HISTORY

OF THE

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

OF THE

PANTHER VALLEY

SUMMIT HILL, PENNSYLVANIA

 

A Chronological & Social History

compiled and written by

M. Diane Temples,

April, 2004.

 

Coal was discovered in the hills of the Panther Valley, and with that discovery came the miners. All through the nineteenth and more than half of the twentieth century miners labored each day, deep in the earth, digging for coal. The miners brought with them a deep, abiding faith that the Lord would be with them each day as they vanished into the depths of the earth. This is evidenced by Robert Henry, a miner who in 1835 called his co-workers to join with him in forming a Bible class.

“God had wrought wonders in the earliest history of Presbyterianism in Summit Hill by the faithful labors of a private citizen who had only a Bible and a book of Psalms. This was the equipment of one Robert Henry, when he called his fellow workmen in the coal mines on these hill-tops to meet him in the sitting-room of his boarding house, one Alexander McLean, of Pump Street, directly southwest of where the Catholic church now stands, for the study of God’s word.”

(from the 50th anniversary memorial sermon by Rev. J. H. Doremus - 1884)

This Bible class was to become the foundation for the establishment of the First Presbyterian Church of Summit Hill. They came together to study God’s word but had a great deal of discouragement until 1836, when the Rev. Andrew Tully, then a theological student from Princeton Seminary came to Summit Hill, to aid them in their endeavors. He taught the day school and took charge of the Sabbath school and other religious services.

In November of 1836, the Reverend Richard Webster supplied Summit Hill with preaching every fourth Sunday.

On December 23, 1837, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered for the first time to this fledgling group of Christians.

In1838, in only three years time, the Sabbath School reported a membership of 257 scholars, twenty teachers, one superintendent and two librarians, a total of 280.

On February 12, 1839, Rev. Webster informed Newton Presbytery that there were 23 communicant members of the Mauch Chunk church residing in Summit Hill. At this time Rev. Webster was also preaching in Tamaqua for about a year. Presbytery then formed a committee to organize the Summit Hill Church.

On April 19, 1839, this church was organized and became part of Newton Presbytery. The church consisted of twenty four residents of Summit Hill and four of Tamaqua.

CHARTER MEMBERS

Alexander Mclean and Elizabeth, his wife

John Nichol and Sarah, his wife

Robert Gage and Mary, his wife

Andrew Harkin and Margaret, his wife

John Tait and Jane, his wife

Sarah Jane Sampson, wife of Alexander Sampson

Margaret, wife of James Craig

Mary, wife of John Wintersteen

James McLean

Matthew Morrison

Jonathan Johnson

James Knox

William Knox

John Billingham

James Edgar

Matthew Henry

Joseph Brown

Alexander Brewster

William Henry**

Mrs. Sarah Heaton*

Mrs. Maria H. Hunter*

Miss Elizabeth McNeill*/**

George Washington Brown*/**

*from Tamaqua ** member by examination

Andrew Harken and James Edgar were appointed Ruling Elders and were given complete charge of the Sabbath School.

At this time several persons living in Port Clinton were admitted to the church and Rev. Webster preached there occasionally. On March 12th 1840, he ordained George Wiggan of Port Clinton, a Ruling Elder, to take supervision of those members residing in Port Clinton and Tamaqua.

On April 2, 1843, James Edgar was appointed superintendent of the Sabbath School.

In 1842, for a short period of time, Port Clinton was a part of the Summit Hill congregation. Book one, Session Reports - Sept. 8th states, “This church was organized by a Committee of Presbytery in April 1839, and then consisted of twenty four members residing in Northampton County, and four members in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County. It now consists of thirty four members at Summit Hill, eight at Tamaqua and three at Port Clinton. At Summit Hill there is, and has been, for the last twelve years and more, a congregation of from fifty to seventy men over the age of twenty-one, natives of Ireland, and brought up, nearly all of them, under the ministry of Rev. William Lyle, of Dunboe.” (*picture of mother church in Dunboe, Ireland)

During this time, services were conducted in the old school house on Holland Street. (*1910 building occupied by John Pollock and Mrs. Wm. Kane)

In 1843, the congregation was ready to call a full time pastor and the General Assembly Board of Missions authorized Reverend. Ashbel Green Harned to come to the Summit Hill Church. On December 19th, he received a unanimous call by the congregation and the call was placed in the hands of Luzerne Presbytery. The church had been transferred from Newton Presbytery to Luzerne Presbytery earlier that year. Reverend Harned was ordained and installed as the first regular pastor of the church on May 1, 1844. He served the church until 1856.

 In 1846, the congregation began to build a church on the site of the present edifice. The new meeting was a very plain building, similar to a factory and was built at a cost of $1,415. (* picture of original building) Two years later the basement was fixed up for use as a Sabbath School for an additional cost of $260. At this time there were sixty students and fourteen teachers.

On Feb. 1st, Nathan Patterson was appointed Superintendent of the Sabbath School. Mr. Patterson had been superintendent of the mines here since 1842, and had been Superintendent of the Sabbath School since 1840 and accustomed to the work.

In 1847, a ministry of music was first organized for the church with Mr. Dixon Lewers being appointed Chorister.

In 1857, Rev. Harned left the church and was replaced by Rev. John White who remained in Summit Hill until 1873.

In 1858, it was decided to increase the observance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to four times each year rather than twice, as in previous practice.

By 1867, the church had fallen into such disrepair that it had become uncomfortable. Frequently pieces of plaster would fall from the ceiling during services. The original wooden building was so dilapidated that the snow would blow in and melt on the congregation. By December 31, 1871, school was suspended for need of repairs.

In 1868, John J. Thomas was appointed church organist and remained in that position for forty-eight years.

During 1872, the church was remodeled, and in 1873 a manse was built next door.

In 1876, Nathan Patterson resigned his position of Superintendent after serving thirty-one years. He had filled his position with efficiency and punctuality and was greatly admired and respected by the congregation.

 

In May of 1877, Rev. Bennaugh, who had been pastor of the church since 1873, accepted a call to a church in Philadelphia.

1877 - In May of the year, Rev. Benaugh, who had pastored the church since 1873, accepted a call to a church in Philadelphia.

In October, the church unanimously called Rev. J. H. Doremus, who was installed on Dec. 18th. Under Rev. Doremus’ tenure the membership increased in large numbers.

In 1878, Mr. James McCready was appointed to be the new Superintendent of the Sabbath School and remained in that position until November 1913.

In 1892, Rev. Doremus resigned after pastoring the church for fifteen years. He was followed as pastor, by Rev. James Robinson, whose tenure while only four years, was an active time for the church.

James McCready resigned after many years as choir director and William Hoag was appointed by the Session to be his successor.

By 1895, the church was once again increasingly in need of extensive repairs. Eventually it was decided to build a new church. In April the original building was razed. On August 11th the cornerstone was laid for the new church by Rev. J. Robinson.

“During the time of our church building, we worshipped in the Lutheran and Reformed churches, a kindness granted which shall never be forgotten by us.” *Rev. James Robinson

On March 22, 1896, the new building was completed and the sermon text for that Sabbath was, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

“The church is a beautiful structure, built of brick with handsome colored windows. A large and spacious Sabbath School adjoins the sanctuary and can be made serviceable by means of rolling doors which separate the two rooms. The interior is handsomely finished in oak. The pews are arranged in a semi-circular fashion so that the minister speaking from the pulpit can readily see the whole congregation. The church is lighted by means of electricity, a handsome electrileer being suspended from the ceiling. The tower, in its massive beauty, rises over 100 feet above the street. The total cost of the building is about $15,000. The plans for the new church were prepared by Herman Schneider of Summit Hill, and the building was erected by contractor Andrew Breslin of Summit Hill. With such an attractive building, inviting and comfortable building we hope and pray that many souls may be born into the kingdom of God and that they may be better fitted for the duties of life and the glories of heaven thereafter.” Session minutes book

On April 11, 1897, the dedication for the new Summit Hill Church was led by Pastor Robinson. The scripture for that service was taken from Haggai 2:9 “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, said the Lord of Hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

There were only two ruling elders at this time: Benjamin Ross and James McCready. Trustees were Robert Ross, James Smyrl, Charles Wilson, Joseph Gormley, Samuel Nevins, Jr. and Joseph Schneider.

The Sabbath School during this time has given five persons to the ministry: Messrs. R.R. Edwards, William Warlow, J.L. Powell, John B. Kolb and George S. Doremus.

In November of the same year, as an offshoot of this congregation, a daughter church was formed in Lansford. The new church was started with sixty members, taking their membership from Summit Hill or the Mauch Chunk Presbyterian Churches.

After Rev. Robinson’s resignation, the church had a short pastorate with Rev. John Campbell starting in Nov. 1897.

In 1903, Rev. Henry Irving Nicholas was elected to replace him. Here began the longest and one of the most useful pastorates of any of the men who have served as pastor of this church.

On Nov. 27, 1904, the congregation celebrated the burning of the mortgage note, since the new church had been completely paid for.

In 1906, the church received a gift of an organ from Andrew Carnegie and Elder, James McCready.

In 1907, the Session voted to send money to missionaries in Brazil and in China.

From October 9-11, 1910, a 75th Diamond Jubilee celebration was held. The pastor, Rev. Nicholas, preached a sermon based on the scripture, Matthew 21:16 - “And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” The congregation then sang, ‘This Is The Day We Celebrate.’

During the following years there were large increases in membership and by 1913, the total number of communicants had risen from 212 to 250.

James McCready resigned as Superintendent of the Sabbath School, a position which he had held for 36years. In gratitude for his many years of faithful service, he was name Superintendent Emeritus. (*picture)

In October, his son, William, was appointed to replace his father, and he remained Superintendent until 1916.

In 1915, an Adult Bible class was formed and named after Nathan Patterson, early superintendent of the Sabbath School.

In January of 1916, came the appointment of Charles Rose as organist for the church, succeeding John J. Thomas. Mr. Rose served continuously and faithfully as organist for 48 years, except for a short period of time when he served in the military during WWI.

In 1917, many of the young men left their home and church to enlist in the United States Army. Their names were placed on an Honor Roll in the church.

In 1924, R. Hawley Henry was appointed chorister, replacing William Hoag, who had retired due to ill health. R. Hawley Henry served in this capacity for over 40 years.

 

In January of the same year, The Woman’s Missionary Society was organized. It was organized for the purpose of helping the Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church spread the Gospel throughout the world in many ways; ie, Christian education, hospital supplies. Each year a per capita tax was paid by the Society to Lehigh Presbytery.

The church assisted in sending forth two missionaries: The Rev. John Kolb to Brazil and Dr. Margaret Bynon to China.

The first officers were: Minnie Moser; President, Sara Ross; Vice-President, Mrs. David Jones; Secretary and Josephine Derby; Treasurer.

The much loved pastor, Rev. Nicholas had continued diligently in his pastorate until his death on October 24, 1927. His passing was mourned by his congregation and by townspeople of all faiths because of his 24 years of faithful service to this church and community. Evidence of his esteem was found in the Presbyterian Magazine, where it was noted that “a guard of honor, composed of six men who were changed every half hour, stood by his bier for four hours. This guard consisted of Jews, Catholics and Protestants. On October 29, the day of his funeral all places of business in the town were closed and the public school children preceded the funeral procession out of town. The funeral procession stretched from the church to the GAR cemetery. The Session drew up a Resolution on the Death of Rev. Henry Nicholas eulogizing this beloved pastor. “He was a splendid preacher of the Gospel, friendly, cheerful, charitable, and beloved by all classes of persons, irrespective of religious affiliations.”

After his passing the pulpit remained vacant for some months until May 10, 1928, when the Rev. William Horatio Crapper, D.D. was elected pastor. June 26th saw the installation of a new pastor.

Also in 1927, Mr. John Smith, who had faithfully served as Superintendent of the Sunday School for ten years, passed away at an early age. He was mourned and respected by all who knew him. On April 6, 1928, Joseph Gormley was elected to the position of Superintendent.

In March 1929, David McLaughlin and Robert Forrest were elected elders of the church.

During the pastorate of Rev. Crapper, it was discovered that the Charter was outdated and some changes were made. The prior charter allowed only one vote for a man and his wife. That was stricken. Also an amendment was added changing the wording from Newton Presbytery to the Presbytery of Lehigh.

In November of 1929, the congregation decided to excavate and build a basement under the church. Excavation was started and continued until 1931, when the supporting posts were put in place. In 1932, the underpinning of the walls was started and a concrete floor laid in the boiler room and a new boiler was installed. By 1933, the walls were completed and French drains and sewer connections installed. The following year the concrete floor was completed and steel beams were in place under the church and windows cut out.

In June 1933, the Fanny Crosby Bible Class was organized, and had a motto of “every member bring a member.” One of the main interests in this class was the sponsorship of the “Washington Tea.” Substantial monies were raised from this effort and given to the Trustees for the purpose of maintaining the needs of the church.

After a time it was decided that it would be more feasible to have the Men’s and Women’s Bible class meet jointly, so these classes were merged and then met together each Sunday morning for study.

In 1935, a 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Presbyterian Sabbath School was celebrated. The Pastor, Dr. Crapper, led the service of celebration. Among the celebrants was Kenneth Forrest, Superintendent since 1933; Robert Ross, age 82 and Treasurer since 1886; James Smyrl, Secretary since 1876; William Houghton, Librarian; and John Magee, Asst. Supt. The ladies in charge of the Infant department of the Sunday School were Miss Sarah Smyrl since 1885 and Miss Jane Kline since 1897.

It should be noted that Robert Ross had been a member of the Sunday School since his infancy and at the time of this celebration had been the Treasurer for 49 years. James Smyrl, 79 years of age, had been the Secretary for 59 years.

The long service of all of these members portray a lifetime of dedication and service to our Lord, both in the church and in the community.

Superintendents of the Sabbath School

James Edgar 1843 Edward Haughton 1916

Joshua Barnes 1844 John W. Smith 1917

Nathan Patterson 1846 Joseph Gormley 1928

James McCready 1878 Kenneth Forrest 1933

William McCready 1913

During this celebration James McCready said, “Summit Hill in 1835 was “wilderness fanned by the cool breezes of Heaven’s pure air in summer and swept by the fierce gales and storms of winter. Yet the voice of the Living God was heard above the elements by the sons of the martyrs from across the sea and they planted the cross of Christ upon this hilltop, that coming generations might drink deeply from the wells of salvation.”

Mr. McCready also described the original Sabbath School building. “High steps in front and the double row of small windows giving it the appearance of a manufacturing establishment….the woodwork outside had never been painted and was built upon a stone foundation about seven feet high…the foundation walls were built of rough stone, more for safety than beauty…inside the walls were plastered against the stone without lath, so in wet weather the walls were always damp…water ran down the sides in small streams…the seats were long benches of a single plank about a foot wide and of various lengths….it was partially heated by a large stove with a sheet iron top, encased in a large sheet iron drum six feet in diameter…it had a low ceiling, dingy walls and rough, hard benches…but it was the gate of Heaven.”

When Rev. Crapper left the church for a new call to Oxford, Pa., the pulpit remained vacant and Rev. Ice of the Tamaqua Church was moderator, until in July of 1938, a recent Princeton Seminary graduate, Rev. J. Franklin McHendry was called to fill the vacancy.

Shortly before the call to Rev. McHendry, the Session voted to make a change in the tenure of elders. On Sept. 7, 1938 by unanimous approval of the congregation, the church accepted a rotary or term service for elders. That same evening Lawrence Henry, Edwin Haughton and John Magee were elected elders of the church. Rev. McHendry was installed on September 29th and the elders ordained on September 30th

In 1939, a contract of $2500. was awarded to build a new enclosed entryway to the church on the Market St. side of the church. With the aid of various societies and individual members the cost was soon paid off, “for the Presbyterians of Summit Hill have even been progressive and have offered wholehearted support to any worthwhile cause.”

125th anniversary history

100 years

From September 30th to October 8th 1939 the church hosted an Anniversary Week to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the First Presbyterian Church of Summit Hill.

The 100th Anniversary Celebration of the church included a Preparatory church service and a Memorial Service for those Sabbath School leaders who had passed away since the 1835 celebration, including Mrs. Wm. Henry, Miss Jane Kline, Robert Ross, James Smyrl and Miss Sarah Smyrl.

A Centennial Communion Service, a Ladies’ Night Program and Men’s Night Program, a Historical Night, a Community Night Service, a Centennial Banque, two church services on Sunday, Oct. 8th, the first being regular morning worship and the evening, a Cantata, “The City of God” were all part of the 100th Anniversary celebration.

 

Also in 1939, the American and Christian flags were presented to the church by the choir, in memory of William N. Henry. The gold cross and matching flower vases were given in memory of Joseph Forrest, by his family.

The church flourished under the shepherding of Rev. McHendry. On February 25, 1940, Francis Hartranft was ordained an elder.

In 1942, the new basement was finally completed after thirteen years of back-breaking labor and enthusiasm, 16,000 man-hours of labor, donated by the men of the congregation. 60,000 cubic feet of earth was excavated from around the outside walls and later back-filled after 300 lineal feet of French drains and 2800 square feet of water-proof cement plaster were installed. Seven tons of steel beams and posts were used to support the floors above. Eight windows and three doors were cut through solid 28” walls. 520 feet of lineal French drains were placed under 6 inches of concrete floor, and then covered with 3860 square footage of 4” Terrazzo finish.

In 1943, the church dedicated a Service Honor Roll which listed all members serving during WWII. Pastor McHendry did much to keep contact with the members that left the community to serve in the war.

A banquet sponsored by the Board of Trustees was held on March 26th to celebrate the dedication of the new basement. Tickets for the dinner were at a cost of $1 per person. Over 200 people attended. Kenneth Forrest, Superintendent of the Sunday School was toastmaster of the evening.

After Rev. McHendry was called to a new church in 1944, the Rev. H. Richard Siciliano became pastor of First Presbyterian. During his tenure the congregation gave approval to have the church brick-coated. This gave the church its’ first new look since the construction in 1895. Many groups made use of the social hall at this time, including Women’s Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

During the late 40’s there was increased interest in Benevolence giving and support for the Help Brother Christian Fund.

Following a request from Rev. Siciliano to terminate his pastorate, the pulpit was filled with supply ministers until Rev. John G. Mancini accepted the call and was installed on June 28, 1951 and remained with the church until 1953. On March 22, 1951, Kenneth Forrest was ordained an elder.

Robert King resigned as Superintendent of the Sunday School and over the next several years there were numerous changes in the leadership.

In 1953, the Adult Bible class took an active part in the development of Brainerd Presbyterian Center, near Stroudsburg, Pa. (picture of 1954 group at camp Brainerd)

On March 28, 1954, the congregation honored Robert M. Forrest with a Recognition day for his many years of service to the church as Elder, Trustee, Sexton and Clerk of Session for twenty four years. Besides his official duties as an officer of the church, he has had many years of perfect attendance in the Sunday School. The special service of recognition was led by Rev. Rossnagel, pastor at the time: the scripture for the service was from the 84 Psalm, vs. 4, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house.”

In 1954, the church began to give recognition to students graduating high school. The youth began to take a more active part in the church, taking charge of the Christmas Eve and Easter Sunrise Services.

The steeple of the church had long stood as a landmark in the community, however years of exposure to torrential downpours and winter blizzards had wreaked havoc on the structure. On August 19, 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck the death knell for the spire after creating extensive damage. By July 1955, the congregation agreed to remove the spire rather than attempt to repair it.

Walter Miller and John Gormley were ordained elders on March 6, 1955.

In 1956, Robert Forrest tendered his resignation as Clerk of Session due to failing health. He had filled that position since 1940. His son, Kenneth, was appointed in his place. Robert’s service to the church was considered without equal in many capacities. On April 9, 1956, the Board of Trustees awarded him a certificate of appreciation for serving as secretary of that board for 53 years.

Also in 1956, Robert Gormley presented as a gift, the bulletin board located in front of the church, in memory of his brother, William.

February 20,1957, Cecil Johns was elected to eldership.

Following the resignation of Rev. Rossnagel in February 1957, a call was extended to Rev. Robert J. Roberts, who was installed on June 29, 1958.

Shortly after his installation, Rev. Roberts reorganized the Youth Choir. The group grew to include 23 young people, The Youth Choir sang an anthem during Sunday morning worship. Rev. Roberts also expended a lot of support and energy in renewing youth fellowship activities.

On June 18, 1958, the 25th Anniversary of the Fanny Crosby Bible Class was celebrated with a full course turkey dinner at the Summit Hill Rod and Gun Club. Mrs. John Black was President, Mrs. Hawley Henry Vice President, Mrs. Carl Rhodes; Secretary and Mrs. Thomas Pollock; Treasurer. Two former presidents were special guests of the evening, Mrs. Fred Beltz and Mrs. Francis Gerber.

New improvements were made to the church whenever funds were available. During this time the slate roofs were removed and replaced with heavy shingles. In 1959, due to heavy damage, the large Rose window, which faced onto White Street, was removed. It was replaced with a window picturing a life-sized figure of Christ Jesus. This was done at a cost of $3,000. The window is illuminated every evening so that its’ beauty can be shared by all people who pass by the church.

On March 1, 1959, William Gardiner, William Derby and Fred Llewellyn were ordained as elders.

On March 8, 1959, Charles Rose was given recognition for 43 years of service in the church as member and organist. He was appointed the regular organist on January 7, 1916 and had faithfully fulfilled his position with exception of his service in the armed forces between 1918-1919.

In 1960, despite the closing of the mines, the church remained financially stable and was able to have the interior of the sanctuary repainted. In 1962 the brick exterior was once again coated at a cost of $7,500. Most of the cost was covered by a bequest from the estate of a friend of the church, Harry Henry.

 

 

On March 5, 1961, Wesley J. Hiles and Wilson McElmoyle were ordained as elders and Mr. Hiles also served as Superintendent of the Sunday School for most of this decade.

The large, wooden Celtic cross that now hangs in the sanctuary was given in memory of David Ross in 1962.

A sad note for that year was the ending of the Ladies Aid Society which had long been a pillar of strength and service to the church for 68 years.

The Ladies Aid Society had been formed in 1894. The Society had responded faithfully to any call of need in the church, including both financial and spiritual support in the many projects undertaken in the church.

In 1963, members, former members and friends of the church contributed handsomely for the purpose of installing new carpeting in the sanctuary.

Thomas McCready and Warren Strauss were ordained elders on March 17, 1963.

125 Years

In 1964, the congregation celebrated the 125th anniversary of the founding of the church. There were four separate services organized for this celebration starting with a Preparatory Service on Sept. 30,th followed by a Community Service on Oct. 1st, a Homecoming Service on Oct. 2nd. There was also a banquet on Saturday the 3rd and a World Wide Communion Service on Sunday, October 4th.

Prior to the opening of the five day celebration, the church bells were rung 125 times. The services were led by Pastor Robert J. Roberts, with the assistance of several of the church’s earlier pastors.

The vocalists for this celebration were Charles Rose, J. Wesley Hiles, Thelma Bensinger, Lawrence Henry and Eleanor Henry. Forty new hymnals were dedicated at the opening service.

The congregation was saddened and mourned the passing of the well known, well loved and well respected organist, Mr. Charles Rose.

Charles had been organist since 1916, with the exception of two years military service in 1918-1919. Charles’ love of music was expressed in his beautiful voice and in his forty-eight years of faithful service to the music ministry of this church.

Susan Strauss was appointed Organist and Russell Wehr directed the choir.

Starting in 1966 to 1970, the church was pastored by Rev. James Graham. He was very active in working with the young people of the church. The Youth Fellowship at this time was an inter-denominational group of 25 young people from Summit Hill and Lansford. The group was called The Swinging Rooster. The advisors to this group were Rev. Graham and Rev. Conner of the First UCC.

In 1971, after seventy-five years of worship in Lansford, the Presbyterian Church of Lansford merged with the Summit Hill Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Graham left Summit Hill in 1972, to answer a new call at a church in Watkin’s Glen, New York. The pulpit in First Presbyterian was vacant for several months until a call was given to a newly ordained young minister, the Rev. Carl Gray. He was installed as pastor of this church on April 16th. His father, Carl Gray, Sr. is also a Presbyterian minister, of a church in Phillipsburg, PA. The new pastor very quickly became busy in both church and community activities, and in time Rev. Gray became Fire Chief of the Summit Hill Diligence Fire Co. #1.

Louise Houser became the Choir Director in September, and in 1974 also became organist for the church.

A Junior Choir was again organized in 1973 by Louise Houser and Rev. Gray.

In January, Winnie the Pooh Pre-School was started by Rev. Carl Gray and several members of the church. It opened with fifteen, four-year old

children meeting three mornings a week. Maxine Vermillion was the teacher. By 1980 the school had expanded to include a class for three year-old students. In 1983, the school expanded again to include a second class. The preschool proved to be a very successful community program.

One of the first projects initiated by Pastor Gray was the restoration of the Old Presbyterian Cemetery. With the help of the Summit Hill Community Improvement Organization, the members of the congregation and the citizens of Summit Hill, the overgrown cemetery was turned into a beautiful Memorial Park. The deed for the park was turned over to the Borough of Summit Hill on May 11th.

In 1974, a momentous occasion occurred with the merger of the Presbyterian churches of Summit Hill, Lansford and Jim Thorpe. With the merger, the church became the First Presbyterian Church of Panther Valley.

The church enjoyed having a dual pastorate with the Revs. Carl and Donna Gray. Another “first” for First Presbyterian …a “clergy couple.” This was a unique pastorate for the newly combined church in having a husband and wife as pastors, but also in having the first female pastor in the church’s history and in the community. The Grays were an active ministerial couple and sparked a lot of new initiatives in the church, especially with the young people. The couple remained with the church until they responded to a new call at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Illinois in 1984.

In 1974, Bonnie Paton (Pietruch) became the youngest person to be elected to the office of elder. She was fourteen years old.

(*Complete listing of all elders is found in back of the church history)

During the Grays’ tenure at First Presbyterian, the youth fellowship was very active and learned to participate in helping others in a very practical hands on experiences. The group spent a week in Kentucky as part of a work-study experience. The young people were involved with a variety of jobs, including carpentry, painting and yard work. While working for others less fortunate in Appalachia was a “physical” experience, the youth group also had a fun experience white water rafting down the Cumberland River.

The youth group also took a trip to a ghost ranch in Abiquin, New Mexico where they became real “ranch hands.” The youth group accomplished much of their travels in a parish van owned by the church.

A joint trip with members of St. Paul’s UCC was made in July 1975, where the 13 teenagers took part in a work-study project in an economically underprivileged area.

In 1976, the nation celebrated its’ Bicentennial, and in accordance with that great celebration, on July 4th, the Revs. Gray presented a Presbyterian form of worship as it would have followed in 1776., at the time of the beginning of our nation’s birth. This service included the use of a Precentor reading Psalms and a Beadle who carried in the pulpit Bible and read scripture. The entrance of the pastor was a signal for the entire congregation to stand. According to colonial custom, following a forty-five minute sermon, the congregation would then stand for prayer: the “Long Prayer” could last for thirty minutes or more. Fortunately the congregation did not have to follow that custom.

On January 16, 1977, a service of dedication and a recital was presented at the church in celebration of the new organ. The original Estey organ of the Summit Hill church had been given as a gift in 1906 from Andrew Carnegie and Elder James McCready. The Jim Thorpe Presbyterian Church had a electro-pneumatic pipe organ with a console of three manuals. In 1975, knowing that the Summit Hill organ was in need of extensive repairs, it was decided by the congregation to enlarge and rebuild the organ by incorporating both organs into one new instrument.

The Lehigh Organ Co. was contracted to redesign and rebuild the present organ used in the sanctuary. The new instrument was not designed to conform to one historical style but rather to meet the particular needs of this congregation in its’ musical ministry. The process took nearly two years and cost over $20,000. The value of the completed organ, however, was estimated at over $60,000.

In 1979, in a special service at the church, Amy McCready, daughter of Thomas and Suzanne McCready, was presented the “God and Country Award,” the highest Girl Scout Award. It is designed to encourage young women in developing their spiritual lives.

From 1983 to 1988, the youth fellowship of the church had actively participated in church life. The Presbyterian Church USA began a new program called AIM, Advance in Mission, which requested each church to participate in a special way to help the mission work of the church. The youth fellowship accepted the challenge and for five years they hosted a winter sport competition, called “The Bath Tub Race” which was held once annually on the frozen Mauch Chunk Lake. Youth grou0ps from all churches of Lehigh Presbytery were invited to participate; and each team would solicit their own sponsors to raise their share of mission money. The races were great fun for youth and adults alike. Each team had four members, one rider and three pushers. The team pushed a cast iron tub mounted on skis or runners, around a ¼ mile track on the ice for 10 laps. The three teams completing the laps in the fastest time won a trophy and a small financial reward. The decorated tubs were unique and the races were a great time of fun and fellowship for all who participated. The fastest time ever recorded in one of these races was 9 minutes 48 seconds, and the largest mission donation raised was over $1,000.

The Carrie B. Leonard Guild, which began in the Mauch Chunk Presbyterian Church, celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 7,1983. Special recognition was awarded to those members associated with the Guild during the entire 50 years.

In 1985, Rev. Wendell E. Harford, filled the pulpit as an Interim Pastor for a period of six months. On the advice and support of Nora Harford, the ladies of the church reorganized the Presbyterian Women’s Group. The co-moderators were Doris Black and Edna Hartranft. Their purpose is for Bible study, devotions, fellowship and support for the church and charitable causes.

On February 9, 1986, the Rev. Ian MacGeorge Goslin was installed as pastor of the church. Rev. Goslin had been elected unanimously to fill the pulpit, vacant after the departure of the Revs. Gray in April of 1985. Rev. Goslin was one of six children raised by a Presbyterian Pastor-father in Doylestown, PA. Rev. Goslin had been ordained in 1982. The Pastor Nominating Committee had recommended Rev. Goslin from a list of 102 applicants.

In 1986, the percentile rating of the congregation showed 20% of the membership was under the age of 20, 40% between the ages of 21-65; and 45% over the age of 65.

In 1987, the Board of Trustees was dissolved and their responsibilities turned over to the Session. A Board of Deacons was established with the first 12 Deacons being ordained on Jan. 10, 1988, four deacons each representing the class of 1988, 1989 and 1990.

(*complete listing of Deacons located in back of the church history)

In 1988, the Junior choir was reorganized as the Sunday School Chorus.

David Perkins was requested to assist the pastor with arranging music programs for the church.

The Program committee of the Session suggested that the Carrie B. Leonard Guild and Help Others group join together for an annual meeting.

In 1989, the choir purchased new choir gowns, in the color blue at a cost of $75 per gown. The old choir gowns were given to the Arabic Church in Allentown.

It was with regret that the Session accepted the resignation of Louise Houser as organist effective June of 1989. Barbara Haberern was hired as pianist.

150 Years

On Sunday, October 15, 1989, the First Presbyterian Church of Panther Valley celebrated 150 years of Christian service and worship in Summit Hill and surrounding areas. A Sesquicentennial anniversary celebration included hosting a dinner with special guests; former pastors J. Franklin McHendry and Donna Gray. Rev. Gray was the speaker of the evening and Rev. McHendry was sermonist during the church service which commutated the 150 years of Presbyterian worship in the Panther Valley area. Pastor Ian Goslin, stated “The work of the church is not possible without clergy and lay persons working together.” This church has an outstanding history of that kind of cooperation.”

Soloists were Wesley Hiles who sang, “Bless This House” and David Perkins who sang, “Friends.” Elder Bob Schleicher, host for the banquet expressed his feelings: “That the church had a right to celebrate but that the celebration did not center on 150 years of accomplishments, but on 150 years of God’s grace, 150 years of God’s love, 150 years of God’s blessing on this congregation. For 150 years God has worked through this church, God has guided us through our dark days and He guided us in our triumphs.”

 

Also in 1989, David Perkins became Choir Director. David, a graduate of Westchester College, is the Choral Director of Lehighton Area High School. His musical artistry has been an added blessing to a music ministry that since 1847 has been one of the strengths of this church.

Several members of the choir are also members of the Bach and Handel Chorale, Wilfred and Gerri Gardiner and Don and Marion Buchanan.

In 1990, acting on the suggestion of Pastor Goslin, a new Pulpit Bible was purchased with Memorial Funds. The Pastor felt that the new Revised Version of the Bible was the more universally accepted version and easier for the congregation to use during worship.

Ruth Gardiner assumed the position of Superintendent of the Sunday School and reorganized the fledgling group. In December she directed a Christmas pageant that featured a “live” baby portraying the baby Jesus. The baby portraying the infant Messiah was Ashly McArdle.

In 1993, three hundred new Presbyterian Hymnals were purchased.

A Recognition Day for Fenton Black was designated by the Session to be held on September 29, 1991, and named “Fenton Black Day” in honor and recognition of his fifteen years of faithful service as Superintendent of Church Property.

In 1992, the congregation honored Elder Warren Strauss with a banquet in recognition and appreciation of his many years of faithful service in the church and for serving as Clerk of Session for twenty-three years.

October 17, 1993, saw another great first for First Presbyterian. A daughter of the First Presbyterian Church of Panther Valley was ordained here, in her home church, to the office of ministry of the word and sacrament of the Presbyterian Church. She is the first woman to be ordained from this church and as Rev. Goslin noted in his sermon, the first member to be so ordained in over half a century. Ruth Ann is the daughter of James and Mary Ann O’Donnell of Summit Hill. The Rev. Christopher had accepted a call to the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church of Pen Argyl, a post she still holds at the time of this writing.

Another daughter of the church to become an ordained minister was Rebekah Maul who was ordained and installed on December 5,1994, at the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler, PA. Rev. Maul answered a new call and was installed on October 29, 1995, as pastor of the Buena Vista Presbyterian Church, Buena Vista, Virginia.

The congregation faced increrased financial expenses in 1995, when the church once again needed to have the exterior brick resurfaced and window trims refinished. On May 2nd the church accepted the bid of the Three D Building Restoration in the amount of $43,890.00. As the work progressed an additional $6,952.00 was required for repairs to the belfry floor and the manse canopy.

Prior to Advent, to help the children of the Sunday School understand that Christmas is a time for giving rather receiving, Supt. Ruth Gardiner introduced a new program to the church. The Sunday School became sponsors of an annual project called Shoebox Christmas, where members of the congregation volunteer to fill a shoebox with necessities and small gifts for children. These shoeboxes are then sent to a central collection and then dispersed throughout the world as Christmas gifts to children who otherwise would receive little or nothing. This new program was widely supported by the congregation.

In the autumn of 1997, the Rev. Vernon Gauthier was called to fill the pulpit vacated by Rev. Goslin in 1996, when he moved to Peoria, Illinois. Rev. Gauthier was installed as Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Summit Hill on September 14th. He had previously pastored a church in Maryland for five years. Before entering the ministry, Rev. Gauthier had served in the United States Air Force for eight years. He met his wife, Elisabeth while stationed in England. The new pastor was quoted, saying “My sense of call includes helping the congregation to develop and implement a vision of ministry vital well into the next century.”

Once again the congregation was faced with necessary repairs and improvement to the church. A sum of $50,000 was required to replace the church roof and flashings. With true Presbyterian tenacity the congregation overcame adversity and worked together to resolve the problem.

On October 4, 1998, three local churches, St. Paul’s Lutheran, St. Paul’s UCC and First Presbyterian gathered together to share a combined worship service and the sharing of communion. Base on the Agreement of June 17th, these three denominations as well as the Reformed Church in America, have joined together in a shared ministry. This new common tie allows denominations to join and yet retain separate identities; ie, share communion, baptism and pastors. Full communion, along with the opening of eucharistic celebrations of one denomination to members of the others, commits the churches to closer cooperation in worship and mission and provides for exchange of ministries. Although St. Paul’s Lutheran and First Presbyterian here in Summit Hill have always enjoyed a close and friendly relationship, this Agreement ends a separation between the Lutheran Church of America and the Presbyterian Church that has existed for 450 years.

In 2000, First Presbyterian united with the other churches of Summit Hill in celebrating the Millennium with a Jubilee Celebration. The theme was “Open Wide The Doors To Christ.” Clergy from all the churches in the community participated in the Ecumenical Christmas and Millennium Celebration and provided a unique opportunity for all faiths to show unity to the world. The theme dwelt on their Christian unity that the churches share in their common baptism.

David Perkins was hired as organist for the church following the resignation of Kristine Betz. David had already been the Director of the Church’s Chancel Choir for the past twelve years: he still leads a beautiful music ministry for the church.

 

On February 5th 2000, sixty people gathered on a Saturday evening for a unique new “Techno-Church” service. Pastor Gauthier welcomed everyone praying that all would find the service enjoyable and meaningful. “Techno-Church uses contemporary means to proclaim the Good News found in Jesus Christ.” As contemporary hymns were flashed across a large screen, vivid pictures underscored the handiwork of God in creation and gave rich visual aid to the service.

The technical support staff for this new computer , sound board system and projector Techno-service equipment was Tom McArdle, Marc Gardiner, Don Buchanan and Ken Forrest. Pastor Gauthier was assisted during the service by Charles Reaman and Bob Schleicher, with the music led by Beth Perkins and Dru Laughman.

This unique, less formal and exciting worship style encourages worshippers to take a more active participating role in the service.

The Contemporary Worship Service, as it is now called, has continued to attract more and more people, both church members and folks from the community and welcomes everyone who would like to worship in a little more modern style.

In 2000, the Women’s Fellowship Organization became independent from the Women’s National Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on February 12, 2001.

Their purpose is to nurture faith through prayer, Bible study and music. Their programs are inspirational and motivational. The group raises funds (including cookie and bake sales, book sales) to support the church and other worthwhile causes. Their Thank Offerings are used to aid the Food Pantry, Bible School, Help Brother Christian Fund, Shoebox Christmas.

In addition to financial giving, the women willingly donate their time and energy to help in the annual spaghetti and ham dinners. All the women of the church are invited and encouraged to join in the organization. Marion Reinbold became Moderator in 2001, following previous Co-moderators, Doris Black and Sue McCready. Doris Black took the position of Secretary and Gretel Malkin, Treasurer.

In August of 2001, Rev. Gauthier accepted a call to a new church and the pulpit was vacant until the Session authorized, with the approval of Lehigh Presbytery, the service of a part-time Interim Pastor. In October, retired minister, the Rev. J. Harry McElroy was invited to fill this position, during the time that the Pastor Nominating Committee would be seeking a new minister. Although Pastor Harry is a temporary shepherd, he is very supportive of this congregation, not only in church but in the community as well.

First Presbyterian opened wide its doors, when on September 11, 2001 tragedy struck the nation. Friends and neighbors from all over Summit Hill gathered to pray for God’s continued loving care and guidance especially for those lost or missing during these dark hours. Each day that followed, various churches wereed open and the community continued to pray for those lost, injured and those brave men and women who valiantly fought to rescue countless other lives.

Across the nation the hearts of all Americans were united in tears and sorrow for those lost, hope for the future security of the nation and prayer that God would always bless America.

An elder of the church, Warren Strauss, was elected into Pennsylvania Voters Hall of Fame, an honor awarded to him for voting in every General Election for 50 years. Warren was one of two dozen inductees which were from Carbon County; three came from Summit Hill.

In the same year, Tom McArdle from First Presbyterian, and Marti Zulic, from the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, became the adult advisors for the youth group…now called FYI (Faith Youth Involvement). The youth group is very active in the family life of both churches. Among their experiences they have campouts and many travels. They visited and even slept onboard the USS New Jersey.

On April 1, 2002, the day following Easter, the Contemporary Worship team initiated another unique form of praise and worship for the more physically adept members of congregation. They organized an “Emmaus Walk’.” For those who are able, it was an opportunity to walk or hike the Switchback Trail, from Summit Hill down toward Mauch Chunk Lake. It provided an experience of fresh air, fellowship and exercise, a time and place for sharing of beliefs, questions and prayer. At the end of the walk, lunch is shared and the hikers are driven back to the church. The Walk is so successful it has become an annual event.

On Sept. 11, 2002, First Presbyterian Church of Panther Valley, united with all the churches of the community in a special service of remembrance, penitence and hope on the anniversary of 9-11. Over seventy-five people attended the candlelight service. The words of Psalm 103 reminded all to “bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”

 

 

Cub Scout Pack #743 continues to be sponsored by and meets in the basement of the church. In the recent Pinewood Derby held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, one of the younger members of the first Presbyterian church family, Christian Gardiner came in First Place. Cubmaster, Julianne Brummans is also a church member.

The Sunday School continues to grow, slowly, but is growing. At the present there are fourteen students, three teachers, Beth Perkins, Patti Hudicka and Diane Temples and a Superintendent/teacher, Ruth Gardiner. In September 2002, a new and special class was started. A Youth Disciple Class for young people who wish to be confirmed. A two year class thar started with one student, and then grew to six. This class is taught in the true style of the original Sabbath School, in that the only textbook used is the Holy Bible.

In December, the Sunday School and the Contemporary Worship Team joined together in presenting a new and exciting presentation of the Christmas story. Ruth Gardiner and Jane Reaman organized a dinner- theater production. Attendees were enjoying their dinner at “the Inn,” while the Innkeeper, his wife, (Charlie & Jane Reaman), family and servants were eating at the main table, the meal was interrupted by a young couple seeking shelter. Following the Biblical narrative, the couple were turned away, returned and finally given shelter upstairs. Everyone then followed upstairs and viewed the rest of the Christmas story. The Holy Family, was portrayed by the Perkins family, with Spencer as the baby Jesus, and included a beautiful solo sung by Joseph (David). Many members of the congregation acted in the play or assisted in countless ways and all contributed to a wonderful experience for all who attended.

The Contemporary Worship team is comprised of Charles and Jane Reaman, Bob and Camilla Schleicher, Stan and Edie Ann Szczecina, Ken Forrest, Chris Lowmaster, Tom McArdle and Karen Shiffert.

In May of 2003, the community paid homage to the memory of Wesley Hiles, Sr. Wesley, a long time elder, choir member and past Superintendent of the Sunday School of the church, was well respected for his patriotism. He had implemented a memorial flag program in the community in 1980, which honored veterans and those who lost their lives in service. The Memorial Flag program was restored into town activities and a new flagpole was erected and dedicated in Wesley’s honor.

Another member of the Presbyterian church family earned renown; Ashley Zigmant, a young woman who earned high scholastic honors. In her senior year at Tamaqua High School, Ashley was ranked first in her class and maintained a 4.0 scholastic average. Ashley, a scholar-athlete, was a four-year letter winner on both soccer and swim teams. She graduated as Valedictorian of her class and entered Wilkes University in September.

The Presbyterian Women’s Group continues with Marion Reinbold as Moderator, Diane Temples as Co-Moderator, Gretel Malkin as Treasurer, Co-Secretaries, Mary Alice Lindsay and Phyllis Morgan and Annette Kirchdoerfer as Historian. In 2003, the Women’s Group added a new mission in giving to the Christian Appalachian Fund, to provide needed medicines to the elderly and underprivileged. The group also supports the Shoebox Christmas program sponsored by the Sunday School and the Youth Fellowship. Their newest project was WIN, Women In Need. The Women’s Group provided personal items needed by women in the county jail system.

Three new volunteers are started in the pre-school/Kindergarten class of the Sunday School in the 2003-2004 year. Sagemary Perkins, Brenda Chasarik and Gerri Gardiner share this class. Their love and willingness to share time with the little ones of the church is greatly appreciated.

The Sunday School took on a new project in December. The congregation was asked to match the amount of money that the children saved during the Advent. The money raised is sent to Samaritan’s Purse to purchase a goat, a fish farm or rabbits. The aim of this program is to assist a needy family find ways to earn a living, not just provide them with a meal. For the children and the congregation, the program was a great success, raising $320. In addition to livestock, there was enough money to buy several bibles and a wheelchair for a child.

January 4, 2004, David B. Hiles who grew up in the first Presbyterian’s Sunday School and Youth choir, and is a member of the Senior choir and an ordained elder, was unanimously elected President of the Board of Education of the Panther Valley School District.

Winnie the Pooh Pre-School is still going strong and this year celebrates 30 years of providing a strong Christian learning environment. Rose Fredericks has worked in the school for 23 years and for the last three has been the Director. Rose is ably assisted by Lorraine Sommers. Together they create a solid educational basis in teaching good play and work skills to the three and four year old children who attend the school. It has been estimated that over 1200 children have begun their education as students in the Winnie the Pooh Pre-school.

On Saturday, February 14th, the Contemporary Worship Team hosted their first Love Feast. The Team members greeted their guests in our fellowship hall and enjoyed a bountiful buffet of roast turkey and trimmings. Following the dinner, the Love Feast was served to over sixty guests. It included the Common Meal, music, responsive readings and a recitation of I Corinthians 13. The service ended with a candle-lighting service complete with handmade beeswax candles. Dessert and a time of fellowship followed.

First time visitors are often astounded by the music ministry found in First Presbyterian, in that a relatively small congregation enjoys musical worship of professional quality. Ably led by David Perkins, organist and choir director, the choir includes: Brenda Chasarik, Beth Perkins, Betty McElroy, Marion Buchanan, Gerri Gardiner, Phyllis Morgan, Marion Reinbold, Drucilla Laughman, Jane Gerhard, David Hiles, Marc Gardiner, Wilfred Gardiner, Don Buchanan and John Weston.

Help Brother Christian Fund is another long term outreach mission of the church whereby funds are anonymously provided for those in need. Jane Reaman and Wilfred Gardiner oversee this mission program.

On April 11, 2004, EASTER Sunday, the Contemporary Worship team resumed the old custom of a Son-rise Easter Service. It was cold and windy; although the sun did not rise, the rising of the Son of God, was loud and clear and joyous in the words HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

On May 30,th Pentecost Sunday, four young people were confirmed after completing their two year Youth Discipleship class. Ashly McArdle, Brandon Heffelfinger, Maria Motika and Patrick Motika have proven very faithful in their attendance to class and participating in church worship and fellowship. All four young people are also members of the YFI (Presbyterian-Lutheran youth fellowship).

165 Years

April 19, 2004, is the actual date of the 165th anniversary of the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Summit Hill. In keeping with this important time in the history of the church, Pastor McElroy’s sermon on April 18th was titled, “The Treasure In Earthen Vessels.” He likened the church to a 165 year old clay pot; not the building but the congregation. The building has changed but the people of God, the congregation, continues to exist. The treasure is not the pot, but that which lies within the pot. The treasure is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”

On April 25,th First Presbyterian Church of Panther Valley, the oldest church in the valley, celebrated 165 years of Christian worship and service. As the words of the hymn proclaim…“O God, how great is thy faithfulness..” For 165 years this church has been blessed by the faithfulness of God. May that Christian heritage given to this present generation be preserved and passed on to future generations, that this congregation will continue to be a faithful people, serving God and spreading the Good News of the Gospel. JESUS is the CHRIST!

He Lives! He Lives!

 

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By

Jack Sterling

July 2004