Brief History of Pearce Memorial Church
Written by Kathryn Martin, former Pearce Historian
The nation was divided. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 6, 1860 with only 39.7% of the popular vote in a four party race for president where the eventual winner did not even appear on the ballots of nine southern states reflected the tension of the day over such issues as popular sovereignty and slavery.
Western NY was not immune to the divisions that polarized the nation. The Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church struggled with how to maintain unity while many of the leading pastors and laymen were divided over how the church should address slavery and how to maintain fidelity to the principals of John Wesley. Several of the leading clergy members along with laymen spoke boldly against slavery and for the principles of free seats in churches, transparency in all church business and preaching that spoke to a faith that would change peoples’ lives. Many of these clergy and laymen faced censure in the Genesee Conference and were eventually forced to leave the Methodist Episcopal Church. In August of 1860, a group of clergy and laypersons held a gathering meeting in Pekin, NY to organize “the Free Methodist Church”.
The name “Free Methodist” was chosen for a number of reasons. First, the new church stood firmly against slavery. A second issue was the matter of churches charging rental fees as a method of raising funds for the church. In practice, this meant that the “good seats” in a church were for those who could afford the better seats while the poor and visitors were relegated to the edges of the sanctuary. Free Methodists opposed the use of rental of pews both for its favoritism to the wealthy and the lack of offerings to support the ministry. Two other issues that sparked the name “Free Methodist” were a desire for the business matters of the church to be done in an open and transparent fashion and the desire to have “free worship” as opposed to services that were lifeless and dead in formality.
One of the men expelled by the Genesee Conference resided in North Chili and attended the North Chili Methodist Episcopal Church. Claudius Brainard lived in the small farming community located at the edge of Monroe County that served as a stage stop on Buffalo Road. From 1858 to the fall of 1860, a “band” met at Claudius Brainard’s home under the leadership of Levi Wood. In the fall of 1860, this group decided to align with the fledgling Free Methodist Church. On January 15, 1861, the First Society of the Free Methodist Church of North Chili (which is still the full legal name of Pearce Memorial Church) was organized with twelve members. Shortly after, the first church building was erected on the north side of Buffalo Road just east of the North Chili Cemetery. The first pastor to this new congregation was Daniel Sinclair who also served as pastor of the Rochester Free Methodist Church.
The congregation built a new building in 1886 on the corner of Buffalo Road and Orchard Street. That building was enlarged in 1918 and moved and enlarged again in 1937. Sadly, in 1945, the renovated church burned to the ground and the congregation worshipped on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College until construction for a new building could be completed in 1951. The 1951 building sanctuary is now known as Parmerter Chapel, in honor of Rev. Wesley Parmerter who led the congregation and spurred the building project. In 1966, Mr. James J. O’Hara of Pike Stained Glass Studio in Rochester, NY designed and oversaw the installation of the stained glass window that is in our Sanctuary.
Never content to not meet the needs of new generations, the congregation in 1963 embarked on an ambitious plan to build a new sanctuary that could seat 1,500 worshipers along with office, Sunday School, and Fellowship Facilities to match. The 1965 sanctuary was completely remodeled in 1994 and in 2001 a new addition compassing a new gym, classrooms, and atrium was completed.
All of these building projects, from 1886 to the present, are a response to the call to serve the community and make disciples. Pearce Memorial Church takes seriously the commitment to serve our region through its weekly Pre-School and Daycare programs as well as our commitment to serve our world through a vibrant mission program that supports missionaries, clean water projects, disaster relief programs, and many other activities to bring our world to Christ. Locally, Pearce Church is involved in a host of efforts to bring assistance to our neighbors through the Food Pantry, Stephen Ministry (which is a ministry of listening), and ministries for those who grieve. Our children and our young people are led by dedicated staff members who seek to mentor “Christ followers” by leading them in worship, Bible study, mission activities, and fellowship.
Pearce Memorial Church exists to make fully devoted followers of Christ and to serve our world. Our heritage and history, as well as our faith, inspire us to follow Christ and welcome all persons to our congregation.