United Methodist Communities’ mission is rooted in John Wesley’s personal example and passion for compassionate service to others as a fruit of our faith, in the need to care for widows and orphans following the American Civil War and in the need to provide retirement housing and health care for Methodist Deaconesses, Missionaries, clergy, and laity in the early years of the 20th Century. Out of a varied past emerged our present and future ministry as a Health and Welfare agency of the United Methodist Church.
Inspired by John Wesley:
Our ministry of providing retirement care for older adults is a legacy of John Wesley’s commitment to social holiness. Unlike many of his day, Wesley believed that personal beliefs and service were both necessary elements of a vibrant and vital Christian faith and that the purpose of faith was to transform society with the Good News of God’s love shared from one person to the next through acts of compassionate care. He led by example and defined our mission as service to others in the cause of justice and mercy. He inspired the Methodist Conference in England to be actively engaged in many health and welfare ministries, which included visiting the sick and imprisoned, holding health clinics, which provided health care to the poor, and running the equivalent of modern savings and loan associations, teaching people how to be good stewards of God’s resources and lift themselves out of poverty by managing, saving and giving money. As early as 1748, he initiated a ministry to provide housing and personal care for elderly widows who could no longer care for themselves. Wesley continued this ministry, at great personal sacrifice, for the remainder of his life, a period of nearly fifty years. Our present ministry with older adults is thus deeply rooted in our Methodist tradition and in the personal example and inspiration of John Wesley.
Photograph of Abraham Lincoln by Matthew Brady, in the collection of the Library of Congress, Washington. D.C. Caring for Widows:
American Methodists championed Wesley’s passion for mission and service ministries. The first Methodist home for the elderly in America was created as early as 1850, when “The Methodist Church Home” was opened in New York City. However, in the late 19th century, the movement to create homes for senior men and women took on urgency in response to the social conditions following the Civil War. Over 630,000 men were killed during that conflict, which left hundreds of thousands of widows and fatherless children. During his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln labeled this devastating reality a social crisis for our nation and called for all Americans to respond to the crisis with care. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Bishop Matthew Simpson was asked to preach Lincoln’s funeral sermon in Springfield, IL. The resident bishop of the Pennsylvania Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church and a close friend and personal confidant of President Lincoln, Simpson continued the call for people to help widows and children by using the text from James 2:27, which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In response, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania planned and established a home for widows in Philadelphia and named it in Bishop and Mrs. Simpson’s honor. By 1900, twelve similar homes were being operated by Methodists in the eastern half of the United States.
New Jersey Methodists Respond to the Need:
One of those homes, located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, was the “Home for the Aged and Infirmed of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the County of Camden,” which opened in 1890 in a five- bedroom house at 531 York Street in Camden, New Jersey. The home was donated by Mr. William Bailey of Centenary Tabernacle Methodist Church Episcopal Church and was the residence for nine women. On July 9, 1891 the cornerstone was laid for a larger home at the current site in Collingswood.
Expanded several times in the ensuing century and renamed “The Methodist Home” in 1962 the community remains as a vital ministry at this location today as United Methodist Communities at Collingswood.
Retirement Housing and Healthcare:
The need to provide retirement housing and health care for Methodist Deaconesses, Missionaries, clergy, and laity led to the creation and acquisition of five separate homes for seniors in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. The first of these was the Bancroft Rest Home. In addition to being a summer camp meeting resort, Ocean Grove developed a reputation as a vacation destination. So many Methodist Deaconesses and missionaries came here to find “peace … from their hurried humanity-serving lives,” that the National Organization of the Women’s Home Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church rented a cottage on the southwest corner of New York and Clark Avenues for a summer vacation home for deaconesses and missionaries. In 1896, Mrs. Jane Bancroft Robinson and her sister, Miss Henrietta Bancroft, gave two cottages on Cookman Avenue as the beginning of a permanent National Rest Home, naming it in honor of their parents, Rev. and Mrs. George Bancroft. In 1899 the Woman’s Home Missionary Society enlarged the Bancroft Rest Home at 7 Cookman Avenue to care for the increasing number of Deaconesses reaching retirement age or being incapacitated by declining health. The Bancroft Home entered the United Methodist Communities’ corporate ministry in 1970, when it was acquired by United Methodist Homes of New Jersey and renamed Epworth Manor, in honor of the Epworth Parish, where John Wesley was born and raised in England.1
1 Text adapted from portions of an article in the Asbury Park Press in 1969 written by Richard Gibbons, historian and writer on Ocean Grove, as found in Epworth Manor and How it Started, a reflection by Edith Aschenbach, at the dedication of the Epworth Lounge at Francis Asbury Manor in September, 1997; from the collection of United Methodist Communities. The Bancroft Home was renamed Epworth Manor after being acquired by United Methodist Homes of New Jersey in 1970.
Our Corporate Beginnings:
United Methodist Communities’ corporate history officially began in 1907, when a committee of women appointed by the New Brunswick District Preachers corresponded with pastors and members of the Methodist Episcopal churches of Monmouth County about the importance of establishing a home for the aged. The movement grew from an idea promoted by The Rev. and Mrs. Henry Wheeler of Ocean Grove, New Jersey and championed on the New Brunswick District of the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church by The Rev. Dr. James W. Marshall, New Brunswick District Superintendent. In response to this need, a single home at 63 Clark Avenue in Ocean Grove was purchased and our organization was incorporated on April 21, 1907 as the “Monmouth Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged.” Mrs. John H. Parker of Long Branch, New Jersey was a chief organizer among the women of the churches and served as Chairperson of the Board of Managers from 1910 to 1936.
In 1907, there were two conferences within the Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey, the Newark Conference (located roughly north of the Raritan River) and the New Jersey Conference (encompassing the remainder of the central and southern portions of the state). These two conferences became one Episcopal Area (served by the same bishop) in 1964 and were renamed the Northern and Southern New Jersey Conferences. In 2000, both conferences merged to form the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church. While birthed in the New Jersey Conference, we have been affiliated with both conferences since 1916 and retain strong ties with the Greater New Jersey Conference.
Since 1907, we have changed our name several times to reflect the changing identity within the church, our ministry and the evolving nature of elder care and attitudes toward seniors in society around us. As the reach of our ministry increased, we changed our name to “The Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged of the New Brunswick District in 1911 and the “Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged of New Jersey in 1916. In 1939, when three Methodist bodies merged to form the Methodist Church, we dropped the term “Episcopal” from our name. In 1965, when we had expanded to serving seniors in three locations, we took the title “The Methodist Homes of New Jersey.” When the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church in 1968, we added the word “United” to our title. In 2016, as we expanded into home and community based services, we rebranded our ministry and assumed our present title as “United Methodist Communities.”
Tragedy, Ingenuity & Rebirth:
The 63 Clark Avenue home in Ocean Grove was destroyed by fire on Sunday, February 6, 1916. All of the residents were safely evacuated, but the building was a total loss. Many of the displaced residents were temporarily housed in a building adjacent to the old home. Purchased by the Trustees prior to the fire, it was later called the Annex when the ministry needed room for expansion. Two Ocean Grove residents and the Bancroft Rest Home also took in our residents who needed shelter while a new, larger, semi-fire proof home was contracted to replace the Clark Avenue home.
With limited financial resources but boundless hope and faith, the Board of Managers replaced the 63 Clark Avenue building on the same site by a larger home with a capacity of fifty residents. The new home was expanded again in 1919 and two cottages were added in 1922.
As the need continued to increase, the trustees purchased land for a new and much larger building in 1937. Construction of was postponed by the outbreak of WWII. Ground for the new structure was broken in July of 1947 and the cornerstone laid on August 23rd. The first residents moved from Clark Avenue to the new Methodist Home in Ocean Grove on November 29, 1949.
After extensive renovations, this residence was renamed Francis Asbury Manor in 1970 and renamed United Methodist Communities at Francis Asbury in 2016.
Clara Swain Manor: 63 Clark Ave. Comes Home
The original site of the Monmouth Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged remained the only home in the United Methodist Communities’ system until 1949, when it was sold and replaced by the newly opened Methodist Home (Francis Asbury). Operated first as a hotel and later as a private nursing home, the Ocean Grove Nursing Home, the 63 Clark Avenue site was repurchased by United Methodist Homes of New Jersey in June 1987 and renamed for Dr. Clara Swain, who served as a Methodist medical missionary to India. As the first woman to represent the United States of America and the Methodist Episcopal Church as a doctor in the Orient, Dr. Swain saved countless lives in the late nineteenth century and opened the first medical school for women in India. The purchase brought the original 1907 building at corner of Pilgrim Pathway & Clark Avenue back into our corporate family and it remained an active part of the United Methodist Communities’ ministry until 1994.
United Methodist Communities Today:
Since 1907, United Methodist Communities has honored older adults as a senior housing, health and welfare ministry affiliated with the United Methodist Church and its predecessors.
Altogether, we have had homes in sixteen different locations and now have ten communities located throughout New Jersey. We increasingly serve a diverse population of residents, who come from a rich variety of ethnic heritages, religious traditions and economic backgrounds and celebrate an equally rich diversity among our associates.