Sept 8: Today’s Centenary connects with a wee bit of its past

About 30 people rolled into Centenary’s sanctuary all at once at 9 am Sunday Sept 8 2013. They were a tour group of visitors from around the world — some from Australia and New Zealand, some from the United States, many from Canada, and at least one from Mount Hope on the Hamilton mountain. Their connection to each other is that they are all descendants of German settlers who came to County Limerick, Ireland, in the early 1700s from the German Palatinate.

But what is their connection to Centenary?

Their ancestors were settled in Ireland by the English crown to help establish Protestantism in that region of Ireland. Like many in Ireland, those settlers and their descendants subsequently emigrated to other parts of the world where English is spoken.

Why would descendants of such a group choose to visit Centenary? The answer helps explain our name.

Two of the early Irish Palatine emigrants to North America were Philip Embury and his cousin Barbara Heck. They came to New York City. Philip was a Methodist lay preacher.  Barbara convinced Philip to begin his preaching ministry in the city. In October of 1766 he began holding regular services in their home. 

The congregation rapidly outgrew its earliest places of worship. In 1768 the group erected a building on a site on John Street in New York City. They called it Wesley Chapel. It was dedicated on Oct 30, 1768, becoming the permanent home of the oldest continuous Methodist congregation in the United States.

In 1868 Centenary, in Hamilton, became one of many new congregations across North America that year named in centennial recognition of the establishment of that first Methodist congregation in North America. Hence the name “Centenary.”

Centenary is now a United Church because the Methodist Church in Canada merged with most Presbyterians and the Congregationalist in 1925 to form the union church called “The United Church of Canada.”

Our Irish Palantine visitors heard some of the history and the current life of the Centenary congregation — now the One Main Street United Church congregation. They sang two hymns — one of Lutheran background and the other of Methodist and they enjoyed an organ selection played by One Main Street United Church’s Music Director Brian Turnbull.

Our visitors left with us postcards from the region in which the Irish Palantine settlers were settled. The first is Embury-Heck Memorial Methodist church built in 1766 in Ballingrane, Rathkeale, County Limerick. The second is of the Irish Palatine Heritage Centre in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick