History of The Lewisberry United Methodist Church
1781 – 2008
This year The Lewisberry United Methodist Church celebrates 227 years of Methodism in the Redland Valley, 202 years since receiving the deed of land from Major Eli Lewis, founder of the town. This year also marks the 152nd anniversary of our present church building.
The roots of Methodism began in 1729 when Charles Wesley founded a group at Oxford and asked his brother John to serve as its leader. Members led such disciplined lives of worship, study and service that they were derogatorily called “Bible Moths,” the “Holy Club,” and “Methodists.” From town to town, the Wesleys, both Anglican priests in the Church of England, tirelessly organized persons into members of societies for preaching and meeting to support one another in the Christian faith and life. Each society was divided into classes of about twelve members who met weekly for Bible study, prayer and self-examination. As founder and organizer of the Methodist movement, John held that God’s design for raising up the Preachers called Methodists was “to reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” To this end, he established a group of lay preachers to reach the multitudes of people who were literally outside the walls of the Church of England. Wesley’s charge to his preachers was: “you have nothing to do but to save souls.” These lay preachers would carry this evangelistic movement to America where the Methodist societies would eventually take root and become a denomination, The Methodist Episcopal Church.
Unauthorized by Wesley, lay persons from various parts of Europe were responsible for planting the seeds of Methodism in America in 1766. These lay preachers included Irish immigrants Robert Strawbridge (in Maryland), Philip Embury and Barbara Heck (in New York City), and British Captain Thomas Webb (in New York City, Long Island, and Philadelphia). Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore were the first preachers sent by Wesley in 1769. In 1771, Wesley sent Richard Wright and Francis Asbury. Asbury was 26 years old, and had been circuit preaching for four years in England.
After repeated appeals over many years from the American lay preachers for ordained clergy from England to provide for the sacraments, John Wesley finally responded to Francis Asbury’s pleas of disorganization and problems surrounding the sacraments in 1773 by sending Thomas Rankin with the title of “General Assistant” -- to Wesley in America -- to enforce the discipline. But in 1775, the American Revolution began, and by 1778, all of the itinerant preachers sent by Wesley had returned to England except for Asbury.
In 1784, Wesley ordained and sent Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey to America to administer the sacraments. Arriving with them in New York on November 3, 1784, was Thomas Coke. Coke, already an ordained Anglican priest, was ordained by Wesley to be General Superintendent. Coke was to ordain Asbury so they would become joint superintendents. Asbury wouldn’t agree to it without being elected by the other preachers. So he sent out Freeborn Garrettson to ride from New York to Virginia to call all the preachers to Lovely Lane Meeting House in Baltimore for what would become known as the Christmas Conference, and the official beginnings of The Methodist Episcopal Church on December 24, 1784. Thomas Coke would ordain Francis Asbury on three consecutive days, respectively as deacon, elder, and superintendent (later to be called Bishop much to Wesley’s consternation). Of 81 preachers in the country, 60 were present at the 10-day Christmas Conference. Included were Freeborn Garrettson, Harry Hosier, Ronald Allen and Philip William Otterbein. A friend of Asbury’s, Otterbein participated in Asbury’s ordination at Asbury’s request. Twelve other preachers were also ordained, bringing the total available to administer the sacraments to 16. Asbury would travel more than 276,000 miles on foot and horseback from New York to Tennessee preaching and supervising the work of the newly formed church.
Methodism arrived in Lewisberry through the travels of the American-born (1752), itinerant, circuit-riding preacher Freeborn Garrettson. Garrettson learned about Methodism from Strawbridge, Pilmore, and Asbury. At his conversion at age 23, Garrettson immediately became an itinerant Methodist preacher, freed his slaves, and consistently opposed human bondage. On January 26, 1781, on his way from York to Carlisle, Garrettson stopped in Lewisberry to preach to two large gatherings. Even though Lewisberry consisted of only a few houses at that time, the residents organized worship services at various venues in those early years. With the gospel of Jesus Christ firmly planted in this budding group of believers, Garrettson and other preachers serving the York Circuit continued to ride through and preach here. With the exception of Asbury, Garrettson was the most important leader in early American Methodism.
Prior to building a church, one of the earliest locations for Sunday services was an old carpenter shop on South Street. Apparently, services were conducted here for quite some time. Little more is known about the size of this structure or how many parishioners attended. Hugh Foster, a Quaker who fled religious persecution in Ireland, graciously opened his home in 1801, near the corner of Front and Market Streets for Sunday services. Many other families did as well until a permanent church home could be constructed.
Eli Lewis, born in the Redland Valley in 1750, opened a mercantile store in this village as a young man. Drawn to the patriot cause at the onset of the Revolutionary War, Lewis rose to the rank of Major in the Pennsylvania Militia. For his service to his country the town of Lewisberry was named in his honor. As the proprietor of the town, Major Lewis and surveyor Isaak Kirk, laid out and surveyed the lots of the town in 1798. In December 1806, Lewis donated the current lot to the church. Dated February 28, 1806, the deed was presented to the Methodist Society of Lewisberry. The land was deeded to the following trustees: Philip Frankelberger, Hugh Foster, Moses Pike, David Pike, Peter Stickel, John Brinton, Thomas Brinton, Andrew Hollopeter and Frederick Hollopeter.
In 1811, a one-room stone church was constructed at the current site. The masonry work was done by Benjamin Siddons and the carpentry work by Michael Crone, whose descendents were a part of our congregation into the 1970’s. This long, one-story structure, was lit with tallow candles in tin holders hung on a nail at each window. Candles placed at the altar represented the “Divine and Human nature of Christ as the Light of the World.” This church was dedicated by Rev. James Reed, Presiding Elder of Carlisle Circuit, Baltimore Conference.
In 1818, Rev. Samuel Bacon, a soldier in the War of 1812, established the first Sunday School in Lewisberry. Of the Episcopal Church, Bacon began establishing Sunday Schools in York County in 1817. In May 1818, a school opened in the village schoolhouse as a Union (open to all believers) Sunday School and continued for 10 years. Among those assisting were Isaak Kirk, Hugh Foster, Elisha Hammond, William Frankelberger, Daniel Pike, Abraham Stickel, and Jacob Kirk. On Sunday, July 24, 1842, the citizens of the Borough of Lewisberry and vicinity met at the schoolhouse for the purpose of organizing a Sabbath School, called “The Harmony Sunday School.” The sixth article of the charter states, “No books shall be introduced tinctured in anyway with sectarian doctrines; nor is this school to be connected with the Sunday School Union or any other school.” This independent Sunday School existed until 1853. On June 5, 1853, the citizens of Lewisberry met in the Methodist Episcopal Church to form a society to conduct a Sabbath School in the church. The first article of the constitution for the school, drawn up by Rev. J.A. Baldwin, stated, “This Association shall be called the Methodist Sunday School of Lewisberry and shall be auxiliary to the Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” Thirty-six members signed the constitution. Peter Stickel was the first superintendent.
On April 6, 1856, junior pastor Samuel Sears preached the final sermon in the original stone church. On August 23,
1856, a new cornerstone was laid and dedicated by Rev. Archibald Marlatt, President of Irving Female College in Mechanicsburg. The cornerstone discovered in a 1962 remodeling project contained a list of contributors to the construction of the church, an 1849 Methodist Hymnal, an 1853 Methodist Episcopal Almanac, an 1856 Methodist Episcopal Book of Discipline, three Methodist Episcopal Periodicals of the time, and notes about the early history of the church.
Also included was a description of the dedication service that day. The one-room brick church was dedicated on November 30, 1856, at a cost of $2033. Our present church bell was installed, and for those 47 members, it must have been a proud moment when it first chimed to call the townspeople to worship at the new Methodist Episcopal Church. A large assembly gathered to hear Rev. Charles Collins, President of Dickinson College, deliver the dedication sermon based on Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
For a number of years the preachers who served the charge resided in New Cumberland and Wellsville. However, in 1877, a parsonage was built across from the church on Main and Parsonage Streets at a cost of $850. The two-story frame dwelling was the home to many pastors until it was dismantled in 1989.
In 1891, the Epworth League (youth group) was organized with 47 members and a Junior League (pre-teenagers) was also formed with 21 members. The name of Youth Fellowship has changed over the years, but it remains a strong part of our church today.
Lewisberry and Lisburn were placed together on one charge in 1897, and the church building in Lisburn was completed in the same year. The two churches remained on the charge until their merger in 1981.
In January, 1898, one of many revivals that have occurred throughout our history was held in Lewisberry. Over the spirit-filled six weeks, there were seventy professions of faith and forty-five baptisms.
On June 18, 1898, a Ladies Aid Society was organized. In February 1941, it became the Women’s Society of Christian Service and is currently known as the United Methodist Women. Lewisberry’s women’s group is not an official UMW, and is known as the Women’s Circle.
In 1900, the forty-four year old brick church building was remodeled at the cost of $2200. Added to the single-room sanctuary were an alcove, a vestibule, bell tower, electricity, a furnace, and a building annex. Inside furnishings included carpeting, new pews, a new piano and an organ donated by J.H.Troup. The new, dark stained pews were configured in amphitheater fashion with two aisles that led to the altar with a raised pulpit at the North side of the church. The Sunday School sponsored its first missionary to India, and church membership was 150.
Homecoming traditions, beginning in 1923 and continuing for fifty years, drew an average attendance of 140 persons. These annual gatherings were a vital function in the life of the church. People returned from several states and many locales to attend.
In 1939, The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, merged into The Methodist Church. Lewisberry MEC now became Lewisberry Methodist Church. In 1946, The Evangelical Church (Jacob Albright) and The Church of the United Brethren Christ (Philip Otterbein and Martin Boehm) merged to become The Evangelical United Brethren Church. Both mergers would impact the future church in Lewisberry.
Few changes were made to the church building for the first half of the twentieth century. However, in 1960, the men and the youth of the church hand-dug the foundation for a new fellowship hall and hand-excavated the ground under the sanctuary for a kitchen. The 35’ by 60’ social hall cost $17,000 to construct. The plans at the time included a second floor over the social hall for a new sanctuary. Nonetheless, after a Capital Campaign, it was decided that further expansion was too costly.
The early 1960’s were a relatively strong period for the church, with 100 or more in worship each Sunday and an active Youth Choir. The women and men had their own separate Sunday School classes. Church picnics were sometimes held along the Yellow Breeches Creek near Lisburn.
In 1968, The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church merged to form The United Methodist Church. Suddenly, the town of Lewisberry had two United Methodist Churches, Grace and our present church, which took the name Wesley. The period of the late 1960’s and the 1970’s was a relatively stagnate one for the Wesley church. While the membership rolls continued to list 200 or more parishioners, the average attendance for worship dropped to around 50. Vacation Bible School was strong. During this time, some younger couples moved to the area, joined the church and became Sunday school teachers and committee members.
Under the leadership of Pastor Art Montgomery, Grace UMC and Wesley UMC merged in 1979 to form The Lewisberry United Methodist Church, with Lisburn joining in 1981. To reflect the new beginning, the sanctuary was remodeled and turned westward, as it had been from 1856 to 1900, and the pews were configured for a center aisle and three elevations of risers. Each congregation contributed important elements from their sanctuaries. The merger was just one step in the church’s revitalization of ministry in the early 1980’s. Sunday school attendance and church social gatherings grew. A church choir, and Prayer and Share evenings were started. Musicians played at church functions.
In 1985, during the pastorate of Rev. Don Bailor the church purchased three lots across South Street from the church from the estate of George Pott’s for $39,400. In 1987, a parsonage was built on the property for approximately $110,000. The 1877 parsonage was condemned, sold and dismantled in 1989. Pastor Bailor introduced the Children’s Moment during worship.
In the early 1990’s, Pastor Richard Feeser encouraged the congregation to participate in Disciple Bible Study. During his pastorate a Junior Choir was organized, and Boy and Girl Scout groups began to regularly use the church facilities.
In response to growing ministry needs a modular unit was purchased from the Central Pennsylvania Conference for $20,000 in 2000 under the leadership of Pastor Eddie Miller. Featuring an entry way and five classrooms, it was set upon a full basement. At the same time, the lot behind the parsonage was graded and paved for additional parking. This area continued to be developed in 2005 when soil from the Market Street re-paving project was used to elevate the property behind the modular for future parking. Spurred by space and ministry needs, a building committee formed in 2000 to make plans for a new sanctuary, more classrooms, and an expanded social hall. To allow for the construction, the church petitioned Lewisberry Borough Council to move Parsonage Street from its location adjacent to the church to the South side of the church property. It was moved in the summer of 2002.
The Untied Methodist Church has declared the primary task of its mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” In 2006, The Lewisberry United Methodist Church continues working for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, with a growing membership roll of 174 and rising average weekly worship attendance of 100. Christian education and formation is offered through Sunday School classes for all ages, Bible Study, other short-term classes, and Youth Group, which are active and growing. Our music ministry has expanded to offer a wide variety of selections in conjunction with our Adult Choir, Junior Choir, and Children’s Choir. A blended service combines traditional hymns and contemporary praise music for a vital worship experience. The Children’s Moment and Junior Church average 15 children per week. A Parents’ Night Out ministry was started to reach those outside the church and develop relationships. Parents have an opportunity for time alone while their children participate in singing, Bible lessons, crafts, snacks, and games.
Overall outreach involvement and mission giving is increasing. A Good Samaritan Fund was started to help those in
need in the congregation, and camp scholarships are offered for those wanting to attend church camp. Ecumenical work has begun with another local congregation in conjunction with a Community Children’s Fair. Our women’s groups are meeting. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the American Red Cross regularly use our building. With a renewed vision and passion, our first woman pastor Rev. Sharon Miller and committed church leaders are planning for the future of God’s church in Lewisberry so that the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to be preached and taught, read and studied, praised and worshiped, sung and recited, demonstrated and witnessed to as was done by so many dedicated souls now in glory. Praise be to God!
Steve Stewart and John Brenneman, Jr., Church Historians