The cost of this building, including organ and furniture, was five hundred dollars, which was raised at the first service in the new building. Mrs. Crary and her daughter Mary gave the altar and Bible for this church. At this time there were ten members, but by the following spring there were thirty-three.
The Church was chartered under date of January 31, 1889, with the corporate name of “The Methodist Episcopal Church of Lestershire.” The following trustees are listed in the certificate of incorporation: H. R. Clarke, E. B. Green, C. Fred Johnson, W. M. Fletcher, A. D. Rockwell, Law S. Brooks, and George Johnson. It is believed that these seven, plus Joseph Hartwell, E. Delavan Hills and Harry Weir made up the original ten members. The Society was organized on Sunday, May 11, 1890, with Mr. A. L. Smith as Superintendent of the Sunday School. He was later succeeded by William M. Fletcher.
On April 6, 1891, Bishop Bowman assigned the Reverend H. H. Wilbur to the pastorate of the new Lestershire Methodist Episcopal Church. As the new society had speedily outgrown the small six-day structure, a building committee was appointed consisting of N. B. Russell, C. Fred Johnson, and the Rev. H. H. Wilbur, to plan and provide a suitable house of worship. Plans for a new church were soon adopted and work began May 14, 1891.
The excavating was done by W. D. Roberts, the foundation laid by E. Telleson, and the superstructure put up by G. M. Horton. The church was ready for dedication on January 5, 1892. Mr. C. Fred Johnson reported for the building committee that the Church, including furnishings and horse sheds, cost $5,296.64
The Reverend C. C. McCabe sang in his inimitable manner and voice ‘a long remembered hymn, “Papa ’Fot Will You Take For Me,” and preached from the scripture in Exodus 25:8.
And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.
Dr. Manley S. Hard preached in the evening from Acts 118.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The Reverend William J. Hill, D. D., in whose pastorate the parsonage was built, was present with other clergymen and took part in the service of dedication.
During the day $2,220.00 was subscribed, and this with the money previously raised, left an indebtedness to be carried of $2,000.00 The Ladies’ Aid Society paid the rent of the parsonage, furnished it, and gave the Trustees a check for $500.00 on the day of dedication. The Girls Society known as the “Willing Workers” bought the pulpit chairs and later purchased the altar table and communion set. At the end of that year the membership of the church numbered eighty-two with thirty-five probationers.
The church membership again outgrew its accommodations, and in 1905 when the Reverend Martin V. Williams was pastor, the church was enlarged, veneered with brick, and a pipe organ was installed.
In 1916 the church membership had grown until it numbered 635 members, so with much wisdom the church purchased the lot adjoining the east side of the church property.
The necessity for enlarged quarters, especially for the efficient administration of the ever-growing Sunday School, had been felt for some years and finally resulted in action when Mr. George F. Johnson offered to make a generous donation towards a new church if it were allowed to carry his mother’s name, Mrs. Sarah Jane Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was a member of the Church for some years, active in its affairs, and was a woman of beautiful Christian character. The Board readily agreed to grant Mr. Johnson’s request, and a building committee consisting of George F. Johnson, C. Fred Johnson, Samuel D. Leadbeater, Chauncey P. Taylor, John Patterson and the pastor, the Reverend William MacAlpine, was appointed to procure plans and proceed with the work. The committee selected Messrs. J. C. Fulton and Son of Uniontown, Pa., to be the architects. It was decided to erect a separate building for social purposes and to keep the Church apart and sacred for worship and Bible study.
The Social House was started in October, 1924, and was completed in September, 1925. It was built by the Johnson City Construction Company under the direct supervision of its president, Mr. Leon Borden, a member of the Church. This company also built the Church itself. Immediately on completion of the Social House, the parsonage was removed to Arch Street, and work on the Church was begun with the building committee organized as follows: George F Johnson and C Fred Johnson, honorary chairmen; Charles F. Johnson, Jr., chairman; Chauncey P Taylor secretary; Charles A. Newell, treasurer; the pastor corresponding secretary, and Samuel D. Leadbeater. The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, April 25, 1926 and the box in the corner stone includes: List of membership, copy of church bulletins, copy of “Christian Advocate”, copy of “Morning Sun,” copy of “Binghamton Press,” memorial statement of Mrs. Sarah Jane Johnson, descriptive pamphlets of the Endicott Johnson Corp., and contents of box in corner stone of former church.
The official dedication of the new church building took place Sunday morning, June 12, 1927, but the special services continued for the whole week. They included dedication of the organ and an organ recital, graduation exercises of the nurses of the Johnson City General Hospital, a fellowship night, a young people’s night, a former pastors’ night, and on June 19, the baccalaureate service of the Johnson City High School.
Dedicated June 12, 1927 The Church and Social house are built of Hummelstown Brown stone, quarried at Hummelstown, Pa., and is of Gothic design made to conform to modern needs. The tower, 112 feet high, with its open belfry standing high above the main church building, the gable roof with its side roofs over the aisles, the buttressed walls and pointed arched windows are reminiscent of the cathedrals of Europe.
The Gothic design is carried out in the interior with its arched aisles, high clerestories and dark oaken paneled ceiling. The interior wall surfaces are decorated with Travertine stone and the arches with Caen stone. The total design conveys the feeling of spaciousness, and instinctively one feels that this is a place for worship.
The Sunday School was constructed on the departmental plan and with the spacious high basement provided for future growth.
On the exterior walls of the building, high up near the roof, are to be seen various symbolic designs. On the west side, beginning at Main Street, they are as follows: Four fishes caught in a net, signifying God’s care over those who trust Him; the Anchor which is our faith in His Word; the Bible, and finally the Peacock, which is the symbol of immortality. On the east side, beginning at Main Street, they are as follows: Two fish, for as the draught of fishes on the west side shows his miraculous power able to supply all our needs, these show his daily provision; the Crown; the Ark which from the days of the Roman Catacombs has pictured the Church as able to ride through all periods of persecution, and the Lamp which is the light of His Word. In the panels between the two portions of the front window on Main Street are found cut in the stone the Star of Bethlehem, the Carpenter’s tools (for Christ was a carpenter), the Lilly and the Palm, symbols of purity and triumph, the Crown of Thorns and the Cross.
The cost of this entire plant, consisting of Church, Social House and Parsonage, has been met by Mr. George F. Johnson, Mr. C. Fred Johnson, and their sons, Mr. George W. and Mr. Charles F., Jr., respectively. It is given to the Church to be maintained by it as a perpetual place of worship to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ, and in loving memory of her whom these children “rise up and call Blessed.”
The approximate cost of this gift was $438,000.00 The Church has frequently been called a cathedral, and is commonly considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the Triple Cities.
The Austin four-manual pipe organ was given in memory of Harry L. Johnson by his widow, Mrs. Harry L. Johnson and family. The approximate cost of that gift was $25,000.00
Through the years, the Church membership has grown at a healthy rate, as the Gospel has been preached and the homes of the community have been visited by faithful ministers of Jesus Christ. In 1939, due to necessary major repairs, the church was in debt for $15,834.56 Mr. George F. Johnson consented to give $10,000.00 provided the balance was raised. It seemed to be a huge task at that time. Through the fine cooperation of everyone, $6,761.31 was raised. The excess of $926.75 was used to start the endowment fund. The fund now totals over $250,000. The income from the fund is placed in a Capital Reserve Account to be used for major necessary repairs.
In 1946, Carillonic Tower Bells were purchased in memory of those who served in the Armed Forces in World War II. Their cost was $6,500.00.
In 1949, the George F. Johnson Chapel (Jr. Church) was constructed in the basement of the Church at a cost of $8,500.00. Much of this work was done by members of the Church. The organ was given by Mrs. William Ives. The pulpit furniture, rail, etc., were duplicates on a smaller scale of those in the main church.
In 1956 a major renovation of the Parish House was made. A new kitchen, new dining area and equipment were included as well as redecoration of the entire building. The cost of this project was $27,500.00.
Also in this year, $50.00 was contributed from the memorial contributions for two of our members. The trustees used this money to start a Memorial Education Fund. Through the contributions of many others, the Fund now holds stock and cash in excess of $70,000.00. This money is available as a loan to our members who are attending schools of higher education.
An outdoor Memorial Bulletin Monument was presented by Mrs. Raymond H. Barrows in her husband’s memory during 1969.
Most recent project, completed in 1976, is the 46-auto parking area with approach ways to the church complex. Adjoining property at 16 Arch Street as well as the former Baldwin Street parsonage have been replaced by this major improvement. Total cost of acquired premises with site development has approximated $100,000.00. The amount was subscribed through contributions from members.
The Baldwin Street parsonage has been replaced by one at 3700 Rath Street, Endwell. This is the former home of Mr. and Mrs. John Van Gordon and was given by them to the Church.
Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church complex, based on most recent appraisals, is valued at over two million dollars. Stained glass fine arts windows have a $100,000.00 replacement estimate, and the pipe organ installation, a replacement estimate of $250,000.00.
Today, as we reflect on and rejoice in the records of twenty-one pastoral leaders, our horizons are directed to a continuing worship-fellowship center. We are humbly grateful that such a glorious structure is our church home, and that from “this rock” we have been able to provide outreach services in the Christian tradition. At the same time we join in a fellowship of worship and work to the glory of God’s Kingdom.
We, of Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church, extend an invitation to all who would seek to join with us. “Here is a place where everyone who will, may-Enter to Worship, Tarry to Converse, Depart to Serve.”
The Organ was given in memory of Harry L. Johnson, by his widow, Mrs. Harry L. Johnson and family, Mrs. Arlene Johnson Brett, Mrs. Hermione Johnson Collingwood, Harry L. Johnson Jr., and Miss Ruth Johnson. Mr. Johnson was the youngest son of Mrs. Sarah Jane Johnson. He was president of the Board of Trustees of the Church at the time of his death and was deeply interested in the project of the new building. The heavy duties and strain occasioned by the war were too much for even his strong body. He went home to be with the Lord and the mother whom he loved, in 1921.
Mr. Johnson was a musician of no mean ability and had been organist in the church of his boyhood town, Plymouth, Massachusetts, so a memorial to him in the form of an organ is very appropriate.
The organ is a thirty-six stop instrument, was built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, a firm with a well established reputation. The organ consists of five separate instruments or sections. On the west side of the Choir is the Swell organ, on the east side are the Great and choir organs and in the rear on the west side over the gallery is the Echo organ. The Pedal organ is distributed between the organs on both sides of the Choir loft. The Echo organ is unusual in that it consists of six stops besides a set of chimes of twenty-five tubes. These stops consist of soft string stops, a night horn and a flute giving the effect of distance. In a special chest in this organ section is the Vox Humana which reproduces the human voice.
The Swell organ is one of the most important sections and contains some of the most exquisite pipes, many with very delicate tones. Here are reproduced various string, wind and wood instruments besides the foundation stops.
In the great organ are two great diapason stops which constitute the body tone of the instrument. Besides these are a flute, trumpet and various string stops. This organ is used for solo effects and is used more than any other part of the instrument. The Cathedral chimes are also played from this organ.
The Choir organ is so named because of its effectiveness in choir accompaniment. Its stops give sounds like the waves of the sea and reproduce the soft string and other instruments. This is the organ usually used by the organist on which to play soft music to the accompaniment of communion service and funeral occasions.
The Pedal organ contains six stops, four of which are great wooden stops sixteen feet long.
The air is supplied by a seven and a half horse power motor which drives the air into a chest with which each section or organ is furnished. This chest can be brilliantly lighted so that one may witness the opening and closing of the valves leading to the pipes.
The console or key desk contains three rows of keys, electrically controlled, and is moveable. There are about one hundred miles of wire connecting the console to the various organs. The key action is so rapid that it is capable- of producing fifty repetitions a second whereas no organist can produce more than twelve note repetitions in that time.
The organ is a symphony orchestra in itself and at times is like a many voiced choir. It can express all natures; at times it speaks with the tenderness of love, again utters a bold defiance or is heard expressing the hopes, fears, and faith of the heart. It is the most fitting instrument ever devised for sacred worship and is a very fitting memorial to Mr. Harry L. Johnson of so many tender memories.
The Art Glass windows of the Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church were made by the George Hardy Payne Studios of Paterson, NJ., art glass manufactures. Antique glass is used for all of the windows in the building, and was imported from England. It differs from American opalescent glass in that the opalescent glass has the colors streaked through it, but in the antique the colors are thoroughly mixed.
Some of the glass is what is known as rolled art, much of it is blown. Air is forced into the glass by pressure, causing bubbles of pinhead and larger sizes to appear through the glass like the air bubbles in water. The light reflected from these uneven surfaces causes it to sparkle.
The windows are all framed in the stone so that there is no metal or wood to paint.
The glass of the Sunday School windows is plain, cut in small oblongs and leaded together. Each oblong has its own color: pink, blue, green, lavender or other. From the outside the glass appears of a dark hue that harmonizes with the brown color of the stone, but the light from the outside brightens the colors on the inside and rainbow effects play on the walls and floor. The color scheme in these rooms was chosen so as to give the maximum amount of light for Sunday School purposes and to make artificial light unnecessary for even dark days.
The glass in the windows of the auditorium, the rooms directly opening into it, and the lights in the vestibule were painted with a smudge and re-melted until the smudge became a part of the glass. It gives the appearance of old glass stained with the soil of years.
The large front window is directly over the pulpit and choir, but being toward the north light does not affect the sight of the worshippers. The frame of the window is in the perpendicular Gothic with the usual tracery in the top. It gives the appearance of much height. In the center panel is a figure of Christ with uplifted hand in the act of blessing, commanding or lifting the thought upward by a gesture. The rich purple of the robe is perfect in shading. Beside Him, one on either side in separate panels and somewhat lower in position, are two angels, one bearing lilies in the hand and the other a palm branch. The figures are dignified in appearance, productive of thought and lend themselves to various interpretations. The colors of this window are deep blues, reds, purples and greens arranged in pleasing effects. In the oval is a crown and worked into the glass in unexpected places are small symbolic figures.
Beneath the five panels of the front window and separated by some woodwork is a corresponding series of five small windows. The color scheme is the same as that of the large window. In the center window is the figure of the resurrected Christ showing the nail prints in hands and feet; to the left is a figure of Him as the boy in the temple and to the right He is pictured as the good shepherd. To the extreme left is a charming picture of the Rose of Sharon and to the extreme right is one of the Lily of the Valley the two scriptural picture terms of Christ which are so much beloved by Christian people.
The windows of the clerestory being high above the heads of the people and to the side are without figures though each contains the figure of a fleur de lys, and various medallions in the body of the window. The coloring is the same as in the front window and the light of the morning and afternoon touches the floor and side walls with an ever moving array of color.
There is a series of four triple windows on the left aisle and three on the right. Each window has its suggestive symbol of a Christian truth. On the left side, beginning near the pulpit is a Bible, followed by a Dove, the symbol of the Spirit, who teaches the truth of the Word. Beyond is a luscious bunch of grapes, indicating the fruitful life that follows one living by the Word, and still beyond is the Harp, reminding one of the ‘heavenly joys that await the person living the fruitful Christian life. On the right side is the Lamp that lightens one’s steps in the way of God’s will, which often leads to the Cup of Sorrow that follows; and if one like the Master will drink, ends in the Crown of Rejoicing which is set forth in the last window. The windows are very suggestive and are sermons in themselves.
The windows have a living character; they appear life-like and show the stereoscopic effect found in good photographs; nothing is flat but every object is seen in its proper relation.
Besides attending the regular Sunday services and Wednesday prayer meetings, many of the church members organized into smaller, more personal groups for worship, social life, and work to achieve goals of the church. At the risk of omitting some or reporting memories incorrectly, we want to record some early groups and their leaders that have been vital to the life of the church.
The Sunday School groups, with their inspirational and faithful teachers, come immediately to mind. Unlike the children’s classes, where students were promoted from one class to another, the adult classes became more or less permanent social units. When a class became too extensive, usually the younger women formed a new class with one of the former class members as their teacher. For some years a teacher training class was taught by Miss Emily Williams.
The first of the women’s classes was the Mizpah Class, which began in the old brick building, possibly with Mrs. Edgar Codding (Helen) as its first teacher, though she later taught Agatha Class. Then came the Queen Esther Class with Mrs. Chauncey Taylor (Charlotte) as its teacher, followed by Mrs. Fred Allen (Mildred). The Bethany Class was taught for years by Miss Lottie Eastman. The Cleaners Class was organized by Mrs. Burt Churchill (Edith), its first teacher, but Mrs. John Lyon (Bessie) soon took the position and taught for years. One of their lasting contributions was the gift of the cross and candlesticks at the altar. Mrs. William Ives (Mamie) taught the Harmony Class, followed later by Mrs. Leroy Williams (Marian) and later still by Mrs. Ralph James (Frances) and [unreadable].
The Agatha Class began meeting in a comer of the old church with Mrs. Rophie Walton as its first teacher. (There were no special Sunday School rooms then.) Shirley Mace remembers choosing the class name when she was thirteen, for its meaning, “to do good.” One of their lasting contributions is the baptismal font at the front of the church. And who can forget the years of Lenten lunches served by members of this class?
The Mary Martha Class began meeting in the Tower Room of the present building, with a member of Agatha Class, Mrs. William Ackroyd (Harriet) as its teacher. The Echo Class, taught for some time by Mrs. Smith Brooker (Laura) later became part of Mary Martha and then of the 3 M’s. The 3 M’s Class (Miss, Mr. and Mrs.) was formed basically as a couples class, but also, like earlier ones, to include the next younger women. And now a Young Adults Class follows them.
For men, it was the Oxford Class, originally, regardless of their age. Regularly taught by the pastor, this class had over a hundred members. They participated in many activities, from playing in their own orchestra to sponsoring pancake suppers. Many of the men were also members of Ushers Club, led for years by John Frailey.
Besides Sunday School classes for children from Cradle Roll to teenagers, there was G.T.C.B. (Go-to-Church Band)- – children who sat together at the front of the church and wore pins indicating their attendance. There was a Junior League sponsored by Mrs. Scouten and Mrs. Ives on Sunday afternoons, and Epworth League for their older brothers and sisters on Sunday evening. An early president of Epworth League was B. L. Williams. These groups eventually became the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.
The Tithers Association, still active, is believed to have been formed during the Reverend MacAlpine’s pastorate.
Soon after the church was incorporated, the women members formed the, Ladies Aid Society, previously mentioned. During the pastorate of the Reverend John Frey, this became the Women’s Society of Christian Service, with Mrs. Gladys Werts as the first president, and Lena Evans serving thereafter. Members of this society met in the basement of the community house and paid 25¢ dues!
The Wesleyan Service Guild was a related women’s group, formed particularly for women employed outside the home. It channeled its mission contributions, etc., through the W.S.C.S. Both of these groups were later combined in the United Methodist Women.
Another early organization was the Young Women’s Missionary Society, a separate group, though its members also belonged to the WS.C.S. Started by Eva Weir Dufford for special emphasis on mission, it was later renamed in honor of her as the Eva Weir Dufford Society. Before the time of the W.S.C.S_, there were also a Women’s Foreign Missionary Society and a Women’s Home Missionary Society, as well as the King’s Heralds, a missionary group of young people led by Harriet Ackroyd and Doris Slingerland.
From its beginning, of course, the church had a choir. Mrs. Fred Pooler (Helen) remembers William Wood as the director when she joined, and Alice Lamb as the organist. Mrs. Pooler herself organized the first junior choir during the Reverend Freeman’s pastorate. Kenneth Myers, long a director of the Chancel Choir, formed the Wesleyan Choir, a teenage group.
There were also organizations welcomed by the church even though not all participants were church members. These included Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies, as well as athletic teams.
Another group in the early church was the Silent Workers, adults who were deaf and/or unable to speak but who came to worship together at the Sarah Jane Church. A Mrs. Briggs was their first leader, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Austin (Ethel).
No matter the name or age, the hymn has applied to the Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church: “We are one in the spirit..”