Emmanuel United Methodist Church Built: 1889
In 1796, Jacob Albright, founder of the Evangelical Church, began to preach the gospel, first to friends, then in an ever-widening circuit. In 1800 he and his followers, known as “The Albrights,” united to form the Christian Society. At the first General Conference in 1816, the name- The Evangelical Association-was adopted. By 1843 membership had reached approximately 15,000 served by approximately three hundred preachers including one hundred who were itinerants, traveling preachers. In 1840 a small unorganized group of Christian believers met at regular intervals for worship in the home of Mr. George Heydt on Poplar Street in Cox town. The traveling preachers from the Milford Circuit began to minister at the meetings in the Heydt home.
In time the meetings grew beyond the capacity of the small frame home and were transferred to the Focht Carriage Works on Richmond Street. Membership continued to grow and a congregation, known as the Coxtown Charge in the Reading District of the East Pennsylvania Conference of the Evangelical Association, was organized. By 1866 privately-owned meeting places no longer afforded sufficient room for the increase in membership. The first church building, a two-story brick structure, simple in design, was erected in 1866 on Franklin Street near the northwest corner of Franklin and Arch Streets. The Reverend D. Gehman was the first minister of the Coxtown Circuit consisting of the preaching points of Fleetwood, Blandon, Pricetown, Pleasantville, and Friedensburg.
In 1873 Coxtown Charge was constituted a separate unit known as the Fleetwood Station, the change to “Fleetwood” coinciding with the year ofthe incorporation of Fleetwood as a borough. The Reverend Moses Dissinger became the first fulltime pastor. A few years later, the Fleetwood parish became identified with the Friedensburg Circuit, thereby losing its status as an independent unit. In 1879 the Fleetwood church regained its former standing as a self-supporting unit and retained its relationship with the Friedensburg Circuit for fourteen years.
Evangelistic services were integral to the church program in the early days. People from the community and the countryside came to hear the hard hitting sermons and to sing the old inspirational Gospel songs. Summer evangelistic meetings, sponsored by the Conference, were known as camp meetings and for several seasons they were held in the woods along Poplar Street.
The sanctuary now lacked sufficient space to accommodate the members gained by the revival meetings. In 1877 renovations and additions were made to the building but by the end of another decade, it became apparent that further renovations were necessary. A church fire in 1888 forced the decision to build a new church. The old church building was sold at public sale for the sum of $875 to Edwin Mill, a church member.
Pastors who served the Fleetwood parish in the early years were Reverend D. Gehman; Reverend Moses Dissinger; Reverend Jacob Zern; Reverend Thomas Harper; Reverend Jacob Adams; Reverend A. Ziegenfus; Reverend Reuben Deisher, and Reverend H. J. Glick. Members of the Trustee Board at the time included H. H. Delong, G. B. Bernhard, Levi Templin, and George Heydt.
In 1889 Emmanuel Evangelical Church, by then an integral part of the Evangelical Association, erected an imposing, gothic style, two-and-one-half story brick edifice on West Washington Street. The corner stone of the first Meeting House rests in the foundation of the new church, symbolic of the support of a humble beginning. The bell which was installed in the tower of the new church pealed three times each Sunday announcing times for worship-morning worship in German; Sunday School in the afternoon; and evening worship in English, with Christian Endeavor before the service-and two evenings a week for prayer meetings. It also tolled the age of each passing member. The first quarter of the century was a prosperous one.
In 1891 a division occurred within the Evangelical Association. “The split,” as it was commonly referred to, affected Emmanuel Church. Contending factions functioned as separate bodies under their respective rival Bishops, Dubs and Esher. For the next four years there were two churches within a church. In 1894 the East Pennsylvania Conference group was organized as a separate entity under the name United Evangelical Church.
Since the Fleetwood Church belonged to the dissenting minority group, it lost possession of the church building but recovered it for the sum of $400. Reopening services were held in the newly renovated church in 1896 under the pastorate of the Reverend A. H. Snyder.
In 1900 a new organ and new hymnals were purchased and in 1904 the property adjoining the church was purchased from Mrs. Mary Merkel for the sum of $2,400 to be used as a parsonage. Rally Day has always meant home-coming day. Members and friends no longer residing in Fleetwood were contacted. Special programs were prepared, influential speakers were engaged, and the church was always filled to capacity.
In 1908 the offering amounted to $1,325.51 which cleared an existing debt of $1290 on the parsonage property. In 1912 the Dorcas Ladies’ Bible Class, “full of good works” as the name implies, was organized. They installed a 2,600 pound bell in the steeple at a cost of $800. The new bell rang for the first time at 5:00 A.M. on Christmas Day in 1914. The old bell was given to Mrs. Charles E. Hess who sent it to the Blue Class, a charitable and church-supporting organization, joined the Dorcas Class in another major accomplishment, the purchase of a $1,700 Hammond Organ. The Fellowship Men’s Bible Class, 1913, paid for a heating system and recarpeting the church. In view of these innovations, the trustees appropriated money to replace the painting of The Ascension on the wall behind the pulpit by the Christ in Gethsemane
In 1922 Emmanuel Church arrived at another crossroad. At this time the Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church merged. But the East Pennsylvania Conference of the United Evangelical Church, of which Emmanuel Church was a member, opposed the merger. The solidly established Fleetwood church became the lone dissenter to the opposition and the only church in Berks County to return to the fold it had left in 1891, namely the Evangelical Church. At this time Emmanuel Evangelical Church had a membership of 187.Through the merger of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, the name became Emmanuel Evangelical United Brethren Church, in 1946. Twenty-two years later, 1968, Emmanuel Church joined the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church forming the United Methodist Church.
In 1970, for the first time in the history of Emmanuel United Methodist Church, the East Pennsylvania Conference appointed a woman pastor, the Reverend Susan W. Hassinger, to occupy the pulpit. She also is the first pastor of the parish to wear the stole.