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Monongahela church has Lincoln tie

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
Rev. Ronald Fleming looks at a photo of the Rev. Matthew Simpson, who was minister of the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela in 1836. A close and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, Simpson gave the sermon at the 16th president’s funeral in Springfield, Ill. The chapel at the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela is named in Simpson’s honor. CHRIS BUCKLEY I TRIBUNE-REVIEW

During early morning services in the First United Methodist Church of Monongahela, as the Rev. Ronald Fleming looks into the chapel, he sees not only the congregation, but a congregation of photos of the dozens of pastors who served the church during two centuries.

“Those portraits are a constant reminder of the heritage of the church,” Fleming said. “They're a constant reminder that Methodism is in our DNA. We have this heritage.”

The church, nestled in the 400 block of West Main Street in the city, was formed in 1813, just three decades after the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America in 1784.

One of those portraits is of Matthew Simpson. In 1919, during reconstruction at the church, the former lecture room was remodeled and named the Simpson Chapel in honor of the former pastor.

In 1836, three years after Simpson was licensed to preach in the United Methodist Church, he was appointed pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela. He remained at the Monongahela Church through 1837, having been ordained an elder during that time.

Simpson served as professor of natural science and vice-president of Allegheny College in Meadville.

He would serve as president of Indiana Asbury University in Greencastle, Ind., from 1839 to 1848.

But Simpson was best known for his close association with Abraham Lincoln during his term as president.

He first got to know President-elect Lincoln in the winter of 1860-61 when he visited with him in Springfield in search of support for Northwestern University.

Lincoln worshiped at various Methodist churches in the nation's capital during his presidency, including the Foundry Church, where Simpson preached in January 1863, according to the website “Mr. Lincoln and Friends.”

After President Lincoln's assassination, Simpson delivered a prayer at funeral ceremonies in the White House, and gave the sermon in Springfield, Ill.

“His connection to Monongahela after he left this church, and the connection he had with Lincoln, makes him a very interesting person,” Fleming said.

“I think they're very honored to have served by a number of pastors over year, including Pastor Simpson.”

This year, the church is planning a 200th anniversary celebration.

There will be events throughout the year, culminating with a week-long celebration Sept. 22-29. The main service will be held Sept. 22 involving the history of the church. An organ recital will be held Sept. 25. On Sept. 29, the Rev. Dr. Eric S. Park, superintendent of the Washington District of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, will be the keynote speaker at a service. “The congregation wants that Methodist heritage to be visible and to be a reminder of where we came from,” Fleming said. “But in our 200th year, we're also looking to where we're going. We're looking to a bright future for the church.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or