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A Synopsis of Our Church History
For a copy of our newest 25 year history book Live, Grow, Serve 1989 – 2013, please contact Jennifer Johnson at 412.741.4550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1888, 50 years or Semi-centennial: Memorial, The Fiftieth Anniversary Exercises of the Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA, February 17, 1888
An historical address by Rev. James Allison, D.D., from 1802 to 1864
Historical addresses by Mr. John F. Robinson and Mr. George H. Christy, from 1864 to 1888
Addresses re the Sabbath School by Mr. Thomas Patterson and Mr. Frank C. Osburn
An essay entitled “The Olden Time in Sewickley” by Mr. John Way, presented in 1879
“Sermon by the Pastor”, Rev. William O. Campbell
“A large company assembled to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of this Church, made up chiefly of members of the Sewickley congregation, to whom were added many invited guests from the Leetsdale Presbyterian Church and from the various churches of Sewickley. All seemed to be in hearty sympathy with the occasion. After the anniversary exercises, the congregation repaired to the lecture room, where a collation was served by the ladies of the Church.” Memorial p.8
“At the request of the pastor and elders of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley, Presbytery of Allegheny, I have undertaken to write its history from its beginning, in 1802, to the close of my pastorate, February 1864, with biographical sketches of its elders who served before my resignation. To perform properly the task allotted to me, it will be necessary to notice the early history of the Valley of Sewickley. The facts presented will be taken mainly from a sermon preached by me July 16, 1876, entitled “Presbyterianism in Sewickley Valley,” which was afterwards published.” Ibid. p.11 (address by Rev. James Allison D.D.)
“What, then, is necessary that we should fulfill our vocation? What is necessary that this Church should, in the future, be a power for good during this community? It is not necessary that it should have an eloquent ministry; it is not necessary that it should be strong in point of intellect, or wealth, or numbers. If we are satisfied to build up a Church, which shall have the power that resides in these things, we shall not be powerful in the sense that Christ desires us to be. I believe that the temptation to self-complacency for our sacrifices, our devotedness, our self-denial, to glory in ministers, in means, in numbers, and contributions is very powerful. Let us look to the Lord to deliver us from this snare. Let us try to look at such success as this implies, altogether external. True power depends on other conditions. Christ did not call many wise; he did not seek the wealthy as such; he did not count the number of his disciples. That is a morbid disposition which manifests itself in” counting heads.” What Christ seeks in a Church, is spiritual power. We want intellect indeed, but intellect that shall be wholly sanctified by the Spirit of God; we want wealth, but wealth that shall be in the hands of those who shall be willing to devote it to the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom; we want numbers but numbers of such as shall be saved. We want, for bearing testimony to a callous world, a people who shall live in daily union with Christ, who shall be filled with his Spirit, who shall be strong in faith, who shall be of good courage in the battle with sin, who shall be steadfast in the ways of righteousness, who shall be willing to accept the lowliest work in the service of Christ, whose hearts shall be full of love to their Lord and Master. The review of the past in which we have been engaged, should encourage us. There has been growth, but have we grown in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour as we should have grown? Shall we not wait upon the Lord, and thus renew our strength; shall we not with faith and prayer wait for the promise of the Father – shall we not say: Restore unto us the joy of thy salvation, and uphold us with thy free Spirit? Then will we teach transgressors thy way; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” Ibid. p153-154 (Sermon by Rev. Campbell, one week after the semi-centennial celebration)
1913, 75 years: A History of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley
Consisting of addresses delivered February 16-19, 1913 on the Occasion of the Seventh-fifth Anniversary of the Permanent Organization of the Church, together with a Compendium of Events, Photographs, and Notes, prepared by A Committee of the Congregation
A Compendium of the History of the Church
Earliest Presbyterianism in the Valley, an address by the Rev. Matthew B. Riddle D.D. LL.D.
The Pastorate of Mr. Nevin, an address by Mr. Theodore W. Nevin
The Pastorate of Mr. Allison, an address by Mr. Alexander C. Robinson
The Pastorate of Dr. Bittinger, an address by Miss Lucy F. Bittinger
The Pastorate of Dr. Campbell, an address by Rev. William O. Campbell D.D.
Sewickley: A Historical Sketch, an address by Mr. Franklin T. Nevin
The Trustees, an address by Mr. T. H. B. McKnight
The Church Buildings, an address by Mr. William W. Titus
The Elders, an address by Mr. Bayard H. Christy
The Sunday School, an address by Mr. John A. McCague
The Work of Women, an address by Mrs. Joseph M. Browne
“Sewickley Church was organized by order of Presbytery of Ohio on February 17th 1838: By Rev. Messrs. J.W. Nevin & Joseph Reed. When, Messrs. James McLaughlin & John B. Champ were elected to the office of Eldership, when the former was dully installed having been ordained already. The names composing Sewickly Church at its formation, as follows received on certificate. . .” A list of twenty names follows, and the record continues: “The day following February 18th, being Sabbath, Mr. John B. Champ, Elder elect was regularly ordained and installed.”
A congregational meeting was held March 24, 1838 at which “a call was made, and a Committee delegated to present the same to the Ohio Presbytery, for the pastoral services of the Rev. Daniel E. Nevin, one third of the time.” A History of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley Pennsylvania, p.10 (taken from the first leaf of the Session book of 1838)
“For the interests of Christian unity, it seems rather an invidious distinction to attempt to separate the work of women from that of men in an organization where all have labored together in harmony to advance the one great cause of Christ and His Kingdom. Nevertheless, the women of this church have had an individual place and a work of their own and they have “builded the walls over against their own houses” as faithfully as have the elders and trustees with whom they have cooperated.
“These are some of the things the women of the church have been doing during the past seventy-five years. For what they are yet to do in rounding out the century, the sympathetic cooperation of every woman in the congregation is necessary. There is an opening for everyone, no matter what her gifts may be; and, whether her talent be a single one or be multiplied to ten, there is need of it in the Master’s service. A History of the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley Pennsylvania, pp.157 & 171 (an essay entitled “The Work of Women” by Mrs. Joseph (Eliza) M. Browne)
1938, 100 years or Centennial: Centennial Anniversary
A compilation of events occurring at the Centennial Celebration, April 24-25, 1838 prepared by Eliza Atwell Browne
Historical Statement by Rev. Henry R. Browne, Pastor of Shields Church
An essay by Bayard H. Christy entitled “Change and Continuance”
An Essay by Rev. Rodney Thaine Taylor, Pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church, Sewickley entitled “The Three Churches”
A play by Isabel Booth entitled “One Hundred Years Ago” performed at the Edgeworth Club
“My words today can be only a recapitulation of some things known more or less familiarly to you all and certainly well-known to some of you. We are met here by the courtesy of Miss Quay, not to repeat but to commemorate what was done here 100 years ago. We represent all who, present or absent , living or dead, have been called into the fellowship and service of the Sewickley Presbyterian Church during these years. We would praise God for them with such a simple ceremonial as we imagine they must have used who constituted that first little group of February 19th, 1838.
The Sewickley Church shows a certain modesty in dating its organization so late as 1838, because the records of Presbytery, Synod, the local Session Book, and rural tradition reveal that for more than 30 years before that date, that is from early in the century, there was more or less sustained effort on the part of a little group to maintain an occasional and at times a more or less regular supply of service in the neighborhood, then commonly known as the Sewickley Bottoms.” Centennial Anniversary, p.18 (Historical Statement by Rev. Henry R. Browne, D.D. Pastor of Shields Presbyterian Church)
“We began as a church of the Old School – that is to say, of theological conservation; but we never have been a church of doctrinal controversy. Our ministers here have done their work on a plane above all such strife; and today as always the doors stand open to liberal and to conservative alike. But within, their disputings have no place. The circumstances have been such that the church has not become institutionalized. From earliest years it has maintained its Sunday School and its Missionary Society. But its larger work in the community has been done in accommodation to and not in competition with the activities of the Union Aid Society and of the Young Men’s Christian Association. If it concerns anyone to gain some measure of the extent to which this church permeates with its influence the life of the community, let him consider these organizations and inquire who effected them; let him list for himself the officers of all the altruistic organizations and note how many are Presbyterian. . . .
“I have been young and am young no longer. This always has been my church. I have known all of its ministers – childishly, in part, of course. Of its twice four and twenty elders I have clear recollection of all but a very few. Even so, how are comparisons and estimates possible? He who move with a current can have little knowledge of the rate of flow. This is a house of prayer, the gateway to the eternal. To this place the paths of many have returned again and again; in baptism, in confession, and in death. Here is the place of contrition. Here anger is laid aside. Here resolution is formed. Here anxious hearts have found peace; heavy hearts, hope, and glad hearts have given thanks. I remember A and B and C; souls whom the church has saved and shielded and comforted. Let him who can, set value on these things.” Centennial Anniversary, pp 36-37(address entitled “Change and Continuance” by Bayard H. Christy)
1963, 125 years: 1838-1963The Presbyterian Church of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, by Mary Cooper Robb
A complete history of the church structured as follows:
“At the annual meeting of the Congregation of the Sewickley Presbyterian Church in February, 1962, the Clerk of Session announced with considerable pride that the “sound Barrier had been broken” and that for the first time the membership numbered more than one thousand – 1,020 to be exact. One year later, on the 125th anniversary of the church, it seems safe to assume that the comfortable figure will be still in force. But how many of the thousand-plus realize that they represent the fruition of an undertaking begun , after several frustrating attempts by a mere twenty souls in February, 1838? These were men and women who, in spite of all obstacles, were determined to provide for the spiritual needs of their tiny community and, wonderfully enough, for the spiritual needs of the wider world beyond their valley home.” 1838-1963, Preface
“It seems safe to say that to the congregation of today no service would be complete, no matter how beautifully expressed or how richly ornamented, without music. Like everything else in its history, the Church’s “ministry of music” has had it own development and interest. The term, incidentally, can only with effort be applied to some of its early manifestations. . . . Problems arose with the installation of the first organ in 1863 in the new church. Session’s unease over possible difficulties is suggested in its minute on the subject: “In the employment of an organist as well as in the conduction of singing, the session reserves and claims the right to control the one and direct the other according to its best judgment and discretion.” Ibid. pp.96-97
“In discussing recent historical writing at one of his book reviews, Dr. Amerman made the point that one characteristic is the use of “adiaphora” – a theological term for matters which are of interest but not necessary to faith. Applied to history “adiaphora” are details of no great importance, which serve, however, to bring alive the period or the person under discussion.
1988, 150 years: Remember Rejoice Renew, The 1988 History of the Church, by William Cooper
A complete history of the church structured chronologically focusing on pastors, elders, staff and events in the church and events affecting the church
A sermon by Rev. George B. Wirth “The Best is Yet to Be”
“Considering the parlous state to which the Presbyterian Church had been reduced in the mid 1830s, (and, amazingly, it was the only organized congregation of any religious denomination in Sewickley Bottoms), an inspired force was desperately needed, and, suddenly, it appeared in the persons of Mrs. Mary Gould Olver, John B. Champ and David Shields. The stirring events which they precipitated have been told and retold in prior accounts of our Church.” Remember Rejoice Renew, p.27
“As these trial preachings (by Daniel Eagle Nevin) progressed, Mrs. Olver, Mr. Champ and Mr. and Mrs. Shields probably concluded at an early stage that the young minister would be acceptable. They were English Presbyterians or Quakers and, as such, fairly broadminded and liberal in their approach to Presbyterian doctrine and practice. But Elder McLaughlin and his adherents from the Pioneer Church, as well as the congregation at Fairmount were cast in a different mold. They were Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who demanded literal adherence to the religious doctrine, practices and disciplines of the Church as they had been developed in Scotland and imported to this country by their forebears.” Ibid. p.29
“In the 1963 History, Mrs. Mary Cooper Robb classified the women of the congregation and their work as the Church’s “Fourth Estate.” They were expected to work, and work hard at manifold tasks, but they were not permitted to be either elders, deacons, or trustees of the Church; consequently, they could not represent our Church in such general bodies as the Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly. Except for their right to vote in congregational meetings, they were kept apart from the administration and direction of our Church and its religious affairs.
“Other Presbyterian bodies, however, had gradually seen the light. In 1915, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church had been amended to authorize the election of deaconesses. In 1930, it was further amended to authorize women to be ordained as ruling elders, and as elders, they became eligible to serve as representatives in the Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly. In 1956, the General Assembly authorized women to be ordained as ministers in the Presbyterian Church.
“So the way was open, but while the subject was discussed on numerous occasions, a state of inertia prevailed within our Church. Both congregation and minister were being overly “Old School.” Following the retirement of Dr. Amerman, however, the dam suddenly burst. Mrs. Robb was elected to the Board of Deacons, and shortly thereafter Mrs. Harry (Elspeth) Hull was ordained an elder. From then on, the gates were wide open.” Ibid. p.163
2013, 175 years: Live – Grow – Serve, 1989-2013 Sewickley Presbyterian Church, by Tim Merrill
This book differs from its predecessors in that it covers only the last twenty-five years of our church history, has numerous color photographs, and is available is electronically.
In recounting the activities of the church during this period, the author’s main sources were Session Minutes and the Annual Reports that contain articles written by pastors and church members in their roles as committee chairs. In addition, there are commentaries by long-standing church members, as well as an interview of our Director of Music Ministries, who served us for all those 25 years.
A few quotes from these sources is illuminating of this history:
“The Annual Report is just a snapshot, of course. It doesn’t tell everything. It cannot, for example, list every transformation, maturation, deepening of discipleship that has occurred through, of because of, this congregation.” David McFarland, 1999
“It is my prayer that this loving, leading Spirit will walk with us and guide us into the future, and that each of us and all of us will be in touch with the Spirit as we go.” Reflections of a Church Leader
“As a child, I was taught about our Lord at Sunday School. I was confirmed in 1943 at age 13. Staying in Pittsburgh throughout my career, and never moving from Sewickley, I served as a Trustee and then as a Session member on and off over the years starting back in 1957.” Reflections of a Church Leader.
“And I can’t wait to see what mischief our risen Lord will be up to in the coming year.” Kevin Long, 2012
“As I reflect on how my faith in Jesus Christ has grown over the years, I am reminded of the many ways I have been nurtured by the fellowship and leadership of our church.” Reflections of a Church Leader
At the end of the book, the 175 Anniversary celebratory activities are listed, most notably:
Moments of Time wherein visitors from our past paraded down our aisles
An anniversary concert featuring music composed by our past musical directors
A new stained glass windows book was produced
The 1938 play One Hundred Years Ago was performed by church members at the Edgeworth Club accompanied by a wonderful dinner
The book concludes with a reference to the then recently concluded process of re-purposing the Faith House and a Sewickley official commenting: “The Sewickley Presbyterian Church has shown this community what it means to be a Christian Church.” For we are indeed “living stones. . .”
“So come to him, our living Stone – rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God.
Come and let yourselves be built, as living stones, into a spiritual temple;
become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:4-6
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