One of Trenton’s oldest churches celebrated its 250th anniversary this year and Liberty weekend highlights their past contributions to America’s history. For Historic Trenton’s Day in the Life, we’re looking back through newspapers from the beginning and examining everyday problems, solutions, and needs during historic Trenton’s past. Today, we look at the history of the Turning Point Methodist Church.
The First Methodist Church of Trenton is the first established Methodist church in New Jersey. According to historians and records, it is most likely the third in the entire country, ranking next only after the John Street Church in New York City and St. George’s Church in Philadelphia.
The story began in 1771; the colonies were on the edge of revolution. Still, among Trenton residents, 19 colonists started forming the First Methodist Episcopal Church, known as the Mother Church.
According to Trenton Historical Society’s A History of Trenton, in 1772, the Trenton Society, consisting of nineteen members, secured subscriptions from a hundred and twenty-two people for the construction of a meeting house.
The Society was the first to be named by Francis Asbury, who would later become the first Bishop of The Methodist Episcopal Church. The subscription list bears the date November 25, 1772 and the total amount raised was 213 pounds.
Years later, the sect known as the Methodist Episcopal Church was created; forming a band of Methodists replacing the original meeting house with one having a larger seating capacity in 1806.
According to turningpoint.org, a lot on South Broad Street (then known as Greene Street) was the site of the third building, which was erected and dedicated on September 9, 1838. Later in 1894, the current facility was constructed and dedicated on May 5, 1895, having a capacity of 2000 people.
“There were about 20 United Methodist Churches at that time,” said Rupert Hall, Senior Pastor at Turning Point United Methodist Church. “The people that came to this church were wealthy, well-to-do Trentonians, a lot of state workers, a lot of politicians…Through the 1800s, through the 1900s, this was one of the key churches in the Methodist denomination nationally, especially here in New Jersey.”
That peace would be disturbed on December 16, 1956, when an arson fire destroyed much of the interior, but the foundation held, and the walls stood firm. The church’s walls stood strong enough that by 1958, the church had been rebuilt, and masses resumed as they have for the last two centuries.
Until 1968, the church downtown was a segregated church, alongside many other Methodist churches due to a long-standing history. That included a break in Methodists over slavery in the 1800s.
“That remained the same until 1968 when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and that’s when it became The United Methodist Church,” Pastor Hall said “So those African American churches were now integral in the entire Methodist fellowship.”
However, the Trenton United Methodist Church congregation began to shrink as people moved out of the inner cities and into the suburbs.
“This church remain predominantly white up until, by my count, maybe 1975… As white flight happened and people left Trenton, the congregation got smaller and smaller and smaller… This church was an anomaly in Trenton,” said Pastor Hall.
As the congregation shrunk through, a decision was made in 2007 to combine two communities into one united front.
“There was another United Methodist Church at 505 West Eighth Street, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church…they had a similar dynamic,” Pastor Hall said. “As Trenton became more and more people of color. The population dwindled and dwindled; we had two struggling inner-city churches.”
They decided on a name to represent the City of Trenton and the community they served.
“The name Turning Point was selected as a recognition that Trenton represents the Battle of Trenton and how it represented a turning point in the Revolutionary War. So, Turning Point United Methodist Church should then represent a turning point in people’s lives,” Pastor Hall said.
However, Pastor hall explained that it is critical to learn the history of the different churches in Trenton, to understand the history of the city,
“It’s important because invariably, churches in urban settings from the early 1900s grew when white flight occurred. Many churches across all denominations left the inner city and then went to suburbia…This church stands as a testament to longevity and commitment to the urban ethos. Has it been easy? No, it has not been easy… but the mere fact that we’re here is beneficial to providing a sense of hope,” Pastor Hall said.