Barratt’s Chapel – the oldest house of worship built by and for a Methodist Society that is still in
use in the United States – will once again come alive with an intimate one-of-a-kind Easter Vigil Service on Saturday, April 11, at 7 p.m.
The evening will be hosted by internationally renowned composer John W. Thompson, whose songs “El Shaddai” and “Sanctuary” have become global Christian standards, as well as garnering Dove and Grammy awards. Thompson now lives in Bethany Beach with his wife, Celeste, a local Realtor.
The service will feature a diverse group of musicians, actors and clergy. The music will include a blend of the gospel/jazz and contemporary Christian sounds of Deah Harriott of New York City and Ruth Naomi Floyd of Philadelphia. Also performing will be local favorites Ed Shockley of Lewes and Kevin Short of Georgetown. Marva Thomas will be conducting the Centennial UMC Choir of Smyrna. Bill Lord of Ocean View and William Suggs Jr. will be offering dramatic selections.
Communion will be offered by the Rev. Peggy A Johnson, Episcopal bishop of the Philadelphia Area of the UMC. Comments will be offered by the Rev. Sandra Steiner-Ball and prayer by the Rev. Boyd Etter.
The chapel and its historic significance to the church were what that drew Thompson to selecting that particular property for the event’s venue.
“For the first time, it will be a throwback to what went on years ago,” said Thompson. “It is amazing to me that they had integrated worship before the Constitution. I love the idea of no barriers and having worship happening.”
According to the chapel’s Web site, as members of the Methodist Societies emigrated to the American colonies, Methodism took root in the New World. Between 1768 and 1774 John Wesley sent Francis Asbury and seven other Methodist lay-preachers to the colonies to minister to the growing societies. Asbury went on to become the effective leader of American Methodists.
“In 1784, with peace returned, John Wesley sent his friend Thomas Coke to America with instructions to find Asbury and to discuss with him the future of American Methodism,” as the story of Barratt’s Chapel reads on the site.
“Coke came to Barratt’s Chapel on Sunday, November 14, 1784, expecting to find Asbury. As Wesley’s personal emissary, Coke was invited to preach. During the sermon Asbury arrived. Coke came down from the pulpit and embraced him. A star in the floor of the chapel commemorates this historic meeting. During this service, the sacraments of baptism and communion were administered for the first time by ordained Methodist clergy.
“Following the service, Coke and Asbury adjourned to the home of Philip Barratt’s widow, across the field from the chapel. That evening they formulated plans to call all the Methodist preachers together for a meeting in Baltimore on Christmas Day. At this Christmas Conference of 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized.”
Thompson said the character of the building is another draw. For him, as well as the performers, he said, having a service there is a chance to be a part of something grand. Although there is no longer an active congregation worshiping there regularly, the chapel, which was built in 1780, has been maintained as a museum since 1956.
“It looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s well-preserved and has such grand tradition. If you were an actor, you would love to perform in a place like this, and for a musician, it’s the same thing. It’s a special place, just the heart of it,” said Thompson.
“It will be a very informal but very well-done musical,” he continued, adding that they hope to do the event annually in the future.
Volunteer Phil Loughton said that, although the original chapel may look small, it can seat about 500 people. Everyone is welcome, and the service, which will run about 90 minutes, will even be signed for the hearing-impaired.
Barratt’s Chapel is located on the east side of Route 1 in Frederica, north of Milford, and about 10 miles south of Dover. The Easter Vigil Service will start at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 11. For more information, or for directions, visit www.barrattschapel.org online.