C h a p t e r 7
The United Covenanter Church
Subsequently named Broomall Reformed Presbyterian Church
First and Second form into The United Covenanter Church
In 1952, Philadelphia Presbytery granted the petition of First and Second Churches, forming one congregation of the two. Further, they granted several privileges (to Third as well): arranging for the supply of their own pulpits, arranging for the observance of the Lord’s Supper with an available minister moderating, holding elections for pastor with an available minister moderating. Dr. Wilson, who was at the time still pastor of Third Church (although technically retired), was designated to serve as the moderator of the united congregation until such time as a pastor was called and installed. The United Covenanter Church was organized by the Ad Interim Commission of Philadelphia Presbytery on June 23rd, 1952. On June 11th, 1952 the congregation lost one of their ruling elders. James R. McMullan, had emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland about the turn of the century. He and his wife Annie (McCaughan) settled in the Philadelphia area and became members of First Church. Having been an elder on the session of the Dervock Covenanter Church in Ireland, Mr. McMullan was later installed on the session of First Church (January 7th, 1906). Elder McMullan had served the congregation of First, but lived only long enough to see them reunited with Second Church. As for worship arrangements, they alternated for a time between their previous buildings, which were still owned by the newly united congregation.
The United Covenanter Church calls Paul D. McCracken (1954-1965)
On November 22nd, 1953, United Covenanter Church of Philadelphia called Dr. Paul D. McCracken to be their pastor. The session consisted of J. A. Carson, James Hartin, Ralph R. Jackson, and John Peoples. Dr. McCracken accepted the call and was installed by the Philadelphia Presbytery on March 12th, 1954. Paul Delo McCracken was born to Robert John and Mary Alphens Daubenspeck McCracken on April 11th, 1898, near Hilliard, Butler County, Pennsylvania. At the age of twelve, he united by profession of faith with the Middletown Reformed Presbyterian Church in Hooker, Pennsylvania. Later, he attended Geneva College, from which institution he graduated with a B.A. in 1922. From 1923-26 he attended the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh (formerly known as Allegheny Seminary). During his seminary training, Mr. McCracken was licensed to preach by the Pittsburgh presbytery on May 12th, 1925. On July 7th, 1926 Mr. McCracken was ordained and installed as pastor of the Slippery Rock congregation (now Rose Point) in Pennsylvania. He and Miss Myra Alice Edgar were married on June 9th, 1926. Together, they raised four sons and a daughter. Until January of 1937 he served this congregation, at which time he resigned in order to take the call of the Superior, Nebraska congregation. Beginning his service at Superior, on March 10th, 1937, he continued until being called by the Topeka, Kansas congregation. He served in Topeka from August 11th, 1939 until January 25th, 1954. During Rev. McCracken’s time at Topeka, the Doctor of Divinity degree was conferred on him by Geneva College.
By October of 1954, the property at 17th, below Race (formerly owned by Second Church) had a buyer lined up. The combined communicant roll was one hundred and five members when Dr. McCracken began his ministry at United Covenanter Church of Philadelphia. For a short while, temporary facilities were used, located at 7 & 9 Beverly Avenue, East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. A parsonage had also been provided, located at 36 W. Hillcrest Avenue, Havertown, Pennsylvania. The requirements of the congregation soon made it necessary to rent facilities at the YMCA located at Garrett Road and Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.
A building site was chosen, off of U. S. Route 3 in the suburb of Broomall, Pennsylvania. The lot faced Lawrence Road and the surrounding land was at the time, undeveloped. In order to purchase the lot, First (at Fortieth and Sansom) and Second (still at Seventeenth, below Race) were sold. Meanwhile, the congregation continued to meet at the YMCA in Lansdowne. Soon a building committee was formed, consisting of: Thomas Dodds (chairman), Sarah Archer, Harry Green, Mrs. Thomas Nimick, James Hartin, Edna Steele, Robert Dodds, Dr. Mary E. Coleman, Thomas Nimick, and Dr. Paul D. McCracken. There was a great deal of work ahead for these members, and they served with faithfulness and diligence in completing the task assigned to them.
Work on the new place of worship began in earnest. In July of 1956, the session noted God’s provision of four steel girders needed for the work to continue. For some reason, they were unavailable. Yet, in answer to prayer, God provided them in a timely way, “…when all possible roads were closed to every effort we or the builder had made.”. By October 3, 1956 the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony took place. Dr. John Coleman gave the invocation, then followed a responsive reading composed mostly of selections from the Psalms. (Dr. Mary E. “Aunt Lib” Coleman was at the time providing housing for her sister Eleanor and her three sons, John, William and Allen. Eleanor’s husband, the late Rev. Robert Dodds Edgar, who was serving as pastor of Third Reformed Presbyterian Church of New York City, went to his rest at a young age, passing from this life on February 13th, 1953.) One of Eleanor’s sons, William Joseph Edgar, took part in the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony. He was at the time, a representative of the Juniors group. Little did he know at the time what God had in store for him! Below is a list of the contents of the box which young William helped to place behind the cornerstone and seal with mortar on October 3rd, 1956:
Bible, Psalter, constitution of Reformed Presbyterian Church, Brief History of the R. P. Church, R. P. Manual of Doctrine, R. P. Catechism, “Who Are the Covenanters?”, Covenant of 1871, Covenant of 1954, Terms of Communion, Covenant of Church Membership, Year Book of 1955, Brief histories of First, Second, and United Covenanter Churches, List of Charter members, Prayer offered at laying of Cornerstone.
Dr. McCracken also served on a Synod committee for publicizing the official signing of the Covenant of 1954. This covenant recognized the previous covenant of 1871 as binding, but was made in order to clarify some of the errors which had become prominent in the 1950’s. Membership in secret societies, temperance, the growing influence of liberal theology (a result of the “higher criticism” of the Scriptures), and maintaining the position of dissent with regard to the constituted government of the United States were items specifically addressed.
Before long, the work on the church edifice was complete and the congregation held the dedication service for the house of worship on January 13th, 1957. While the parsonage was being finished, Dr. McCracken and his wife lived in the rear portion of the church building, the house on W. Hillcrest no longer being occupied by them. This was a time of blessing for the congregation. Having seen their numbers dwindle, they were now united in the cause of the furtherance of the kingdom of God. They had the guidance of a devout leader in Dr. McCracken, who moderated a wise and skillful session. With the increased prosperity of the late 1950’s, a building frenzy was progressing in the surrounding area. Thus the congregation had renewed vigor from the Lord, hoping to see much fruit from evangelism. And it proved to be a timely reinvigoration, for the nation was about to enter another tumultuous period. Under the leadership of Dr. McCracken, United Covenanter Church of Broomall would enter into the Sixties – a time when every established moral guidepost was to be thrown down in a moral/sexual revolution which followed and grew out of the upheaval of the racial strife of the Civil Rights movement. Covenanters clearly supported the Civil Rights movement in as much as it was to remove the glaring sin of hatred towards blacks. But they held firmly to Biblical principles of family and social order.
Pastor McCracken and his wife Myra had the distinct pleasure of seeing their daughter Mary Grace married at Broomall. This was a special event for the whole congregation as well, for it was to be the first wedding in the new church building. Wayne R. Spear and Mary Grace McCracken were wed on May 27th, 1958. Dr. McCracken performed the wedding himself. The best man was Wendell Spear, an elder of the Walden, New York congregation. Mary’s bridal party was made up of her college roommate Ginny Wilson as maid of honor, Lois Ramsey, Sue (Robb) Wilkie, and Rosemary (Tebay) Smith. The McCracken brothers, Don, Paul, Bob, and Ray sang as a quartet. It was a joyous event – further evidence of the continuation of God’s blessings on the Covenanters at the United Church.
As for the Philadelphia Presbytery, it was by now a misnomer. Having been reduced to the United Covenanter Church, Third, and Orlando, Synod reshuffled the organization of presbyteries in 1959-60. Orlando was placed under the oversight of the Ohio Presbytery. United and Third joined the New York Presbytery.
Resignation and later years of Dr. McCracken
The session of United Covenanter Church was added to on Feb 21st, 1961 with the ordination of two elders, George W. Jackson and Millard L. Howell. Having been out of the city now, and united for several years, the session opted to change the name of the congregation to Reformed Presbyterian Church – United Covenanter. Eventually, the name would be changed to its present form: Broomall Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1962, Dr. McCracken also served as the moderator of Synod. For a number of years, he had been serving on the Board of Foreign Missions, the Seminary Board, the Corporators of Geneva College and several committees of Synod.
Effective March 21st, 1965, Dr. McCracken resigned as pastor of Broomall in order to accept a call from the Santa Ana, California congregation. One of the last things he did for the congregation was to preside at the ordination of elder-elect Jack Ramsey (now of the Syracuse RP Congregation) on February 28th, 1965. He had faithfully served the congregation for eleven years. At the time of his resignation, the congregation at Broomall had seventy-four communicant members. From the 1960’s to the early 1980’s there was a low birth rate among the congregation as is evidenced in the few baptisms during those years. Those who were members of the congregation were committed to serving God and rejoiced in His blessings. (By now, the distinctive principle which most marked the Covenanters among evangelicals was their view on worship – the use of only the inspired Psalms, sung a capella.) Among the congregations in the local area and Philadelphia environs, the Broomall congregation continued to hold a reputation (established by First and Second) as a congregation where the Gospel was faithfully preached and where God was worshiped according to His will. Dr. McCracken is well remembered by many members of the congregation to this day. He serve the Santa Ana congregation until 1970 when he retired – bringing to a close forty-four years of service to the Reformed Presbyterian Church. God granted him rest from his labors on September 5th, 1989 when he died at the home in Pittsburgh. Dr. McCracken had dwelt there with his wife since 1983.
Elder John Peoples, having retired as clerk of session, still continued to serve as a ruling elder until he was taken ill and removed to the home in Pittsburgh. After a long life of service to the kingdom of God, sixty-three years as a ruling elder at Second (then United, then Broomall), Dr. Peoples died, entering into the rolls of the Church Triumphant on December 24th, 1965.
Broomall R. P. Church calls Harold Harrington (1968-1980)
During the time between Dr. McCracken’s resignation in March of 1965 and the call of Rev. Harold B. Harrington, the congregation was served faithfully by the session, moderated by Rev. George W. Price who was then serving as pastor of Third Church of Philadelphia. Several elections were held before the congregation was successful in having a candidate accept the call to be their pastor.
Harold B. Harrington was born to Hugh T. and Olive Blanche (Morrow) Harrington on July 12th, 1927 in Hetherton, Michigan. After his schooling in the Michigan schools, Mr. Harrington served in the United States Army during World War II. Afterwards, he attended Geneva College, graduating in 1949 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1952, Mr. Harrington graduated from the R. P. Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During his studies at the seminary, Mr. Harrington was licensed to preach by the Ohio Presbytery in 1951. Subsequently, he spent some time (1952-53) at New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland in graduate studies. On September 10th, 1954 Mr. Harrington was ordained and installed as pastor of the New Castle, Pennsylvania congregation. Ena Fay Cover and Rev. Harrington were married on March 16th, 1962. Having served the New Castle congregation for seven years, he resigned and took up work in Arizona with the Security Commission from 1961-1964.
Rev. Harrington then served as pastor of the Lake Reno, Minnesota congregation from July 15th, 1964 until October 31, 1967. He then returned to New Castle and served as stated supply from October of 1967 to June of 1968. In March of 1968 a call was made to Rev. Harrington. Accepting, he was installed as pastor of the Broomall congregation June 19th, 1968. As noted before, these were troublous times for the nation. The Civil Rights movement continued and the war in Vietnam was sapping the resolve of the country. Mass anti-war demonstrations and sit-ins were becoming common, often resulting in violence. It seemed as though the nation was self-destructing before our very eyes. Sexual immorality became the ultimate weapon in the arsenal of the anti-establishment “hippie” revolution.
Passing of James A. Carson/ordination of church officers
In January of 1970 the Lord called another of his servants home. James Aldrich Carson who had served the congregation of Second Church and then United Church for thirty-six years died. He had served the nation in World War I, participating in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and later at Verdun. The Pennsylvania Railroad benefited from his services in their legal department for forty-seven years. On the Session of Broomall, he replaced Dr. Peoples as clerk, serving for ten of his thirty-six years in that capacity. Elder Carson was survived by his wife, two sons and eight grand-children. Later, in April 1971, the congregation elected three deacons: Thomas Dodds, Mary E. Coleman, and Eleanor Edgar. Also elected at the same time to the office of ruling elder was Marshall W. Smith, (having returned with his family from San Diego, CA). Several months later, the Archer sisters, Deborah and Sara, after many long years of faithful service in the congregation, retired. They transferred their membership to a congregation in Northern Ireland. Before doing so, Deborah and Sarah generously provided a gift to the Broomall congregation, which enabled the remaining debt on the church property to be paid. In so doing, God, by leading the Archer sisters to be so generous, has blessed the Broomall congregation with a continuing spirit of generosity for the furtherance of His kingdom. George Jackson became an inactive member of session due to the movement of Celotex (the company that George worked forty years for) to Illinois. Alice Mae Scalley and Viola Ramsey were ordained and installed as deacons on October 3rd, 1971. (The Ramseys later transferred their membership to the Syracuse, NY RPC in February of 1974.) This was a busy year for the congregation with lots of coming and going. A pattern seemed to emerge of four to five year plateaus in membership levels, followed by a decrease. This pattern continued until the late 1980’s when the movement was an increase in membership.
Rev. Harrington provided able leadership for the flock under his care throughout the trials of the sixties. There was an ongoing effort to minister in a special way to the young members of the congregation – knowing what temptations they faced. A work was begun in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in Fall of 1974, led by William Cornell. (This work followed on the heels of a previous effort in Easton, Pennsylvania, both of which continued for a short time, but were discontinued.) Rev. Cornell later accepted a call to the Cambridge, Massachusetts R. P. Church in 1979. He gave up that charge in order to care for his ailing mother and then his sister, as she recovered from a serious car accident. At that time, he resumed his role on the Session of Broomall RPC at that time. Rev. Cornell continued on the Session of Broomall, preaching widely in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and other Reformed congregations in Bethesda, Maryland area until the time of his sudden death while at work (United Electric) on June 7th, 1997 Later, Rev. Harrington helped to found the Delaware County Reformed Institute in 1975 in order to provide further Bible education opportunities for members of local congregations. This was done in co-operation with other Reformed congregations in the area. Also by 1975, the young lad who had assisted in the cornerstone laying ceremony in 1956, had matured in the Christian faith. William J. Edgar was ordained as a ruling elder on June 15th, 1975. During these years of able leadership, Rev. Harrington and his wife Ena, together with their children and the congregation would face an especially difficult trial – a time of great sadness.
God’s trial by fire – August 1975
August of 1975 was a month which brought both joy and great sorrow to the Harrington family, as well as the Broomall congregation. On August 8th, Ena gave birth to their fourth daughter, Jessica. Rev. Harrington and Ena were the parents of Zoe, Ann, Gretchen and now Jessica. A few days later, Ena and Jessica arrived home from the hospital. On August 15th, 1975 Gretchen left to walk up the hill (Lawrence Road) to the Christian Reformed Church for Vacation Bible School, as she had done before. When she did not return home as expected, a phone call to Rev. David G. Zanstra of the Christian Reformed Church indicated that Gretchen had not been to the class that day. The police were notified. There was a tremendous outpouring of concern among the local church and residential community. Two hundred volunteers began to scour the area looking for eight year old Gretchen. Eventually, Gretchen’s body was found in Ridley Creek State Park. Already the Harrington family had suffered a great deal in the realization that Gretchen was missing, hoping that she would turn up. Then it became apparent that she had been abducted. Now came the added grief of knowing their daughter had been killed. God, whom they faithfully served, sustained them throughout this ordeal and bore them up in ways many cannot fathom. Words can never convey what the Harringtons endured. They have indeed endured, a token of God’s graciousness in the midst of great sorrow. Even through this grief, Rev. Harrington has continued to serve the Lord in the preaching of his word. He and his family remained active at Broomall until May of 1980. (They return periodically when Rev. Harrington fills the pulpit during the pastor’s absence.)
Rev. Harrington resigns Broomall charge
After twelve years of leading the flock at Broomall, as Christ’s undershepherd, Rev. Harrington resigned and took up work in New Albany as their interim pastor (1981-82). For a short while, Rev. Harrington was aided by Richard Ganz who was ordained and installed as an associate pastor by New York Presbytery on November 10th, 1978. (Rev. Ganz was completing theological training at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.) At the time of Rev. Harrington’s resignation, the Broomall congregation had a communicant roll of fifty-two members (total members – sixty-six). He also served as professor of Theology and Dean at the Ottawa Theological Hall (Ontario, Canada) at that time. Returning to Pennsylvania in 1983, Rev. Harrington served the Rose Point Congregation from February 1983 until 1993. During these many years, he served on several Synod committees and moderated both the New York (1969, 1975) and Pittsburgh (1986) Presbyteries. Supposedly, Rev. Harrington retired after pastoring at Rose Point. Yet, he remains a sought after preacher, who must be booked well in advance. He and Ena reside in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Rev. Harrington also serves on the session of the Endwell, NY congregation.
Broomall calls one of her own – William J. Edgar (1981 - )
William Joseph Edgar was born to Rev. Robert Dodds Edgar (pastor of New York City RPC) and Eleanor Willson Coleman on June 14th, 1946. After the death of Rev. Robert D. Edgar in 1953, the family moved to the Philadelphia suburbs to reside with Eleanor’s sister, Dr. Mary E. Coleman. William completed his studies and competed in sports activities at schools in Drexel Hill and Upper Darby, demonstrating his skills as a scholar at a young age. In 1968 he graduated from Swathmore College, in Pennsylvania. While there, he was active in his Christian witness (together with other Christians on campus). God blessed this witness. One of the fruits born of it was the conversion of a certain young woman named Gretchen DeLameter, also a student at Swathmore College. Then Mr. Edgar took up his studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh, serving as an assistant to Samuel Boyle in the Christian Government Movement at the same time. In 1969, he was certified to the Foreign Mission Board for service in Nicosia, Cypress. Before leaving, he had a very important detail to attend to. That young woman from Swathmore, who had been given the gift of faith in Christ, Gretchen DeLameter – she and Bill were married on June 14th, 1969 (to the chagrin of the Foreign Mission Board). Together, Bill and Gretchen served in Cypress from July 1970 until September 1974. During this time, Bill and Don Piper (also serving in Cypress with his new wife Bonnie) pioneered a departure from established routine (not all rebelliousness was intended for evil) in having Bible studies and preaching conducted in Greek, rather than English.
Upon their return to the Philadelphia area, he and Gretchen with their son Yanni (John) invaded the domicile of a very gracious Dr. Mary E. Coleman until such time as they secured housing of their own. He took up and completed his Ph.D. studies at the University of Pennsylvania. At this time Mr. Edgar was also ordained and installed as a ruling elder in the Broomall congregation on June 15th, 1975. In the course of completing his studies, Bill was awarded a Fulbright grant for dissertation research in Greece in 1978-79 and completed his studies in 1980 with a Ph.D. in history. The New York Presbytery licensed Dr. Edgar to preach on August 9th, 1980. Working with Mr. Dave Coon, Dr. Edgar they were instrumental in the reorganization of the White Lake, NY congregation, which Rev. Coon still serves as pastor. Also in that year, Mr. Edgar began teaching mathematics at East Senior High School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which position he still holds. On February 28th, 1981, the New York Presbytery ordained and installed Dr. William J. Edgar and Joseph Charles Paul as associate pastors of the Broomall congregation. Rev. Edgar, Ph.D., took up full pastorate duties once Joe Paul departed the Broomall congregation for service to the Lord in Kansas. (Joe Paul eventually became a chaplain in the United States Navy, and continues to serve as such, but now in the PCA.) Added to his duties at Broomall, was the opportunity to teach at the Center for Urban Theological Studies, a joint venture among Reformed denominations to train urban ministers in Reformed theology. Dr. Edgar taught there for a number of years.
In the mid 1980’s the New York Presbytery was realigned with the St. Lawrence Presbytery, creating the Atlantic Presbytery. The Broomall congregation was placed under the care of the Atlantic Presbytery in 1986-87, when this change occurred. Also in 1986, the communicant roll dipped to its lowest level (thirty-nine) since the very early days of the late 18th century when the congregation was first organized. Shortly afterwards, the membership began to reverse the decline and gain new members. 1988 was a year that saw the sharpest increase in total membership, rising from fifty-five from the previous year to seventy-five. This increase brought the communicant roll to fifty-two. Obviously, the Lord was blessing the families of the congregation, both new and old members with the gift of children – lots of children.
Broomall begins the Lancaster work
Tom Houston, a recent graduate from the RP Seminary in Pittsburgh, was ordained and installed by the Atlantic Presbytery. He was to serve as the assistant pastor of Broomall for ministry in the new work which had begun in Lancaster, Pennsylvania beginning on November 17th, 1991. Rev. Houston and his wife Jeanne (Visnovsky), married since May 22nd, 1982, moved to the Lancaster area to shepherd the young flock gathered at the YMCA in Lancaster. The congregation showed great promise as it began to attract new members. After a few years, Rev. Houston resigned the charge of the congregation in late 1994, but he and his family remained there as members. Rev. Mark England was installed on November 16th, 1996. Rev. William Cornell, Dr. William Edgar, Brian Schwertley and Michael Lydon (Students of Theology) and others supplied the pulpit until the time of Rev. England’s installation. The congregation was small, but it was made up of members who seemed committed to the work. Unfortunately, one family withdrew over doctrinal and disciplinary issues. Other members were also drawn away, to follow this family. It was a blow from which the congregation did not recover. As of this date, the congregation has been disorganized. One family, the Snyder family, firmly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to Reformed theology, has transferred their membership to the Broomall congregation – travelling from Ephrata each Lord’s Day.
The continuing service of Dr. Edgar
The Broomall congregation was and continues to be ably served by Dr. William J. Edgar. He has placed a very strong emphasis on family devotions and is eager to see the young baptized members profess their faith in Christ. He has recognized this as a great weakness of the Reformed Presbyterian Church throughout her history and hopes to do his part to correct it. The congregation receives faithful and clear discipleship from the pulpit preaching of Dr. Edgar. Many of his other duties remain somewhat invisible to members of the congregation: counseling – in person or on the phone, serving on the Seminary Board as President of the Board, serving on Synod committees – as well as Presbytery committees, writing, praying, etc. These are in addition to his duties as a husband, father, son, brother, school teacher and neighbor. He was elected Moderator of Synod in June of 1998.
The Edgars have been blessed with five children. The two oldest are now married. John Edgar married Evnicki Sterret on August 9th, 1997. A few months later, Elisabeth (Betsy) was married to Duran Perkins (of the Seattle RPC) on December 20th, 1997. Alex, Adam and Daniel will just have to wait a while yet, although young Daniel has sought to begin arrangements via the parents for a certain young girl in the congregation at Broomall.