant Church was formed in 1830, primarily as a movement for more adequate lay representation. Slavery later caused the church to divide between North and South. It was not until 1939 that these three branches of Methodism again became one church.
Centenary United Methodist Church traces its beginnings to 1866. In the year following the end of the American Civil War, the certificate of incorporation for Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church (as it was then known) was signed. The Metuchen congregation took the name of Centenary because 1866 was the hundredth anniversary of the first Methodist Society meeting in America.
The original church building was erected in 1869 at the corner of Main Street and Middlesex Avenue, the current location of the Bank of New York. In 1916, Centenary’s 50th anniversary year, plans were finalized for a new church edifice at the Main Street / Middlesex Avenue location. Built at a cost of $15,500, the new building was dedicated on September 23, 1918, shortly before the end of World War I in Europe.
By the mid-1950’s, Centenary had outgrown its downtown facilities and a church committee under the leadership of the Reverend William Twiddy, began planning and raising funds for the construction of a new church. A parcel of land was purchased on Hillside Avenue, and construction began on October 6, 1963, while the Reverend Vern A. Jensen was serving as pastor. The new building was dedicated a year later, in October 1964. Two years later, in 1966, the church celebrated its centennial anniversary.
Centenary continued to grow through the 1960’s and in 1968, a new education wing was added to the church. In that same year, as a result of the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches, all Methodist churches became United Methodist churches, thus Centenary United Methodist Church.
The Reverend Carl Kearns was appointed pastor of Centenary in 1971. He was followed by the Reverend Jim Lubach (in 1983), the Reverend Paul Maliel (in 1988) and the Reverend John Painter (in 2000). Our current pastor, the Rev. Jisun Kwak, was appointed to serve as pastor in July, 2010.
Centenary’s facilities are vibrant and joyful during the week as well as on Sunday. The Centenary Nursery School, opened in 1967, has a current enrollment of 91 children. In 1977, the Metuchen-Edison Community Day Care Center was established at Centenary. One of the first facilities of its kind in the area, the center was spearheaded by Centenary layman, Dan Saks, who recognized the need for quality, affordable child care as mothers began returning to work in growing numbers. At the start, several other local churches also supported the center, which had a sliding fee scale and scholarships for children from low income families. In 1992, the center be-came affiliated with the Metuchen-Edison YMCA and changed its name to the Centenary Child Care Center. Its current enrollment is 85 children.
In 1986, the Tom Harris Memorial Steeple was erected and dedicated, honoring one of Centenary’s greatest benefactors who passed away in 1984. In 1990, Centenary received a generous bequest from the estate of Horace and Mildred Boyd, faithful and longtime members. In the years that followed, a portion of this gift was used to upgrade our sanctuary as a memorial to the Boyds.
For the last four decades, Centenary has been known for its strong mission outreach programs in the Metuchen-Edison area. Programs in the late 1960’s included tutoring of disadvantaged in the “Potter’s Crossing” section of North Edison; inviting young men from the Kilmer Job Corps Center in Edison for Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners with church families; and a sister church relationship with Humanities Baptist Church in Newark.
In 1975, Centenary became the sponsor of seven Vietnamese refugees who were brought to America from a refugee camp in Southeast Asia following the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists. Church members helped them to find housing and jobs, learn English and other skills and in general, to become acclimated to life in a strange new land. Ten years later, the church repeated the process with two refugees from Poland.
For the past decade, Centenary has been a supporter of the Ozanam homeless shelter in Edison, collecting food on the third Sunday of each month and serving dinner one night a month to the men, women and children who live at the Edison facility. Beginning in 2001, we have expanded our relationship with Amandla Crossing, a residence for single parents and their children operated under the auspices of Middlesex Interfaith Partners with the Homeless. In 2002 we began a relationship with a ministry to children in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, through the auspices of a United Methodist congregation in that city. Through special collections at our Sunday morning worship services, we extend our mission, giving to many other causes in the local area and around the world.
In 1996, our 130th anniversary year, Centenary launched Vision 2000, a four year plan designed to revitalize our church as we move toward ministry and mission in a new century and a new millennium. Vision 2000 focused on four core areas of the church; Evangelism, Spiritual Growth & Development; Children’s Ministry and Music Ministry. During this period membership, attendance at worship and Sunday School increased; several new small groups for prayer and nurture were established, including Disciple Bible Study; and a number of persons participated in Walks to Emmaus, experiencing spiritual and personal enrichment which has been shared with the larger community.
In 2001, our 135th year of ministry and service, a task force of persons from the congregation was empowered to explore a new four-year plan (similar to Vision 2000) and presented a wide-ranging series of recommendations to our Fall 2001 Church/Charge Conference for leading our ministry and mission toward the year 2005. In May 2002 the congregation overwhelmingly approved and entered into a shared-facility covenant with Jesus Followers United Methodist Church, a Korean-language mission congregation forming in the Metuchen-Edison community.
Centenary celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2006 and looks forward to its 150th anniversary in 2016.
In Second Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians in every age should see themselves as a “link” between two generations the one that came before them and the one that will come after them. Through the ambitious goals established in our continuing vision, we are determined to pass on to the next generation a church that is as strong and committed to serving Christ as the one we inherited.