The history of the Bryn Mawr assembly starts with the story of assemblies as we know them in the Philadelphia area. In May, 1884, Mr. James Campbell and Mr. William Matthews, evangelists from Northern Ireland, came to Philadelphia. They came because a young woman who moved from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia three years previously wanted others to hear the gospel through which she had been saved before she left for America.
These men secured a tent and began to have nightly Gospel Meetings. A good number attended and, through the preaching, God convicted many of their need of Jesus Christ as their Savior. This resulted in many souls being saved. After some time an assembly of believers was formed. Some of these believers had been in assembly fellowship before immigrating from Northern Ireland. Others were those recently saved. This group of believers rented a room over a blacksmith’s shop at 1113 South Broad Street. Over that shop on Christmas day, 1887, they held their first conference. From there, the assembly moved to four different locations. Finally, in 1904 they secured a building at 20th and Dickinson Streets, where the assembly continued to meet until 1945.
During those early years, some of the Christians in the assembly commuted from the Main Line, part of Philadelphia’s western suburbs. Work had drawn them to the Main Line, but their faith in Christ and their appreciation for His assembly drew them to the fellowship of the city assembly. As the number traveling from the Main Line grew, they considered the opportunity of having an assembly testimony on the Main Line. As a result, in 1906 they rented space in the Merion Title Building in Ardmore and began meeting there as an assembly. This was done in fellowship with the assembly meeting during that time at 20th and Dickinson.
At the end of 1912 the leaders of the Ardmore assembly arranged for the rental of space in the center of Bryn Mawr. On January 5, 1913, they began to meet in what was called the Reading Room in a park in the center of town. The met on the second floor of a building built in the 1880’s. Lit by matches, gas jets protruding from the wall provided the lighting. This upper room became the birth place of many souls and the assembly grew. In 1923, the believers secured a lot which was couple of blocks west. On North Summit Grove Avenue, just a short distance north of Lancaster Avenue, the property was part of a Dr. Powell’s estate, which his heirs divided for sale. The plans and financing were put in place and the building project began. The assembly occupied the original building in the middle of 1924.
This also proved to be a place where many heard the Gospel and were saved. Most of those in the fellowship of the assembly during those early days worked on the big estates that bordered the main line of the railroad. The made contacts with their fellow workers and neighbors. Some of these who had not previously heard the simple message of salvation were saved. This interest in spreading the gospel characterized the assembly over its many years. Special series of nightly Gospel Meetings yearly – and sometimes twice a year – were part of their outreach. In addition, every Sunday evening was their regular Gospel Meeting. The assembly grew to around 100 Christians. Restrictions during the war years disrupted many of these gospel activities. However, when the war was over, the assembly returned in full measure to these activities.
Over the years that followed, some moved to other areas. Many were called home to Heaven and others received salvation and filled their place. The assembly commended several individuals to full-time service in spreading the gospel locally and around the globe.
As the assembly grew, renovations expanded the capacity and convenience of the building. In 1972, the first renovation added a new vestibule to the front of the building and expanded the size of the auditorium. A portico covered the new side entrance at the street level. In 1993-94 an addition expanded the vestibule along the north side of the building. Te addition of a lift made both the basement and the upstairs auditorium accessible.
Starting in the early 1930’s the assembly conducted a three-day conference. Each year on the Thanksgiving weekend, the meetings of the conference were on the second floor of the Bryn Mawr Fire House. The assembly provided meals for all the visitors in the Gospel Hall. That meant all at the conference had to manage the flight of stairs at the fire hall and the short walk – sometimes through the snow – back and forth between Merion and North Summit Grove Avenues.
In more recent years, the conference has been in a school (either in Radnor or in Plymouth). The conference now is just two days and the time changed to early November. At present the assembly is smaller due to some going home to heaven and other relocating to other assemblies in other areas.
In 2006, the assembly celebrated its 100th anniversary. Publishing a more detailed account of the assembly’s history was part of the anniversary event. Through the years, the doctrine of New Testament practice has been maintained as is outlined in the section, “What We Believe”. We trust that the Lord will enable us to continue a testimony to His Name in Bryn Mawr until He comes.
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