According to the written history of Methodism in the Old Chatham – Malden Bridge area it appears the first introduction was by circuit riders in the very early 1800s. There is mention of such riders in the Quarterly Conference minutes dating back to those years.
Early records document the start of the Methodist Church in Malden Bridge at an organizational meeting held on February 23, 1834 during which time the first Board of Trustees was elected and soon after property was deeded on which a ‘chapel’ was to be built for the “use of a Methodist Episcopal Church” to be known as the Society of Malden Bridge Methodist Chapel. Funds were raised and the building was erected and consecrated in 1835. This was the portion of the building used as the Sanctuary, to which, over the years, there have been several renovations. Shortly after this a shed was built on the land immediately behind the church for the purpose of stalling horses and early photos indicate such a building – this shed was removed after the automobile became the mode of transportation.
The Narthex and choir gallery above were added in 1874-1876 and the bell placed in the tower which bears the inscription “Unto you, O Men, I Call”.
The next major addition to the church was a parish hall contributed by a Catherine Vedder, in memory of her husband, Nicholas Vedder, an active member of the parish. This addition, known as Vedder Memorial, was dedicated in 1915 and has served, not only the church, but also the greater community all these many years.
The Society of Malden Bridge Methodist Chapel was incorporated under the laws of New York State in the late 1800’s to become known as Malden Bridge Methodist Episcopal Church.
History records the many ups and downs of the church in Malden Bridge as well as its ‘Mother’ Church in Old Chatham. The two churches were served by the same pastor who lived in a parsonage owned by the Old Chatham church.
In 1958 the congregation from the First Methodist Church in Old Chatham began to worship with the congregation at Malden Bridge due to damage said to be to expensive to repair at the Old Chatham building. On July 29, 1959, the membership of the Old Chatham church voted to merge with the Malden Bridge Methodist Church and on June 3, 1960, the Supreme Court approved the merger and the new corporation became the Wesley Methodist Church of Malden Bridge…….the addition of “United” came about from a decree of the Methodist General Conference in 1968. The congregation from Old Chatham brought with it an altar set consisting of the cross, candlesticks, vases and offering plates anodized in gold which are used at worship services to the present day.
Shortly following this merger the Board of Trustees and Church Council decided to add the first indoor rest rooms to the building and in order to do so a major change of the ‘altar’ area of the Sanctuary took place and the finished product is what one views today during worship. The bell of the Old Chatham Church was erected on the lawn of the Malden Bridge Church and dedicated at a service commemorating our 140th Anniversary in 1975. This bell was cast by Meneely and Kimberly, Founders, Troy, New York, and had echoed among the hills of Old Chatham for eighty years until the church was razed. In April 0f 2023, the treasured bell was stolen from the grounds in the dead of night. For weeks, broadcast, print and social media campaigns took place with hope that the bell would be recovered. To this day it has not been found.
For several years, starting in the 1990s, the building was also shared by the Chatham Synagogue. The Synagogue eventually found its own building and moved to Chatham Center. In 2003 an addition (affectionately known as “Joan’s Pantry”) was erected on the rear of Vedder Hall with funds from Memorials and from the Synagogue of Malden Bridge who held services in Vedder Hall from the winter of 1999 until spring of 2005, after which they moved into their own premises.
Much of this history was taken from the printed history prepared for the 125th Anniversary of the consecration of the Malden Bridge Church entitled “Wesley Methodist Church Malden Bridge, New York 1835 – 1960″ and prepared by Wesley’s church historians. (Photo provided by Ernie Waldman. The photo was taken by his father, date unknown)