Methodist Church (Aura) about 1906
***AURA UNITED METHODIST CHURCH ***
(This site was marked by the Gloucester County Bicentennial Committee, as one of the 89 Historical Sites in Gloucester County, predating the Civil War).
The Settlement of (Aura) apparently grew up around "Union Chapel". Taken
from the Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, [Vol. II, page 596 ], 1958 the following
"I preached...on April 12, 1809 at Union Chapel; it is a neatbuilding, two stories high, forty by thirty-six feet...I Spent a night with John Abbott, a local preacher. Snow on Thursday; I preached at Pittsgrove." A footnote states that John Abbott lived on a plantation in Pittsgrove Township, Salem County. It is evident from the sequence of these stopping places that "Union Chapel" was at Present Aura.
The foregoing is confirmed by the following, from page 3 of "The Methodist Trail in New jersey", by Frank Bateman Stanger, 1961: "According to recorded information, John Early arrived from Ireland in 1764, was the first man to bring Methodism to New Jersey. This first New Jersey Methodist reputedly settled "Old Union Church", now known as Aura."
The "Union" burying ground here dates to 1810, and the Methodist
Meeting House to 1806.
The following excerpts from "History of Aura Methodist Episcopal Church" prepared and read at the 100th Anniversary on August 29, 1906, by Mr. Roy Ledden.
"This celebration of the 100th Anniversary of this church we consider an important event. It is just and fitting that we do, but if we call to our notice conditions which existed, and events which transpired within a mile of this spot, at a date much earlier than the founding of this church, we are at once convinced of the propriety of our assembling ourselves at this place. We have been fortunate in obtaining for reliable records the information that it was in this vicinity that Methodism was first established in New Jersey, with in a mile east from here, the house on what is now known as the Evan Davis farm, on the spot where a log house once served as the home of Jon Early, the first Methodist of New Jersey. The frame of the log house was the frame of part of the house, standing in 1906, but since burned.
"Rev. John Atkinson, in his "Memorial Methodism of New Jersey", published in 1860, gives the following account of Father Early.
"When the Wesleyan Reformation began to spread over New Jersey, it was exceedingly small and feeble. A Methodist in those days was a rare phenomenon. The first of this sect of whom we have any information was John Earley, a native of Ireland, where he was born in 1738. He emigrated to this country in 1764, and settled in New Jersey somewhere between this period and 1770, as near as can be determined by the record, (and) he embraced the doctrine of the Gospel as shown by Methodism.
"He lived respected in the community of the church of his choice for about sixty years, when he died at the advanced age of four score and ten.
"He resided in Gloucester County, and for forty years filled the offices of class leader and steward of the circuit of which he belonged. He was a consistent Christian, a faithful friend, an obliging neighbor, a kind husband, a fond parent -- devoted to the interest and welfare of those whom providence had committed to his care. His long life of fidelity contributed much doubtless to the cause of Christ in the region where he lived; and in the history of Methodism in the state. His example appears like a lone star shining in a clear place in the heavens, and shedding its serene effulgence upon the darkness, clouds, and tempest of a dreary night.
"While he was the first (?) in New Jersey to identify himself with the people called Methodists, he also gave, at an early and trying period, in the history of the denomination, a son of the itinerant ministry of the church. That son, William Earley, entered the ministry of the church, at the age of twenty-one. in 1791 he bore the cross into the wilds of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
"We learn that preaching, prayer, and class meetings were held at John Earley's house, where the scattered population for a long distance were wont to convene for the worship of God. But when the appointment was established, or the first class formed, or what the numerical strength was cannot be determined. Probably this was the only place where Methodist meetings were held until after 1790. It was also the principal place several Years after that date. It was that year that the great revival broke out at Bethel (now South Hurffville) and many people of this vicinity attended that revival and were converted.
"Among the number were the Abbotts, Jacksons, Leddens, and Fislers, viz., Jacob, Leonard, Samuel, Joseph and Benjamin Fisler, a native of Switzerland. The Bethel revival gave new impetus to the feeble society located at Father Earley' s. It was the occasion of increased activity which led to the holding of meetings at other private houses.
"Jacob Fisler was soon made class leader. He afterwards, was licensed to preach and later ordained a Deacon by Bishop Asbury, April 25, 1802. His brother Benjamin entered the itinerant ministry and was sent into the wilds of Canada to do missionary work.
''To what extent the society increased before leaving Father Earley' s has not
been ascertained, nor have we any definite data giving time of its removal. As to
the zeal of the people of that day, Doctor Fisler, the son of the Rev. Jacob Fisler,
in an essay dated 1857, speaks of 'going to quarterly meetings through the pine forests
from ten to fifty miles.' He makes the following statement. ' Our practice was to
work till half past ten o'clock, take our horses or oxen from the plow, hitch to
the wagon, all hands get in and go to Jon Earley's to meeting. At twelve turn team
to wagon, let them eat while we went to hear a good sermon, have a powerful class,
then hitch up and go home rejoicing. On Sunday, we would go to Father Earley"s
again. On some weekday night we went to John Earley's, Samuel Ledden's or Joseph
Jackon's for prayer meeting.
"Doctor Fisler's essay also relates:'When it was proposed to build a church a difference of opinion arose as to its Place of location. Three of our different sites had warm and earnest advocates, but the "Union" people carried the Point.' John Earley with his followers, the families heretofore named, were the foremost people of "Union" at that time. As Bishop Asbury had charge of Methodism throughout the states at that time it is not improbable that it was built and dedicated under his direction. He writes in his Journal,'I left philadelphia and rode twenty-four miles south and stayed with old Father Earley preaching in "Union Chapel".'
"The church was erected on the ground now occupied by the northwest corner of the cemetery, a number of rods north of its Present location. It then and a number of years later was one of the several churches supplied by the two itinerant ministers of Gloucester Circuit which was founded in 1803. After the Gloucester Circuit was dissolved it was on a charge with Clayton and some other churches.
"In 1878 the church was moved to its present location and rebuilt. The side galleries were taken out and other changes made to modernize the building. At the re-dedication of the church the famous pulpit orator Bishop Matthew Simpson preached.Until the year of about 1889 this church was on a charge with three other churches viz,. Richwood, Franklinville, Monroeville. That year the charge was divided and the charge of today-Aura & Richwood- was established."
(From Historical Sketch Written in 1906, entitled "Aura Church Celebrates" the preceding was taken.)
In 1921 the Aura Church separated from the Richwood Church and became an independent charge.
In the year 1921 the church and parsonage were renovated and a garage was built. The gallery was enclosed, the Junior Choir loft was built, a new floor laid, and the church reroofed. In 1923-1924 a community hall was built through the free will services of the men of the community.
In 1933, during the ministry of Rev. Franklin T. Buck the church was rebuilt.
(It may be noted here that through the efforts of the Rev. Franklin T. Buck, the
Fire company was organized, and Aura had its first fire equipment).
Also in 1933, a new colonial front was placed on the church with the steeple and bell. Work was also done on the interior of the church. In 1936 an oil burner was installed in the church, and in 1940-1942 a new roof was placed on the building. In 1945, it was decided to purchase an electric organ, and at the same time a carpet was also installed.
For many years it was upon the hearts of the people to have new pews in the church and in the Spring of 1955, these dreams were realized, in addition to the adding of Communion Table Service.
In the year of 1959, ground was broken for a new Sunday School building, which was added to the church. The new addition contained eight classrooms, an all-purpose room, a pastor's study, and a kitchen. When this building was completed, it was free of debt.
Also in 1959 Ethel Wagner Ashenfelter began playing the organ for the morning church service and has continued to do so faithfully to this day.(1976)
Seeing the need for repairs as well as more space we began a major renovation on the community hall in 1974. A furnace room, 2 lavatories, a vestibule and storage room were added to the front of the building. A small room in the back was enlarged as a utility room and pantry. The kitchen was totally renovated with all new cabinets and is a beautiful spacious working area. It took 4 1 / 2 years of "after work hours'', by the men of the congregation and especially the commitment and extra hard work of Ron Munyan and George Gassler. The hall is in constant use for church activities such as monthly fellowship dinners and our bi-weekly ladies Bible Study under the teaching of Mrs. Dot Worth, averaging 140 ladies for the surrounding area. A dedication was held in March. of "1979" and special thanks given to Ron and George.
Sometime during the "1980's" we put a new roof on the Sunday School building and new siding on the parsonage.
In 1985 we removed the corner stone of the church in order to install a ramp. The ramp was dedicated in August of 1986 when we placed the stone in a new location in the center of the church, during our 180th year celebration. The cornerstone was opened, sharing the contents, and returning them with new items and a new membership list.
In 1987 a Way Side Preacher was erected on the front lawn of the church. Our sanctuary was repainted in "1989", new carpeting installed in "1990" and in "1991" we refinished the pews. We wish to continually be good stewards of the buildings and labors of love left us by our forefathers 185 years ago.
Our present church membership is 136 as of "1991". Our attendance continues to grow under the Bible Believing..
We are a very missionary minded church and count it a privilege to be able to help support not only several local missions, but also 8 missionary families in the field on a monthly basis. We have a mid-week Bible study, Sunday evening services and various programs for the entire family. We welcome everyone to worship with us and to hear the "Good News"....
The following is taken from the 1682-1932 edition of: "Penn's Woods"
by Edward E. Wildman (The Story of our Penn Trees).
"Every tree that is included in this list of Penn's Woods should be suitably marked, showing that it is one of the "1932" memorial trees."
On page 168 nominations made were: three white oaks at Aura, 3 miles from Glassboro, in the Aura Methodist Church Cemetery. The diameter of these three trees, in 1932, was (measuring at breast height, 4 1/2 ft. to 5 ft. above ground, is the first criterion of its age) 10'2", 9'5" and 9'8".. These three threes were nominated by Miss Mary Barnes and B.O. Miller..
"To be listed as a survivor of the original forest of Penn, a tree must not only be of large size, but must be growing in soil that is well drained." All trees listed in the above book, are estimated to be at least 250 years old. Many of the white oaks listed are estimated to have lived through the entire history of the white race on the western hemisphere.
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