New garden celebrates church, college founders

Bishop Emeritus Gerald Bates speaks about the legacy of B.T. and Ellen Roberts during the Founders Garden dedication. | Photograph by Kevin Smart

Leaders of the Free Methodist Church – USA and Roberts Wesleyan College celebrated their common founders — B.T. and Ellen Roberts — with the dedication of the Founders Garden on the Roberts Wesleyan campus.

“The Robertses founded a church that has an amazing history of productivity in the world,” Bishop Emeritus Gerald Bates said Wednesday, July 13, the first day of General Conference 2011, at the dedication ceremony and reception hosted by Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary.

The garden features a mounted plaque explaining that B.T. Roberts served as the leader of the Free Methodist Church at its founding in 1860, and six years later, he founded the institution now known as Roberts Wesleyan.

The speakers also celebrated the key involvement of Roberts’ wife, Ellen Stowe Roberts, in the founding of the church and college.

John A. Martin, president of the college and seminary, said the garden is a long time in the making.

“Some time ago, the idea surfaced to have a Founders Garden commemorating the beginning of the Free Methodist Church and subsequently the creation of Roberts Wesleyan College by Benjamin Titus Roberts and his talented wife, Ellen Stowe Roberts,” Martin said.

A plaque honors B.T. Roberts at Roberts Wesleyan College's new Founders Garden. | Photograph by Kevin Smart

Martin noted a memorial in Pekin, N.Y., near the site of the church’s founding, “is not near a place where there are large numbers of people to see and appreciate it.”

Benches in the new garden serve as a reminder that the Robertses opposed the renting of church seats.

“In those days, the rich would want to sit up front next to the stove, not in the back where most of us want to sit today,” Martin said as the audience erupted in laughter.

Bishop David Kendall noted education has been an important part of the Free Methodist Church since its founding, and the garden is a tribute to the ongoing relationship between the church and the college.

“Let us pray together that the intentions and purposes of those who have planted and arranged for this beautiful place will be honored, and that God’s favor will rest upon all who appreciate this place and who in some way partner with the concerns that are dear to the hearts of Free Methodists everywhere,” Kendall said.

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