The History of the Broomall, Pennsylvania Congregation
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
Michael G. Lydon
A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for licensure to preach April 2nd, 1999
Submitted to the Atlantic Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
Table of Contents
C h a p t e r 1: Scotch-Irish ancestry of Broomall covenanters
C h a p t e r 2: Early reformed presbyterians in the colonies
C h a p t e r 3: the second reformed presbytery in america
C h a p t e r 4: Controversies of the Pre-civil War era
C h a p t e r 5: Post-Civil War to the Turn of the Century
C h a p t e r 6: The Second century Until the Reunion of First and Second Churches
C h a p t e r 7: The United Covenanter Church
C h a p t e r 8: Serving the King of Kings: The Next Century
P r e f a c e
Although this paper is primarily intended to fulfill Presbytery requirements for licensure, there is a secondary reason, which explains the length of the paper. It is also hoped that the members of the Broomall congregation will one day be edified by its contents as well. Therefore, if the reader is familiar with the events of the Reformation in Scotland and Ireland during the 16th and 17th centuries, then you might consider beginning at chapter two. If one is more concerned with beginning at the reorganization of the Reformed Presbytery after the American Revolution, you might begin at chapter three. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the longevity of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia – in her present existence as the Broomall Reformed Presbyterian Church.
C h a p t e r 1
Scotch-Irish ancestry of Broomall covenanters
A history of the Broomall congregation, ought of course, take into account the Scotch-Irish ancestry of the Covenanters in America. Broomall comes from a long line of Scotch-Irish descent, tracing its origin back to the year 1798 in Philadelphia, when the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America was organized. In order to have a better understanding of these beginnings in America, we should briefly consider the Covenanters in Scotland and Ireland.
Covenanters in Scotland
Covenanters are so called, mainly because of their historical stand for social covenanting – of ecclesiastic and civil covenanting. This is but one of their distinctives; the one for which they were nicknamed "Covenanters”. The turmoil and suffering, as well as the faithfulness and joy of the Covenanters in Scotland has born the fruit of a lasting testimony of faithfulness in the preaching, hearing and doing of God’s word to this present day. This is of course the work of God’s Holy Spirit, and not simply a by-product of ethnic origins.
In England, the Puritans dissented from the established Church of England because of the glaring similarities of the Episcopal ecclesiology with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Though officially Protestant - at various times, there was little sympathy for dissent from Puritans and Presbyterians. Before long, the spirit of dissent spread to Scotland, where there was also a ready supply of kindling for the fire of Reformation. This fire would literally roar and consume numerous martyrs for the cause of Christ and the purification of His Church.
Presbyterianism and the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and England are closely tied to the Continental Reformation under the leadership of Martin Luther and John Calvin. It was the writing of Martin Luther, which prompted Patrick Hamilton, a young Scotch-nobleman, to travel to the continent and hear firsthand that which had the Catholic hierarchy in such an uproar. Upon his return to Scotland, Hamilton was promptly sought out, tried for heresy - at the urging of James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, and burned at the stake on February 28th, 1528. Hamilton became an inspiration to many who would follow in his footsteps - giving their lives for the sake of the gospel call for reformation. Catholic displeasure toward Protestantism continued to cost leaders, and followers, their lives. Mary of Guise, the widow of James V (Scotland), vigorously promoted the supremacy of Catholicism. Her bishops, having her sanction, continued to relentlessly persecute the fledgling Protestants.
George Wishart/John Knox
John Knox entered the fray as a personal guard of George Wishart, who had by then aroused the ire of Cardinal David Beaton. Wishart was sought out by the Catholic clergy for preaching which was considered (by Beaton, et. al.) as heretical. Cardinal Beaton was able to apprehend Wishart, through the endeavors of the Earl of Bothwell. On March 1st, 1546, Beaton, further fueled the flames of the Reformation in Scotland by burning George Wishart at the stake. This proved too much for some to bear and as a result, Beaton was “…waylaid and assassinated three months afterward in his castle at St. Andrews.”. Many noblemen and gentlemen who were sympathetic to the Protestant cause (Some of whom killed the Archbishop and hung his body over the castle wall.) barricaded themselves in the castle. A number of Protestant leaders joined the others at St. Andrews, among them was John Knox. He was soon called by them to be their minister. His ministry among those at St. Andrews was short-lived. Having gained the help of French troops (already garrisoned Scottish soil) and French naval bombardment, Catholic forces eventually recaptured the castle in the summer of 1547. Knox would spend over a year and a half as a galley slave, “… chained to the rowing bench.” on a French ship. When the English government interceded for him in 1549, Knox was granted his freedom. He then served for two years as a preacher at Berwick, under the auspices of the Privy Council. During that time, he left no doubt that the zeal for reformation still burned within him.
Shortly thereafter, Knox left for the Continent. Mary of Guise had acceded to the throne of Scotland, thereby placing Knox and other reformers in danger. Under the tutelage of John Calvin in Geneva, Knox was further invigorated to see Presbyterianism flourish in Scotland. The opportunity came to him in 1559 when the Scottish Protestants called him to return to his native land. Upon his return and under his guidance, the Reformation took hold of Scotland with renewed fervor. He would lead a fervent witness against the corruptions of Catholicism, and Mary “Queen of Scotts” would be his sworn enemy. Several covenants were made in during the ensuing years, in which many Scots pledged, “… their life and substance to maintain the cause of Christ.” In 1560 Parliament called for the preparation of a Confession of Faith. They received the Confession within four days and ratified it. In December of 1560, the first General Assembly of the Scottish church was held under Knox’s leadership. From their deliberations came the Book of Discipline – a distinctly Calvinist document, which set forth Presbyterianism as the form of church government. With these actions, Scotland declared Catholicism a banned religion. Joining the ranks of the Church Triumphant, John Knox was laid to rest on November 26th, 1572.
As Knox was unafraid of Queen Mary, in opposing her efforts to reestablish Roman Catholicism, so Andrew Melville was equally unafraid of King James VI. (In 1603 he became James I of England-combining the monarchy of the two kingdoms.) Melville and James I clashed most intensely over the issue of the episcopacy. James I preferred bishops, Melville opposed them – because through them, the king could control the Church. Eventually, Melville would spend four years in the Tower of London, by order of James I. Afterwards, he was banished from the kingdom to take up teaching at a Protestant seminary in Sedan.
Andrew Melville was a scholar, well trained in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and philosophy. He spent considerable time during his education in France and later studied under Theodore Beza in Geneva. During his time in Geneva, he came under the influence of Calvin, as had Knox before him. Upon his return to Scotland, Melville left his mark on the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and St. Andrews, transforming them in such a way as to bring the Scottish universities an international reputation. However, the situation of the Scottish Church called out for his immediate attention. He was to further refine the work of John Knox, giving the Protestant Church in Scotland a more thoroughgoing Presbyterian form of government. The Second Book of Discipline, a revision of Knox’s work under the leadership of Melville, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1578. In 1581, the National Covenant of Scotland, written by Reverend John Craig of Edinburg, was adopted. It contained The Second Book of Discipline, which clearly established Presbyterianism as the form of Church government in Scotland. The king himself, together with Parliament, in 1592, ratified The Great Charter, which established Presbyterianism as the form of church government in Scotland. He would not lack fervent calls to repentance for his perfidious treatment of his oath, when he attained to the crown of England. Melville’s leadership in this regard is what would gain him his ouster from the kingdom which he sought to reform.
Upon the death of James I, his son, Charles became king of England and Scotland – the infamous Charles I. His father’s dislike of the Presbyterians and especial dislike of the Covenanters found fertile soil in Charles I, whose efforts at imposing episcopacy over the Church of Scotland were steadfast. In 1636, he abolished Presbyterianism in Scotland with the Book of Liturgy and the Ecclesiastical Canons. These efforts were met by the second National Covenant - sworn to on February 28th, 1638. (This was the 110th anniversary of Patrick Hamilton’s martyrdom.) Shortly after this, Charles I decided it was time to crack a few Scottish skulls in order to subdue the Presbyterians. His forces were met at the border by an equally determined Scottish army, prepared to defend the sovereignty of the Church against the tyrannical imposition of Episcopacy. Charles I was forced to back down. Because the English Puritans had had enough of his enforced Episcopacy as well, Charles was unable to gain the support of Parliament in his effort to bring the Presbyterians to heel.
The English Parliament soon began to wage war against him as well. While engaged in civil war against Charles I, they called for an assembly of divines on June 12th, 1643. These divines, a majority of whom were “strict” Presbyterians formed the Westminster Assembly and their deliberations produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. Afterwards, both the Assembly and Parliament sanctioned and approved the Confession. All three kingdoms – English, Scottish and Irish, then entered into The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Presbyterianism would be the form of Church government – without encroachment by the king.
Parliamentary forces, under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership, overthrew the monarch. Interestingly, the Scottish Presbyterians were not completely favorable to this action – Charles I was a Stuart king, a Scottish king, one of theirs. They did not seek to usurp the monarch’s authority, rather, they sought to defend against his tyrannical designs on the sovereignty of Christ over His Church. Yet, the Covenanters opposed efforts proposed by Scottish Royalists in support of Charles I. Parliament executed Charles I in January of 1649. There followed eleven years of Cromwellian rule, during which the Scottish Parliament negotiated the return of Charles II, son of the former monarch (who had been sent to the Continent for safety.). The early suspicions of some of the Covenanter divines proved well founded during Charles’ subsequent reign.
The English Parliament, together with the new Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, reacted rather violantly to the Scottish acceptance of Charles II. In July of 1650,Cromwell invaded Scotland with a sizable force and defeated Leslie (who had earlier turned away Charles I), taking many captives. Not to be easily intimidated, on January 1st, 1651 Charles II was crowned at Scone, vowing to uphold the Covenants and Presbyterian church government. He was later made commander in chief of the military, by act of the Scottish Parliament. Charles and Leslie, in July of that year, invaded England intending that Charles be established as king of England as well. They were met with a formidable force, fielded by the English Parliament, under Cromwell’s command. At Worcester, on September 3rd, the Scotts were again, soundly defeated. Charles II fled, eventually ending up in France, and later surfacing in Ireland. Scotland was then brought under the rule of the Commonwealth of England, as had Ireland.
Post-Cromwellian rule: The Killing Times
After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Charles II was installed as king, against the desires of the Covenanters. Once crowned, he repudiated the Solemn League and Covenant, declaring any who held to the covenants as traitors. In 1680, the Covenanters made their views on the king’s actions known in the Sanquhar Declaration, which Richard Cameron posted to the market-cross. They regarded him as an unlawful monarch – a usurper. Donald Cargill excommunicated Charles II on September 17th, 1680. As a result, during these times many lost their lives. If not their lives, they certainly lost land and livelihood. The years 1660-1688 are known as the “Killing Times”, when Charles II - having reimposed Episcopacy, and those loyal to him, sought to destroy every vestige of the Covenanters. After Charles’ death, his son, James II, sought to continue his father’s purges of the Covenanters. His rule raised fears of Catholicism being reinstated and his ouster was secured. Several long years of bloodshed were brought to an end when William of Orange (Netherlands) and Mary, were crowned as king and queen of Scotland. There then followed various acts of Parliament to undo the schemes of Charles. England would retain Episcopacy, while Scotland would be Presbyterian. The Covenanters, dissenting from this arrangement, had only David Houston in Ireland as their minister. In 1707, David McMillan began his labors among the Covenanters, having espoused their views in the Church of Scotland to unwilling ears, he acceded to the Covenanters. He ministered for over thirty years as the lone Covenanter minister in Scotland. After the death of David Houston in 1696, McMillan than had Ireland to tend as well. Not until 1743, when Thomas Nairn left the Associate Presbytery did McMillan have the aid of another minister. With Nairn’s arrival in the Covenanter midst, the Reformed Presbytery was constituted on August 1st, 1743.
Covenanters in Ireland
Just as their brethren in Scotland stood for Christ Jesus and His crown rights over church and nation, so did the Irish Covenanters. Unfortunately for them, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland under Charles I was somewhat more successful in the imposition of Episcopacy over the Ulster Scots. These efforts were clear indication that his aim was more political than religious:
His declared policy was to settle solvent and competent clergy in the parishes, but the fact that he pressed this unpopular policy hardest in the north, where it was least needed, raised suspicions that his priority was not to reorganize the Church so much as to trim the wings of the planters.”
And so the troubles which would later befall Presbyterians in Scotland, befell their brethren in Ireland first. For at the time that Charles I was dissuaded from invading Scotland, Wentworth was succeeding in his efforts in Ireland. This success would eventually lead to his downfall and execution – for it was tainted with greed. At times, the Irish Presbyterians – planters – would travel across the North Channel to Scotland for worship. Those Scotts who sought to flee persecution by taking part in the Ulster plantation, found the situation in Ireland just as difficult. Since there was a dearth of ministers for them, the Reformed Presbyterians met in societies. As such, like-minded Covenanters would meet for prayer, reading of Scripture, singing of psalms. They functioned much like an organized congregation – without a pastor. This established habit would serve them well in the Colonies of North America. Eventually, the exodus to a new land of promise would begin. Hardly could they expect the lone minister, David McMillan, to make the trip to America. He had business enough to attend to in Scotland and Ireland. Eventually, more ministers and members would join the ranks of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Reformed Presbytery of Ireland as constituted in 1763. Though a good many Covenanters had begun to emigrate to the Colonies from Scotland, most would come from Ireland.
C h a p t e r 2
Early reformed presbyterians in the colonies
The Covenanters, by now also known as Reformed Presbyterians, were not the first Presbyterian witness in the colonies. Many other Presbyterians had come to America before the influx of the “Ulster Scots” (beginning in earnest in 1714). By 1706, under the leadership of Francis Makemie, a number of Presbyterian ministers met in Philadelphia and organized the first American Presbytery. While a rather loosely-knit group, they would follow the Scottish model of Church government. Their doctrinal positions would align them with the Church of Scotland, from which the Reformed Presbyterians dissented. This first American Presbytery would eventually become the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. There were representatives from the Associate Presbyterian Church (Seceders) as well.
Whether as prisoners, after the defeats Cromwell, or fleeing the persecution of Charles II, the Covenanters came to the Colonies of North America. As Sydney Ahlstrom notes, regarding those who willingly fled Ulster:
A few departed in the later years of the seventeenth century, but during the eighteenth century this trickle swelled to a tide. At certain periods the exodus was especially heavy: In 1717-18 because of a drastic increase in rents by Anglo-Irish landlords, in 1727-28 and 1740-41 because of poor harvests and the resultant famine, and in 1771-73 because of the decline of the Irish linen industry.
These deprivations in Ireland were not wholly the result of religious persecution. Wentworth, and those who would follow, sought to enrich the Crown at the expense of not only the Irish Catholics, but the Ulster Presbyterians as well. “Ireland was being used by an inflexible theoretician to experiment with ideas too radical for immediate English consumption.” While the religious persecution was real and intentional overall, there seemed an especially deep reserve of hatred for the Covenanters. Thus, many fled the Ulster plantation. Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina were the places which were chosen for settlement. Wherever they settled, the Covenanters formed the familiar societies – for they had no minister among them. Undoubtedly, the supply of ministers was of primary concern in their praying.
God would answer the prayers of the faithful remnant in the Colonies. In 1743, God provided the ministrations of Alexander Craighead. He was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church who held to Covenanter principles and so led the societies for a number of years. He sought assistance from Scotland and did not receive it. Craighead then returned to the Presbyterian Church, leaving the Covenanter societies without a minister until 1751. John Cuthbertson came to the Colonies from Scotland in August of 1751. For twenty-two years he would travel a large circuit, on horseback in order to minister to the distantly scattered societies. In light of the fact that this paper is being written on a device undreamed of by W. M. Glasgow, not to mention Cuthbertson, it is good to ponder his observations on Cuthbertson’s endurance:
The amount of travel, and the hardships endured by this pioneer missionary are perfectly marvelous, and almost incredible to those enjoying the accommodations and luxuries of this age .
With the assistance of only two other ministers during most of these twenty-two years, Cuthbertson resisted the increasing pressure of English rule – resurgent efforts to impose Episcopacy in the Colonies. Eventually, the Reformed Presbytery of Ireland sent two ministers to assist him. They arrived in December of 1773, and in March of 1774, Cuthbertson, Matthew Linn and Alexander Dobbin constituted the first Reformed Presbytery in America. The Covenanters opposed British rule, not only in Scotland and Ireland, but especially now in the Colonies. Events were moving quickly and soon, the Colonies would declare their independence from England, calling themselves the United States of America. Resoundingly, Covenanters sided with the Whigs in opposing the British. After fleeing Ulster, they were not about to endure the same encroachment and tyranny again.
From 1775 to 1781, war raged in the new nation. Cuthbertson himself was imprisoned for his preaching, which encouraged the rebellion. “Wherever Covenanters and staunch Presbyterians were settled, there were the strongholds of the cause of American independence.” Eventually, Britain grew weary of losing polished troops to such a rag-tag Continental army. With the Revolution won, and independence from tyranny achieved, ebullience got the better of many Reformed Presbyterians and they responded positively to overtures for union with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Deliberations in this regard had been ongoing for several years already, and on November 1st, 1782 the union was made. When the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church pledged its allegiance to it. However, not all Covenanters, nor Seceders went along with the union. The Associate Presbyterian Church maintains its existence to this day. The Reformed Presbytery became disorganized. Yet, faithful Covenanters gathered in societies once again until their need of ministers was filled.
Turmoil in Ireland would again provide the needed ministers, as well as another influx of congregants for the Covenanters in the newly formed United States of America. During the late 18th century, insurrection was again afoot in Ireland. Reformed Presbyterians, according to Glasgow, “… were the sole advocates of liberty from the Crown.” The Crown was fearful of French intervention in Ireland at the behest of the United Irishmen. If that occurred, an invasion from there to England became a distinct possibility. This was after all the era of Napoleon. (A French invasion of England was a very real threat, until the shattering defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar on October 21st, 1805.) Thus the Covenanters were lumped in with the insurrectionists, which in turn provided the impetus for some to leave for America.
C h a p t e r 3
the second reformed presbytery in america
As was previously noted, the Reformed Presbytery was disorganized by the union of 1782 with the Associate Presbytery. Thus was formed the Associate Reformed Presbytery. A number of the Covenanters remained apart from this union (as did some from the Associate Presbytery). Glasgow notes, with a touch of wry humor, “The consequence was, three bodies were formed instead of one.”. The societies were in urgent need of pastoral care. This care was soon provided for in the arrival of several men from Ireland who would be instrumental in the re-organization of a Reformed Presbytery in America, as well as the organization of the first Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Rev. William Gibson, born July 1st, 1753 and raised in County Down, Ireland, he was later a graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland. “[ I ]n early life”, he left the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (of which his parents were members) and became a Covenanter. After studying theology privately in Edinburgh, he was licensed to preach May 19th, 1781. On April 17th, 1787, Gibson was installed as pastor of the united congregations of Kellswater and Cullybackey, County Antrim, Ireland. The following year he married Miss Rebecca Mitchell of Londonderry County. His steadfastness for Covenanter dissent of British rule without regard for Kingship of Christ won the ire of the local magistrate. This magistrate sought to impose the oath of allegiance upon Rev. Gibson, or else he should forfeit his life. Again, the assumption on the part of local and Imperial rulers was that the Covenanters were in league with the United Irishmen in order to throw off British rule. As has been previously noted, the Covenanters in Ireland were for liberty long before the United Irishmen came on the scene. And because of their violent methods, the Reformed Presbyterians made sure to distance themselves from them. So, with the threat of death hanging over him for his refusal to pledge allegiance to the Crown, Gibson fled Ireland for America in 1797.
James McKinney, (according to Sprague’s Annals, cited by Glasgow) was born on November 16th, 1759 in County Tyrone, Ireland. McKinney also studied at the University of Glasgow, graduating 1778. Upon his graduation, he elected to continue his studies, taking “… a full course in medicine and theology, and was licensed by the Reformed Presbytery of Ireland, May 19th, 1783.”. He was installed as pastor of Kirkhills or Dervock, County Antrim. Miss Mary Mitchell of Londonderry County and James McKinney were wed in 1784. He too was linked to the United Irishmen and after preaching a sermon on the “Rights of God”, was indicted for treason. Soldiers seeking to arrest him at his home, found that he was providentially absent. McKinney did travel a great deal throughout Antrim and Derry in his ministrations. In 1793, under indictment for treason, McKinney made his way to America. In America, McKinney ministered faithfully, tirelessly, to a scattered group of societies from Vermont to the Carolinas. During the course of these ministrations, it became evident to him that the Covenanters in America were in a somewhat different situation than their brethren in Ireland and Scotland.
Under McKinney, therefore, a remnant of the church maintained its position of dissent from the government, but shifted the basis of that dissent from the Solemn League and Covenant and the Revolution Settlement to the secular nature of the new American constitution. This marked a new intellectual beginning for the church and was the answer to the question of the relationship of the Scottish church to the United States that satisfied the remnant of the society people.”
Thus the Covenanters in America decried the new Constitution for two reasons: the blatant disregard for the reign of Christ as King over the nations and the way in which it “…trampled underfoot, by express provision, the rights of man.”. As they had called for liberty from their oppression by the Crown, so now the Covenanters called for the liberty of African slaves – the oppressed in America. They bore an early and persistent testimony against the evils of slavery in the new nation. These two primary points of dissent found fertile ground and were courageously preached against by McKinney. He would be instrumental in the organization of the First Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Philadelphia.
The earliest beginnings of the Broomall Congregation: Philadelphia 1798
A Mr. Thomas Thompson is believed to be the first Covenanter to make Philadelphia his permanent residence. About the time of the beginning of the American Revolution, he came from County Down, Ireland and settled in Philadelphia. After the war, “probably in 1788 or 1789”, after many years without fellowship, he was joined by Mr. John Wallace. In actuality, according to Glasgow, Wallace was preparing to leave Philadelphia, to go to New York and then back to Ireland. He met an acquaintance of Mr. Thompson’s, who was instrumental in getting them together. They (Thompson and Wallace) formed a society, which would become the congregation to which the Broomall congregation traces its origin. Not until 1791 would they have the blessing of the preaching of a Covenanter minister. Rev. James Reid, under the auspices of the Reformed Presbytery in Scotland, preached to the society in Philadelphia. There was an influx of members during the following years, due largely to the growing tensions and eventual insurrection in Ireland, which occurred in 1797. Rev. James McKinney arrived from Ireland in 1793 and provided occasional preaching for the society. It was occasional because he was the only Covenanter minister and had many societies to tend to, as has been previously noted. The society flourished under his leadership (not to mention the steady flow of immigrants) and soon construction was begun in 1796 on a church edifice on St. Mary’s Street. At about this time, back in Ireland, things were heating up for Rev. William Gibson. He was joined by two young men (Samuel B. Wylie and John Black) who were at the time Students of Theology. Gibson, Wylie and Black – all in God’s providence would help to establish the Reformed Presbyterian witness anew in America.
Upon the arrival of Rev. Gibson in Philadelphia, the society was organized into a congregation, having by now several families in their midst. This organization took place on the Lord’s Day, January 28th, 1798 at the Gaskill Street schoolhouse in which the society had been meeting. Glasgow further notes that this was the same location in which the Reformed Presbytery was disorganized in 1782. Thomas Thompson and Stephen Young were ordained as ruling elders of the congregation the same day. Gibson presided over the organization and installation, with the assistance of two elders from New York. It is very likely that Wylie and Black were in the midst of the congregation that day. They had both settled in the Philadelphia area. Together they would continue their theological studies, and eventually teach at the University of Pennsylvania for a number of years. Black would be called to serve the Church in the Pittsburgh area, Wylie would remain in Philadelphia. Both became able and renowned scholars.
As previously noted, Gibson, Wylie and Black were travelling companions from Ireland. Glasgow notes that Gibson landed in Philadelphia. How did Wylie and Black come to be in Philadelphia, if they did not land there? The answer to that question is found in Stevenson’s account:
In 1797 a young man who had just graduated in the University of Glasgow sailed for the United States. Landing at New Castle, Delaware, with a single companion, he journeyed on foot to Philadelphia. When they arrived at the spot where our Public Buildings now stand, at Broad and Market streets [sic], they inquired for the city of Philadelphia, which was not yet in view, and were told that it lay half a mile distant toward the Delaware river [sic].
More than likely, the ship on which they traveled was destined to Newcastle, Delaware first, then it would go on to Philadelphia. Perhaps, all three companions debarked at Newcastle and funds being limited, only Gibson was able to travel to Philadelphia on onboard either the same vessel, or a different one. (They were all three of a young age at the time.) Possibly they pooled their resources and drew lots. Black and Wylie, both being single at the time, may have given the opportunity to Gibson who was married. This is all speculation. What is clear from the record is that Wylie and a companion (probably Black, because Gibson landed in Philadelphia) traveled to their new residence on foot in the Fall of 1797.
Samuel B. Wylie
Well aware of how far Philadelphia is distant from New Castle, Delaware, Samuel B. Wylie made his entrance into the Covenanter community in Philadelphia. He held the Master of Arts degree from the University of Glasgow – awarded him in 1797. Having begun to teach in Ireland, he soon found employment as a teacher in Cheltenham. By 1798 he would be teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. All the while, he continued to pursue his theological studies. In May of 1798, McKinney and Gibson constituted a Reformed Presbytery in Philadelphia. One of the first orders of business was to formally recognize Alexander McCleod, John Black, S.B. Wylie and Thomas Donelly as Students of Theology. “Pieces of trial for license were assigned them”. These four men would continue their studies under care of the new presbytery . On June 24th, 1799, after having been sustained in all of their several trials for licensure since being recognized as Students of Theology, each candidate was then examined in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Rhetoric, Logic, Metaphysics, Moral Philosophy, Divinity, practical religion and views of the Christian religion. “All candidates were licensed to preach.” The following year, on June 25th, 1800 the Reformed Presbytery met at Ryegate, Vermont. His former traveling companion, Rev. Gibson was pastor there, having been installed on July 10th, 1799. At that time Samuel Brown Wylie became the first man ordained into the gospel ministry in the Reformed Presbytery of America.
On November 7th, 1800 presbytery considered a call by the united congregations of New York City and Wallkill. Wylie declined the call – he and Alexander McCleod had received an equal number of votes. The vote then completely favored McCleod, who asked for time to consider the call. The reason behind their reluctance was that some of the members of these united congregations were slave holders. McCleod, on conditions, accepted the call. Presbytery enacted a resolution that “no slave holder should be allowed the communion of the Church.” Wylie then received his first assignment from presbytery – to be on a committee with McKinney. This committee was assigned the duty of going to the southern congregations, informing them of the resolution of presbytery regarding the sin of slave holding. Together, McKinney and Wylie undertook their duties and God granted great success in removing the sin of slave holding from the midst of the Covenanters.
During this time back in Philadelphia, the work on the church building continued. The congregation continued to grow in members and leadership. Wylie married Miss Margaret Watson on April 5th, 1802. Also in 1802, Wylie was called to be the pastor of the Philadelphia and Baltimore congregations. He accepted the call on condition that he be granted a year in Europe and then a period of two years to serve the congregations jointly, after which time he would choose one or the other, or neither. (As for support, Dr. Carson has a helpful discussion of the practice of subscription which was the common means of supporting a pastor and maintaining church property up to the Civil War era. Carson reports that frequently, those who had subscribed to provide a specific amount towards supporting the pastor, failed to meet their obligation. Thus the pastor was left financially strapped.) Upon his return from Europe, Wylie was installed as agreed on November 20th, 1803. After the agreed upon two year period, he opted to devote himself to the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, which numbered about thirty-five members at the time. By now the work on the church building was finished. Yet, in a short time, the need would arise for a larger edifice.
Apparently, the edifice on St. Mary was not adequate for several reasons. Stevenson describes it as, “…uncomfortable, poorly furnished and poorly situated …”. Sufficiently in need, the congregation sold the St. Mary Street property, necessitating temporary meeting arrangements, and began work on a new edifice located at Eleventh Street, below Market Street. This work was completed in June of 1818. A Theological Seminary was organized in Philadelphia, Wylie was chosen as its professor, serving from 1810-1817 and again from 1823-1828. He also continued his affiliation with the University of Pennsylvania, serving there as Professor of Latin and Greek from 1828-1845. (All these undertakings might lead one to conclude that stress had not yet been invented.) At this new location, Wylie would faithfully tend the flock given into his care for a good many years. He also gained a national reputation as a linguistic scholar, having an understanding of fourteen languages. Many regarded Wylie as one of the best scholars the Covenanters ever produced – though his preaching seemed to have left something to be desired. Dr. Wylie served as the moderator of Synod in 1800 and 1801. As such, it is especially unfortunate to see the schism which occurred in 1833 under his leadership.
C h a p t e r 4
Controversies of the Pre-civil War era
Growing division over Points of Dissent
A Declaration and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America was adopted by presbytery in 1806. This document was a clear statement of the position of the Covenanters regarding their relationship with the constituted government of the United States of America. Members of the Church were prohibited from becoming citizens, sitting on juries, voting or holding public office. The reason being that these all required the taking of oaths, thereby showing complicity with a government which was held to be immorally constituted. Three years later, on May 24th, the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church was constituted in Philadelphia. At this time, the newly formed Synod upheld the position of dissent. A short time later, the War of 1812 posed a difficulty for the Covenanters. Since they had not become citizens of the United States, but remained as aliens, it was conceivable that the U.S. government could regard them as enemies – assuming them to be loyal subjects of the Crown. Thus, the Synod of 1812 decided to present a statement to Congress which would clearly absolve Covenanters of any loyalty to the Crown. In doing so, they formulated an oath to which Covenanters could agree if needed, in order to fight in defense of American freedom.
In so doing, the Synod of 1812 gave indication of a growing affinity for the United States government on the part of some Covenanters. The oath which hadbeen proposed to Congress, was deemed by some to imply just such an affinity. By 1821, these desires would gain momentum. A request was made for clarification on the Church’s position on sitting on juries. As a result of Synod’s “…side-stepping the issue in a way which was to raise many questions later…” the movement away from dissent gained momentum. Dr. Samuel B. Wylie, one of the Covenanters ablest defenders of the Church’s position on dissent, would take the helm in this movement within the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Under Dr. Wylie’s leadership, First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia grew greatly in number. Such progress of the work of the Kingdom would be eclipsed by events about to unfold.
The onset of schism
By 1825, it became necessary for the General Synod to re-clarify the Church’s position on jury duty and the relation of her members to civil government. At such time, the longstanding position of dissent was maintained. Still, the controversy grew, and in 1830 a Synod committee (appointed in 1828, with James R. Willson as chairman) presented its report. This report strongly recommended maintaining the already well established position of dissent of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Undeterred, those opposed to continuing dissent prompted considerable discussion, after which a new joint committee was formed. The aim was the preservation of the Church from division over this issue. Perhaps the thought that by working together, the two opposing views could be reconciled and the position of the Church maintained. Carson notes that the original committee and the subsequent committee added to it, were diametrically opposed on the issue. In a further effort toward ameliorating the worsening situation, a resolution was adopted which provided for the free discussion of views through the magazine The American Christian Expositor. Glasgow took exception to this measure in his discussion of these events. He claimed that there really was no warrant for such discussion, since the actions of Synod to date had upheld the historic position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Rather, in the hands of the opposing New Lights (as Wylie, et. al. came to be known), Glasgow contends that this opportunity for discussion “…was simply an occasion to repeal the action of Synod prohibiting incorporation with the government.”. In Philadelphia, Dr. Wylie is reported to have begun a series of sermons on I Corinthians 16: 13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (NASB). In an article which appeared in The Covenanter, quite after the fact, it was observed that:
In truth, it may be said that in these discourses, Dr. Wylie strove hard to undo nearly all that was valuable in the labours [sic] of his past life. His principal, and immediate, aim was to persuade his congregation that the government of the United States is the moral ordinance of God and deserving of the active support of the Reformed Presbyterians.
Further noted was an apparent weakness in First Church in the area of discipling new members. With a continuing influx of immigrants, the congregation had grown to a roll of over four hundred. So it is not surprising that such a large number would later join in behalf of Dr. Wylie. Ironically, Dr. Wylie had authored a highly regarded defense of position on dissent several years prior – The Two Sons of Oil – published in 1806.
Events moved swiftly now. At the meeting of the Eastern Subordinate Synod in New York, April 25th, 1832, the joint-committee submitted the paper – a draft of a pastoral address – which was intended to be considered for overture as per the previous General Synod. Dr. Wylie was the chairman of this committee, and the paper clearly showed his influence. After considerable discussion, several portions of the draft were expunged by action of the Subordinate Synod. This “expunged” version is the one which Synod authorized to be published. Yet, the original draft, containing the portions which espoused the views that dissent was no longer a requirement for membership, this was the version which was published. Six ministers affixed their names to the document. As a result, congregations were given unauthorized instruction on their relation to the civil authority. Promptly, the Northern and Southern Presbyteries requested a pro re nata meeting of the Eastern Subordinate Synod.
The pro re nata meeting was held on November 25th, 1832 in New York. Protests from the six ministers, whose previous conduct was the primary cause of this meeting, were received in absentia. These six men were Rev. J.N. McCleod, Dr. S.B. Wylie, Dr. G. McMaster, Rev. S.W. Crawford, Rev. William Willson, and Rev. J. McMaster. They were cited for libel on several counts and directed to appear at the next scheduled meeting of the Eastern Subordinate Synod in April, 1833. These proceedings were a grievous time for the flocks under the care of those espousing the views disseminated in such a high handed way. On April 9th, 1833 this matter was again considered by the Eastern Subordinate Synod. Also considered was a petition from the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, signed by thirty-one members. These members were requesting that the Philadelphia congregation be released from under the care of Dr. Wylie for his departing from the doctrine of the church. Further, they asked to be transferred to another presbytery. After a tumultuous beginning, the actions of the pro re nata meeting were upheld and Synod voted to take disciplinary action against the New Light group. At the next General Synod, scheduled to be held at the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, the break would be made.
The controversy comes to a head in Philadelphia
As scheduled, on August 7th, 1833 the delegates arrived at the First RP Church of Philadelphia, on 11th Street. The acting moderator, Rev. Samuel B. Crawford, was prevented from the exercise of his responsibilities. He had been among those suspended from the ministry by the Eastern Subordinate Synod in April. His alternate, Rev. Moses Roney was appointed to serve as moderator. As Glasgow records, a disturbance resulted and with the threat of the intervention of the police, the Old Lights (those who continued to uphold the standards of the church), left the building. They went to a location on Cherry Street, which had been purchased by members of First RP Church who had already begun meeting there before this time. Such is the providence of God, that even in the midst of such difficult times, he provides wisdom to prepare for such events. This was indeed a very sad time in the life of the Philadelphia congregation.
Three men were soon ordained as ruling elders at the Cherry Street location. Walter Bradford, Joseph Frazer, and William Caldwell constituted the session of the newly organized congregation. The first Lord’s Supper was administered to one hundred and forty-five communicants. New Lights and Old Lights both claimed to be the continuing Reformed Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia’s congregation is claimed by the former to have divided two to one in favor of the New Light position. Old Lights claimed a one to one ratio. On November 27th, 1834 Rev. James M. Willson was installed as pastor at Cherry Street. Dr. Wylie continued to serve as pastor at 11th Street. James M. Willson would serve until 1862. One can find an interesting account of these events (from the New Light perspective) in a letter which was sent by the New Light General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America to the Reformed Presbyterian Synods of Ireland and Scotland.
James M. Willson (1834-1862)
James McCleod Willson was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on November 17th, 1809. His father Dr. James Renwick Willson and mother Jane (Roberts) Willson were desirous of their son’s pursuit of the gospel ministry and arranged his education accordingly. After graduating from Union College in 1829, he studied theology under his father’s direction. On April 30th, 1833 he married Miss Rebecca Burt of Schenectady, New York. The following year, Willson was licensed by the Southern Presbytery on June 5th, 1834. Thus, as James M. Willson was completing his requirements for the ministry, the division over political dissent was unfolding. (Dr. Wilson, his father, was an ardent supporter of the historic position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. His sons were imbued with this teaching. They would in turn hand it on to succeeding generations, giving rise to Covenanter support of the Civil Rights Movement.) Soon after the division of 1833, James M. Willson was installed as pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Philadelphia (November 27th, 1834). He served with vigor and diligence and was given the additional responsibility of Professor of Theology at the Allegheny Seminary in May of 1859. As though he did not have enough to do already, James M. Willson also edited the Covenanter from 1845 until it was combined with the Reformed Presbyterian in 1863. (These periodicals were the predecessors of the Covenanter Witness of our day.) J. M. Willson served as the moderator of Synod in 1859. Two major issues became prominent during Willson’s pastorate in Philadelphia: deacons and slavery. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery and an ardent supporter of deacons in the church. With the onset of age, Dr. Willson decided to dedicate himself to the work of the Seminary in Allegheny more exclusively. After twenty-eight years as pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Dr. Willson resigned on October 28, 1862 and moved his family west. Westminster College awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1865. While continuing his service to the Seminary, he eventually fell to ill health and died in his home on August 31st, 1866. Before discussing the work of his successor at First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, it is needful to briefly consider the Dr. Willson’s activities relating to the Deaconal Controversy and slavery.
Deaconal Controversy – Division of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia in 1842
There had been a growing debate over the issue of deacons in the church for some time. It grew out of the inadequate arrangements (which were slowly being replaced) for the management of the support of congregations and pastors, and the increased giving of church members. As the numbers of the church grew, this need became more and more pronounced. (See Carson’s discussion for a fuller treatment of these issues.) Basically, the debate came down to those who favored deacons – for the purpose of managing temporal affairs only, and those who regarded deacons as ministering only to the poor – since there were no poor in the congregations, trustees would manage the church’s finances. Only a short time (5 years) after the Dissent Schism, Synod attempted to deal with the growing controversy over deacons. This attempt was made in 1838, when in discussing a revised book of church government, the issue of deacons was lengthily debated. No resolution resulted at this time. Dr. Willson forced the issue when deacons were ordained later that year at First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Again, the congregation found itself in the “center-stage” of controversy.
Defending his position, Dr. Willson published The Deacon. Condemnation of his actions was not long in coming. The pages of the Reformed Presbyterian were soon full of the writings of those who opposed Dr. Willson’s action. There were those members in the Philadelphia congregation who themselves opposed Dr. Willson’s action. They petitioned for the formation of a separate congregation. On August 10th, 1842, they were duly organized as the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Perusing the statistics for First and Second Churches, it would appear that roughly two-thirds of the original congregation remained under Dr. Willson’s pastoral care. The remaining third remained without a pastor until 1844. Its session consisted of three ruling elders: William Caldwell, William Brown, and John Brown. First Church was pro-deacon (temporal needs)/anti-trustee. Second Church was pro-trustee/anti-deacon (only needed for aiding poor).
In order to publish further responding arguments, Dr. Willson founded the Covenanter in 1845. This provided a rival outlet which further fanned the flames of controversy over the deacon/trustee issue. When Synod met in 1845, certain resolutions were passed which sought to unite the opposing views on the issue of deacons. Not only were deacons ordained to care for the poor, but they were to manage the temporal needs of the congregation as well. Trustees in lieu of deacons were done away with. It would appear that Dr. Willson’s forcing of the issue had some of the success which he desired – his position was basically maintained. This was no real comfort – now there were two Philadelphia congregations. Not only did the First congregation of Philadelphia divide over this issue, but many others as well. It was a denomination wide controversy, as the Dissent Schism had been. For now, another issue crept to the forefront which would distract attention from the Deaconal Controversy. War loomed on the near horizon, which brings us to the issue of slavery.
On this issue, there was great uniformity of opposition. Dr. J. M. Willson, pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, had long been against the evil of slavery. Such was mandated by the church’s position in the Testimony of 1806. Dr. James R. Willson, the father of Dr. James M. Willson, reported on the situation of the Amistad slaves for the local paper in Newburgh, New York. He also sent money to the prisoners. Rev. Moses Roney (who had moderated the Synod of 1833) reported on the plight of the Amistad slaves in the Reformed Presbyterian, of which he was the editor at the time. Surely, this memory was etched deeply into Dr. James M. Willson as is evinced in his forthright and consistent witness against slavery. Doubtless, as a result of the Amistad case, he could see the inevitable conflict which would result in the downfall of slavery. He served for a time on the Synod Committee on Slavery. His work on that committee reflects a deep, personal abhorrence of slavery:
…American slavery is not merely an evil, but an enormous evil; not merely a sin, but a sin of the blackest and most abominable character; not merely infringing on human rights, but annihilating them; not only a moral evil, dark and dreadful, but a crime deserving to be classed with robbery and piracy, and like them, to be held in the utmost abhorrence and detestation by the philanthropist and the Christian.
As a further action, while serving on the Synod Committee on Slavery, Dr. J. M. Willson’s hand is evident in a remonstrance (protest/reproof) to be sent to the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 1857:
Hence your position regarding it [slavery], which we need not more particularly define, gives us great pain, tending, as we are satisfied it does, to weaken the cause of Christianity, and to strengthen the hands of its opponents; for in view of your unwillingness to take any action upon it, and the asserted opposition among you to the doctrine of immediate emancipation, the world is encouraged to reproach evangelical religion as if it were less friendly to the cause of liberty than even infidelity itself.
First Church was ardently opposed to slavery. In fact, when George Thompson, a noted abolitionist from England, came to Philadelphia, the Covenanters on Cherry Street were the only ones willing to offer him a place to conduct his lectures. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Thompson returned in triumph. This attracted quite the crowd. But, Thompson would only give one lecture during his stay – at First Reformed Presbyterian Church on Cherry Street. This was in recognition of their hospitality toward him when no one else would have him. Eventually, the nation would divide over the slavery issue. (In actuality, the war was fought primarily for the preservation of the Union. The issue of slavery/states rights is what prompted the Confederate states to secede.) When war broke out in 1861, Covenanters faced somewhat of a dilemma. The nation which they held to be immorally constituted had begun a war which would free the slaves. “Should Covenanters join the fight?”, and “If so, what of the church’s position on political dissent?”, were the questions which formed the apparent dilemma. Throughout most of the war, these questions would be debated in Synod, without resolution. (Perhaps this explains the lack of statistics on membership for the years 1861-62.) Meanwhile, Covenanters were joining in the fight. After the war, members who fought were in an enigmatic situation. They had valiantly strove to rid the evil of slavery from the nation. Yet, to do so, they compromised on the issue of political dissent. The Synod of 1865 adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, That Synod direct sessions to take no further action in the case of returned soldiers, than to ascertain that they still adhere to our testimony against the sin of the nation [ failing to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ over the Church and nations ], and maintain a practical dissent from the constitution of the government. But in cases where individuals have taken oath[sic] of naturalization or of civil and military office, which involves an approval of the constitution, or have voted at the polls, we direct that they be dealt with according to the usual practice of the church.
During the course of the Civil War and after, various mission efforts were supported by First in Philadelphia. This is evident from the recently unearthed records of congregational meetings held between 1864-1909. The efforts supported were missions to freed slaves in various parts of the South. First and Second labored alike for the abolition of slavery, even though they remained apart on the issue of deacons/trustees.
Second Church calls its first pastor – Samuel O. Wylie (1844-1883)
While these events (Deaconal Controversy and slavery/the Civil War) were unfolding, First and Second maintained large memberships. Keep in mind that immigration is still a large factor in these increases and will remain so until after the turn of the century. These two congregations, together with Baltimore and Conococheague, formed the Philadelphia Presbytery. Early on, from 1841-1843, the Second congregation met in Carpenters’ Hall located at Race and Thirteenth Streets. They soon made out a call to Rev. Samuel O. Wylie. At the time Samuel O. Wylie began his pastorate, the congregation was meeting in Bricklayers’ Hall, which was in the same vicinity as Carpenters’ Hall. In 1846 Second Church occupied its own newly constructed building, located at 17th Street, below Race Street.
Samuel Oliver Wylie was born on July 14th, 1819 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (He was not the son or brother of Dr. S.B. Wylie.) Graduating from the Western University of Pennsylvania in 1839, he began his theological studies at the Allegheny (Western) Seminary. On June 1st, 1842 Samuel O. Wylie was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, by whom he was later ordained and installed as the pastor of the Greensburgh, Pennsylvania congregation (May 17th, 1843). Resigning this charge on November 18th, 1844, he came to Philadelphia to be installed as pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church on December 5th, 1844. Miss Jean Wallace, of Pittsburgh and Rev. Wylie were married in 1844. “He wan an earnest advocate of the distinctive principles of the Covenanter Church, a courteous and dignified Presbyter, and a most humble and pious Christian.” Rev. Wylie had a long, long pastorate among the flock at Second Church in Philadelphia. For thirty-nine years he labored in their midst. Not only did he faithfully fulfill his duties as pastor, but in 1856 he was chosen as Chairman of the Foreign Mission Board, upon which he would leave his indelible mark. The previous year, 1855, Rev. Wylie served also as the moderator of Synod. In 1871, the long labored for Covenant was signed at Synod. Rev. Wylie had served as Chairman of the Synod Committee on Covenanting which had formulated the historic document. Also in 1871, Rev. S.O. Wylie was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Western University of Pennsylvania. One might ponder how he was able to complete a doctorate with such a long commute. The answer lies in the fact that he also, in addition to all his other duties, served for over twenty years on the Board of Superintendents of the Theological Seminary. Earlier, in 1867, after serving for one winter as Professor of Theology, he decided against the professorship and remained as pastor of Second Church. Dr. Wylie also served on the Executive Committee of the National Reform Association.
Drs. Willson and Wylie, pastors of First and Second Churches, set a pattern for service which successors would seek to imitate. One of the finest blessings God bestowed upon these two congregations was a long history of settled pastorates. Before the Civil War began, First Church began a new work in the city of Philadelphia. In 1851 thirty-nine members, of their two hundred and sixty-five (plus or minus a few) communicant members, would leave (as a daughter) to form Third Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. They met at Commissioner’s Hall in the Kensington section of the city. This congregation is now located in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Two years later, in 1853 seventy-six members (not all communicant), out of a regained strength of numbers (more than two hundred and sixty communicant) left to form the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. This work, unfortunately did not last long. As the Civil War raged and then came to an end in 1865, the congregations of First and Second experienced steady membership. The communicant membership of Second Church exceeded that of First from 1856 until 1873. Thus, having formed two new daughter congregations, First remained strong in membership during the Civil War and beyond. Second Church, as noted previously, had a more numerous membership at that time.
C h a p t e r 5
Post-Civil War to the Turn of the Century
Thomas Patton Stevenson (1863-1912)
Thomas P. Stevenson was born in Harrison County, Ohio on April 2nd, 1838 (the year deacons were ordained at First Church). The family moved to Illinois in 1840, where the young T.P. Stevenson grew up, eventually graduating from Muskingum College in 1856. From there he went to the Allegheny Seminary to study theology. After one year, he returned to Muskingum where he taught as a Professor of Languages for two years. He then resumed his education at the Allegheny Seminary and was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery in 1859. On May 17th, 1862 Miss Mary E. McClurkin of New Concord, Ohio and T. P. Stevenson were married. Following his licentiate, Stevenson was ordained by the Philadelphia Presbytery and installed as the pastor of the First congregation on May 5th, 1863. During his pastorate at First, Stevenson served with S.O. Wylie on the Board of Foreign Missions, the Superintendents of the Theological Seminary, the National Reform Association. Stevenson also served as an editor for the Christian Statesman and as a Corporator of Geneva College. Rev. Stevenson became Dr. Stevenson in 1872, with the award of a Doctor of Divinity from Muskingum College. Dr. Stevenson served as moderator of the Synod of 1881.
The war comes home
Two short months after Rev. Stevenson took up his duties as pastorate, the Civil War would come home to Pennsylvania. When Lee’s troops were first halted outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the news came that the Confederates wanted to push on to Philadelphia. The Battle of Gettysburg ensued, beginning on July 1st, 1863 and culminating on July 3rd in a crushing defeat of Lee’s forces. In all likelihood, the one hundred and forty-five heavy cannon of Lee and the responding one hundred heavy cannon of Meade’s at Cemetery Hill could have been heard near Lancaster. Fortunately for Stevenson and Wylie, their congregations were spared the ravages of war, which a Confederate penetration to Philadelphia would have produced. Gettysburg was the beginning of the end for Lee’s forces. On April 9th, 1865 the surrender was made at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
A new church building – many meetings later
During the war, as previously noted, various mission works to the freedmen were begun. Congregational meeting minutes indicate financial support of these works under the heading “Washington Mission” and “Southern Mission”. Shortly after the war, the First R P. congregation began a search for a new location and appointed a congregational committee to find one. Another committee was to sell the current church property. Numerous congregational meetings were held in order to discuss various lots which had been selected by the committee. A lot on Penn Square had been approved and an offer made. But the offer was rejected and the lot subsequently sold to another buyer. The Cherry Street property was sold to the First African Baptist Church and the Covenanters met in halls until the building at Seventeenth and Bainbridge Streets was habitable. In the meantime, they met for about ten years at church building at Seventeenth and Filbert Streets. They were able, after several years, to utilize the basement portion of the new building while work continued on the main audience portion. In April of 1880, with funds rather stretched, the congregation entered into a subscription in order to come up with the needed monies to complete work on the building. Some time after February 14th, 1881, the building committee made its final report on the completion of the 17th and Bainbridge location (including parsonage). Listed in T. P. Stevenson’s handwriting are the final costs:
Statement of Cost of the First R. P. Church,
17th and Bainbridge Sts. Phila.
Cost of ground 8,000
Cost of Ch Building 16,500
Cost of Steam Heating Apparatus 1,500
Cost of Pews, Furnishings, &c 2,000
Cost of Parsonage including ground 7,000
For the cost of $35,000, the congregation accomplished a great deal. During this time, both First and Second congregations were active in the Temperance Movement. Its history rivals that of the First congregation as to length. Among Covenanters, this movement led to the adoption of a church membership vow to abstain from alcoholic beverages. It was a way of dealing with rampant alcohol abuse – drunkenness, both here and abroad in England and Ireland. Prior to T.P. Stevenson’s attending a Temperance convention, there was a congregational allocation in the budget designated as the wine bill. This designation (for use in the Lord’s Supper) soon disappeared, as the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America adopted a position of total abstinence as a requirement for membership. The Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages grew out of this movement as well.
Death of Dr. Samuel O. Wylie
Drs. Samuel O. Wylie and Thomas P. Stevenson served their congregations faithfully. Even though these two groups of Covenanters still remained divided over the deacon/trustee issue, Wylie and Stevenson enjoyed many years of service together as members of the Board of Foreign Missions and the Superintendents of the Seminary. Around the year 1881, Dr. Wylie was afflicted with a form of heart disease. On August 22nd, 1883, completing thirty-nine years of service, Dr. Wylie died at his home. “He was eminently successful as a pastor, and the spirited and prosperous congregation which he left is the greatest monument to his indefatigable labors.” Dr. Wylie had also served as the Moderator of Synod of 1855. At the time of his death, the Second congregation had a communicant roll of two hundred and sixty-three. First had a similar roll of two hundred and nineteen.
Second Church calls John K. McClurkin (Oct 1884 – Aug 1887)
After such long and faithful service, the impact of Dr. Wylie’s death must have been severe. For fourteen months, Second Church was without a pastor. Yet, God had been preparing the next pastor of Second Church, though he would only stay for a small fraction of the time of his predecessor.
John Knox McClurkin was born in Randolph County, Illinois (Sparta) to his parents – Rev. J. J. and Maria S. (Patton) Stevenson McClurkin on November 23rd, 1853. They soon moved to Balm, Pennsylvania where John took up his studies, graduating from Westminster College in 1873. He then taught there for one year and later took the chair of Greek at Geneva College, Northwood, Ohio. In 1875 he moved on to continue teaching Greek – returning to Westminster College as Chair of Greek. Eventually, McClurkin was elected as president of Westminster College (1883), which he declined after acting as president for one year. While serving at Westminster College, McClurkin studied theology at the Princeton and Allegheny Seminaries and on April 12th, 1881, he was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery. On October 9th, 1884 McClurkin was ordained and installed by the Philadelphia Presbytery as pastor of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church. By now, it should be fairly evident to the reader that Rev. McClurkin seemed to be more suited to academia. Such would prove to be the case. Resigning his charge of the Second congregation on August 25th, 1887, Rev. McClurkin accepted the chair of Systematic Theology at Allegheny Seminary. Westminster College awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1887. The year 1891 would find Dr. McClurkin resigning his position at Allegheny Seminary and leaving the Reformed Presbyterian Church. At that time he entered the United Presbyterian Church and served as pastor of the Shadyside Church until the time of his death. Dr. McClurkin never married and he died on November 9th, 1923.
During the time that Dr. McClurkin served as pastor at Second Church, the ranks of the communicant members swelled to their zenith. They had in excess of three hundred communicant members. First had about two hundred and forty communicant members at this time. Immigration was still a very large part of the reason for the size of these two congregations. It would remain so until after the turn of the century. As a result of the growth, the congregation demolished their building and constructed a new one on the same lot, renowned for its beauty. Second Church remained at this location until 1952.
Second Church calls James C. McFeeters (1889-1921)
James C. McFeeters was born in County Donegal, Ireland on January 1st, 1848. His parents, Thomas and Mary (Fletcher) McFeeters decided to leave Ireland in 1850. They were among the many immigrants who left Ireland in the wake of the Potato Famine of 1845-49, which the historian R. F. Foster describes:
THE GREAT POTATO Famine of 1845-9 opened an abyss that swallowed up many hundreds of thousands of impoverished Irish people: the poverty-stricken conditions of rural life in the west and south-west, a set piece for astounded travel books in the early nineteenth century, apparently climaxed in a Malthusian apocalypse.
This famine devastated Ireland. As the young lad James boarded the ship to America, little did he know what events would unfold in his later years, when he would witness the flue epidemic of 1918 in Philadelphia.
The McFeeters family settled in Jamestown, Pennsylvania where James took up his schooling. In 1870 James McFeeters graduated from Westminster College. He then studied theology at Allegheny Seminary and on April 8th, 1873 the Pittsburgh Presbytery licensed him. On June 19th, 1874 McFeeters was ordained and installed as pastor of the united congregations of Manchester and Parnassus. Another congregation – Brookland – was added to his care in 1886. Rev. McFeeters also served as the President of the Board of Trustees of Geneva College at this time. Somehow, Rev. McFeeters found time to do a considerable amount of writing as well, serving as a contributing editor in a number of publications. His labors continued as such until on December 18th, 1888 he resigned in order to accept the call to serve as pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. After a year and a half without the steady care of a pastor, Rev. James C. McFeeters was installed at Second Church. His service would extend to 1921, a length of thirty-nine years. Many important events occurred during his years of ministry at Second Church: the Jewish Mission, The Spanish-American War, The First World War and the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 among the most notable among them.
Second Church begins the Jewish Mission
By this time in America, urban areas were besieged with large communities of immigrants from many parts of the world. Philadelphia was no exception. Responding to this opportunity, at the behest of Dr. David Metheny, Rev. McFeeters and the congregation became thoroughly involved in a work which would span half of the coming century. Utilizing a house in South Philadelphia (vicinity of Lombard & Eighth Sts.) which was owned by Dr. Metheny, the Jewish Mission began. Moses Greenberg and his wife were converted from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity (Dr. Metheny was involved in their conversion.) They quickly set about the earnest work of evangelizing the Jewish community in Philadelphia. Mr. Greenberg was trained at the Seminary in Philadelphia and ordained in 1902 by the Philadelphia Presbytery for the continuing work of the Jewish Mission. During his the course of his studies, Rev. Greenberg and his wife worked part-time at the mission. This effort was not restricted solely to evangelism, Sabbath school and worship services. Also conducted at the Lombard Street mission were evening classes in English (three nights per week) and sewing (also three nights per week). The Jewish Mission also had a well supplied reading room, and in 1900 had the services of Dr. Alexander Caldwell in a newly added dispensary. Adding the dispensary significantly increased the opportunities for outreach and service to the growing immigrant Jewish population of the city. Most were poverty stricken and so had little access to needed medical care. As a result, Dr. Caldwell did not always charge for his services.
Rev. and Mrs. Greenberg’s efforts were not always well received. After some confrontations on the street, Greenberg eventually sought the aid of police and was subsequently held in low regard by some in the Reformed Presbyterian Church for doing so. Apparently, the individuals who so held Rev. Greenberg in ill repute had forgotten that the apostle Paul had appealed to his Roman citizenship for deliverance in a similar situation. Rev. Greenberg soon resigned from the mission and left the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1908. Yet, the work continued for many years to come, as others would take up the yoke of service to reach the Jewish immigrants for Christ. Both congregations had by now entered a period of declining membership which would continue relatively unabated. This can be attributed to the growing numbers of people who were leaving the cities for more open areas – the precursor of suburbanization is evident in the statistics. There was also a good deal of prosperity which enabled people to obtain material goods, which also hindered the spread of the gospel. Thus, those who could soon moved out of the city – did. Swelling numbers of immigrants only served to heighten the desire to move. The Jewish Mission was an honest and sincere effort to respond to the changing demographics of the city. This same phenomenon would later change the Jewish population of the city, diminishing the effectiveness of the mission. For the meantime, other national and international events would occupy the attention of the congregations in Philadelphia. Before considering these events, it is necessary to turn our attention to the congregation at First Church.
C h a p t e r 6
The Second century Until the Reunion of First and Second Churches
The death of Dr. T.P. Stevenson, pastor of First Church
If we considered Dr. J.M. Willson’s service as pastor of First Church as a long pastorate, then Dr. Stevenson’s is amazing. First Church was indeed Dr. Stevenson’s first church. It was his only pastorate, one that lasted forty-nine years. He and the congregation of First actively supported the ongoing Jewish Mission which had been begun by Second Church. When he was Moderator of Synod in 1881, he had not quite reached the halfway mark in his years of service. The National Reform Association listed Dr. Stevenson as one of the founding members, and he also edited the Christian Statesman for many years. One could easily say that Dr. Stevenson did a lot of good things, for many years. Church historian Rev. Owen Thompson notes, “The London Times at one time ranked him as ‘the foremost religious editorial writer of the world.’ ”. Dr. Stevenson also had a national reputation as an, “… eloquent speaker and for his scholarly and masterful presentation of the truth.” Furthermore, not only did he and his congregation survive one relocation, but they survived a second. In 1900 First Church moved to temporary quarters, until a new edifice was completed at Fortieth and Sansom. And in many ways, the second move was similar to the first. The first service in the completed building was not held until October 3rd, 1909. At the time of his death the congregation of First Church had one hundred and sixty-four communicant members. Second Church had a communicant member roll of one hundred and eighty.
First Church calls M.M. Pearce (1913-1919)
The minutes of Synod of 1913, which recorded the death of Dr. T. P. Stevenson, also noted that the Philadelphia Presbytery had sustained the call of Rev. McLeod Milligan Pearce to serve as pastor of the First congregation. First Church would have a new pastor in a little over one year after Dr. Stevenson’s death.
M. M. Pearce was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on July 16th, 1874 to William and Margaret (McKinney) Pearce. He united with the Covenanter church of First Beaver Falls in 1887. In 1896 Mr. Pearce graduated from Geneva College, and then took up theological training at the Allegheny Seminary. Graduating from the seminary in 1899. While completing his seminary training, he was licensed to preach by the Pittsburgh Presbytery on April 12th, 1898. Having received a call from the Reformed Presbyterian congregation of St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Pearce was ordained and installed as their pastor by the Illinois Presbytery on July 12th, 1899. Carrie B. McKaig of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and Rev. Pearce were married in 1900. After twelve years of faithful service, Rev. Pearce resigned the charge of the St. Louis congregation in order to take the call of the East End, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania congregation. On April 28th, 1911 he was installed as their pastor. A short while later, Rev. Pearce received a call from the First R P. congregation of Philadelphia, and was installed there on September 30th, 1913. (During his pastorate at Pittsburgh, the RMS Titanic sank sending shock waves throughout the nations, reminding Twentieth Century civilization that man is the creature, owing service to Almighty God.)
For six years, Rev. Pearce served as pastor of First Church in Philadelphia. A growing Sunday School movement soon took him away from the congregation as pastor. Responding to the growing influence of the American Sunday School Union, Rev. Pearce resigned his charge at First Church on May 6th, 1919 in order to devote his attention to the work of that organization. In 1925, Rev. Pearce served as Moderator of Synod. He remained active in the Editorial Department of the Sunday School Union until 1923. At that time, Rev. Pearce took up the Presidency of Geneva College. Geneva College awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree. Dr. Pearce served the college faithfully for twenty-five years until his death on November 22nd, 1948. Under his leadership, First remained at about one hundred and seventy communicant members. Second remained within the same range of communicant members at that time as well. While pastoring the First Church of Philadelphia, Dr. Pearce would face one of the most nightmarish events of modern time. Together with Dr. McFeeters of Second Church they would minister to flocks whose nation would go to war and whose city would suffer immensely in 1918.
Comrades in Arms – The Great War and the Flu Epidemic of 1918
America declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917 – two years after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7th, 1915. The war was by that time three years in length. Dovetailed with the American war effort was the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Both of these events involved members of the First and Second congregations of Philadelphia. It is not the purpose here to discuss the First World War in detail, nor the flu epidemic. Such a discussion would be quite tangential. What is purposed is to briefly discuss the position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America regarding the declaration of war and subsequent draft as it affected the Philadelphia churches, as well as the epidemic of 1918.
Covenanters continued to dissent from the established government. They pointed out that the opening words to the preamble of the Constitution of the United States had come to be understood by many to mean that “We the people do ordain and establish”, not just a legal document, but that “ …‘We the people,’ are declared to be the source of all authority in civil government.”. As war loomed on the horizon, Covenanters were duly reminded of the duty of church members to abstain from being naturalized, or if they were born citizens, to refrain from voting. Synod, initially opposed to American involvement in the war, endorsed President Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany. They encouraged Covenanters in the service of their country. This was based on the understanding that the soldiers’ oath did not call for a pledge of allegiance to the Constitution. Officers however, were under that obligation, which Synod sought to remedy by a modification of the oath. During the war, the devastation of which was bewildering, many needs arose for the care of wounded. The Philadelphia congregations, together with many of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches of North America, Ireland and England worked to fill what needs they could.
Philadelphia congregations and the Great War
The Philadelphia congregations organized women’s groups to knit afghans to be used in ambulances. Further help for the wounded was in the form of three ambulances, purchased with the gifts of many Covenanters throughout the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. In cooperation, the Irish Covenanters were able to assist in the procurement and delivery of these ambulances – largely through the generous efforts of Robert Holmes and Mr. Foster of the Ballymoney congregation. These ambulances were donated to the Red Cross, labeled, “Gift of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America”, two of them also bearing the “Blue Banner”. It was in one of these ambulances that David Metheny, from Second Church was awarded the Croix de Guerre (one of France’s highest military decorations) for his courageous efforts in transporting the wounded during an artillery attack of “poison shells” on October 30-31, 1918. Many others from the Philadelphia Churches also served, among them, Miss Agnes Archer (as a nurse in France) from Second Church, Ellsworth Erskine Jackson, Ralph Rutherford Jackson, and William C. Jackson – all three from First Church. While war raged in France, a new enemy arose.
Philadelphia Churches and the Flu
The Philadelphia Churches would have the dubious honor of being in the city which had the highest mortality rates in October of 1918 – from the Spanish flu. Doubtless, the dispensary at the Jewish mission saw many victims pass through its portals. It was a pandemic. The entire world seemed to be dying from this new and terrible disease. At its height, a victim, once diagnosed was often dead within twelve hours. Undertakers had coffins everywhere in their homes. The dead could not be buried quickly enough because so many were sick. As a result, they just piled up. Philadelphia’s only city morgue was equipped to handle thirty-six bodies. It ended up with several hundred, piled throughout the facility. Strangely, the statistics of Second Church show eleven deaths in the previous year, which are virtually unexplained in the Report of the Philadelphia Presbytery. In 1919, Philadelphia Presbytery (consisting of First, Second, Third, Baltimore and Conococheague) recorded eight deaths for Second Church and three for First Church. Between 1917 and 1919 there were a total of twenty-nine deaths in the two congregations. Whether or not these were all flu related is speculative at best. Philadelphia had 706 flu deaths in the first week of October, 1918. The second week, the number of deaths rose to 2,635. In the third week of the epidemic, 4,597 died. Finally, in the fourth week, the deaths began to decline – 3,021. In the midst of this, quite literally after the horse was out of the barn, city officials ordered the closing of public buildings – churches included. Ironically, the report of the Philadelphia Presbytery to Synod of 1918 had only this to say:
"Our churches were closed for three weeks, by order of the City Board of Health because of the epidemic of influenza. Though the regular services were thereby suspended, yet the people were deeply earnest in waiting upon the Lord in their homes and in small prayer meetings.”
Thus, Revs. Pearce and McFeeters led First and Second congregations through some of the most trying times the nation had yet seen. First Church lost the benefit of the care of Rev. Pearce, as previously noted. Second continued under the watchful eyes of J.C. McFeeters. There had by now been a considerable decline in the size of the congregations. Soon, legislation would be passed in Congress strictly limiting the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. That, combined with the congregations’ seeming inability to keep its younger members, would cause the membership to decline further as the new century progressed. Yet, the gospel was preached in earnest, and the essential truths of Scripture were upheld – as other Presbyterian bodies began to waver and give in to what those with itching ears preferred to hear.
First Church calls S. J. Johnston (1920)
Samuel James Johnston was born to John McLean and Sophia (Guthrie) on November 22nd, 1874 in Hopkinton, Iowa. He attended Lenox College and then transferred to Geneva College, from which he graduated on June 10th, 1895. He entered Allegheny Seminary in 1896 and graduated in 1899. The Iowa Presbytery licensed Mr. Johnston to preach on May 4th, 1898. Margaret H. Ward and S. J. Johnston were married on October 18th, 1906. Johnston had a series of short pastorates at Superior, Nebraska; Sparta and New Castle, Illinois; and just before coming to First Church of Philadelphia, he was at Clarinda, Iowa. Rev. Johnston was installed as pastor at First Church on March 5th, 1920. (M. M. Pearce had resigned on May 6th, 1919 in order to work for the American Sunday School Union.) The congregation had been without a pastor for only ten months. Yet, Rev. Johnston’s charge over the congregation would last only a short time. Compared to the longevity of his predecessors, his time at First was barely a blink of the eye. Only seven months had passed before Rev. Johnston’s relationship with the congregation “…was dissolved and he ceased preaching in the Reformed Presbyterian Church.” He and his family moved to Orlando, Florida when his pastorate at First Church ended.
The death of Dr. James C. McFeeters
While away from Second Church for a season of ministry at Hetherton, Michigan – at the age of eighty-one – Dr. McFeeters died at the home of his niece. He had been serving Christ His King for over fifty years, thirty-two of them as pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. On December 24th, 1928 Dr. McFeeters went home to be with our Lord. At the time of his death, the congregation had about one hundred and thirty-five communicant members.
Continuation of the Jewish Mission
The Jewish Mission was still active. It had been temporarily closed down when Rev. E. J. Feuersohn and his wife resigned in May of 1913. Rev. R. A. Blair and Miss Annie Forsyth were appointed by Synod to continue the work. John Edgar observes that the make up of the Jewish community had begun a transformation from poverty-stricken immigrants, to working class families who were adjusting to the American culture. This could well explain the opposition that Rev. Blair and Miss Forsyth encountered when the work reopened. Those who attended the mission were persecuted by a Jewish group which had been formed to prevent the work from reopening. In 1916 Rev. Blair resigned from the work. Due to the lack of an ordained minister to lead it, the mission seemed to be waning in effectiveness. Three women had dedicated themselves to the work in the years just before Dr. McFeeters’ death: Annie Forsyth, Emma McFarland and Elizabeth Forsyth and were diligent in their labors. It seemed that their most effective outreach was through the day care they provided during lunch and after school for the children in the vicinity of the mission. At the time of Dr. McFeeters’ death, only Annie Forsyth and her sister Elizabeth were assigned to the work. (Miss McFarland had resigned in 1925 because of ill health.)
At this time, and for the first time, both First and Second congregations were without a pastor. God upheld the congregations by the oversight of their sessions and the steady preaching of visiting ministers – as he had done for each one separately in the past.
Second Church calls Frank Lee Stewart, Jr. (1921-1948)
Frank Lee and Sara Rebecca (Huheey) Stewart had a son born to them on September 19th, 1892 in Covington, Kentucky – Frank Lee, Jr. He made his profession of faith at thirteen in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1921 he graduated from both the University of Cincinnati and the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. Having been licensed to preach by the Pittsburgh Presbytery on May 11th, 1920, Mr. Stewart was ordained and installed by the Philadelphia Presbytery as pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church on September 28th, 1921. Hattie Sebastian and Rev. Stewart were married on June 29th, 1922. For twenty-seven years he served the congregation faithfully. During his time in Philadelphia, he guided his flock through the Great Depression and then the Second World War. Under his leadership, Second Church continued its active support of the Jewish Mission and the camp at White Lake, New York which he managed for eleven years. Surely he drew comfort from this portion of a report of the Jewish Mission to Synod:
Shortly ago, there was a conference in Philadelphia of workers among the Jews in the eastern part of the United States. One of the outstanding speakers was a minister in charge of the work among Jews in Buffalo. He, himself, says that he received his start in the Christian life at our mission under Miss Forsyth.
The work at the mission by now was basically day care and out reach to mothers. Still, God blessed these efforts and women and children came to know the gospel, some becoming believers. Some of the Jewish mothers were even bringing Gentile mothers to the weekly meetings held at the mission.
Resignation from Second Church and later death of Dr. F. L. Stewart
On December 3rd, 1948 he was installed as pastor of the Olathe, Kansas congregation, having resigned the charge of Second Church in Philadelphia. Geneva College awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1950. Rev. Stewart would be the last pastor of Second Church to work with the Jewish mission. Yet, the mission was continued by Synod until 1955, largely under the guidance of the pastor of Third Church, Dr. Findley McClurkin Wilson. Dr. Stewart suffered a life-threatening injury while pastor of the Olathe congregation, which forced his retirement. God called Dr. Stewart to his rest on March 3rd, 1970 in Santa Ana, California. When he resigned his charge of Second Church in 1948, the communicant roll was eighty-three. First Church had a roll of sixty communicant members. The congregations were not keeping the young members and post war prosperity gave further cause for resistance to the call of the gospel on the part of those being evangelized. Yet, there was sound, reformed preaching from the pulpit of Second Church (as well as First) all these years.
First Church calls Samuel Edgar Greer (1922-1950)
Shortly after Rev. Frank L. Stewart began his ministry at Second Church, the congregation of First Church was blessed with their sixth pastor. During the preceding century and a quarter, First Church had had only five pastors. One hundred and eight of those years were accounted for by three of these men, Drs. S. B. Wylie, J. M. Willson, and T. P. Stevenson. God had graciously provided steadfast leadership of this flock (as He had for Second) throughout some troublous times. This is worthy of reflecting on with great thanksgiving, as He, our Great Shepherd, continues to supply gifted men to lead the flock.
Samuel Edgar Greer was born to James and Margaret (McNeill) Greer on January 7th, 1875. His parents had come to America from Ireland, possibly around the time after the Great Potato Famine. They settled in Hopkinton, Iowa and became long and faithful members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church there. Samuel made his profession of faith at twelve years of age and went on to study at Lenox College, graduating in June of 1899. He then did graduate work at the University of Michigan before entering seminary. In 1900 he entered Allegheny Seminary and graduated in 1903. While at the seminary, Greer was licensed by the Iowa Presbytery on May 4th, 1902. Mr. Greer was ordained by the Kansas Presbytery and installed as the pastor of the Tabor Reformed Presbyterian Church (Idana, Kansas) on September 11th, 1903. Lela Lois McElhinney of Morning Sun, Iowa and Rev. Greer were married on May 6th, 1908. There then followed pastorates at Washington, Iowa and Denver, Colorado before coming to fill the pulpit at First Church, Philadelphia. Prior to coming to First Church, Rev. Greer received the Doctor of Divinity (Honorary) from Lenox College, Iowa on June 2nd, 1921.
Dr. Greer faithfully led his flock through the trials and temptations of the “Roaring Twenties”. These were years when the Temperance movement had gained the passage of the Eighteenth amendment which banned alcohol. But this ban was flaunted and eventually repealed by the ungodly throughout the nation and it was doubtless a difficult time to shepherd the flock. This difficulty was magnified by the crash of the stock market in the fall of 1929 and the ensuing depression. These events no doubt had an impact on First Church. People were relocating throughout the nation in order to find some means of earning a living. In the years following “Black Thursday” (October 24th, 1929), First Church’s communicant roll was greatly reduced. By 1936, First had a communicant roll of ninety-eight – a roll which many Reformed Presbyterian congregations of today strive toward. Dr. Greer served on many committees of Synod. One such committee served by Dr. Greer , The Signs of the Times, submitted a lengthy report to the Synod of 1930. Two things were noted as enemies to the gospel: superstitious traditionalism (directed mainly against Roman Catholicism) and humanism (that man has no need of God – in fact God does not exist). He also served faithfully with the ongoing work of the Jewish Mission. The Synod of 1939 was moderated by Dr. Greer. For twenty-eight years, Dr. Greer also served on the Board of Foreign Missions.
Retirement and death of Dr. S. E. Greer
Dr. Greer labored to lead the flock under his care until his retirement in 1950. Afterward, he remained as Pastor Emeritus among the congregation of First. On April 23rd, 1952 Dr. Greer died after a lingering illness. His retirement left the flock without a pastor; his death, doubtless only made his absence from the pulpit that much more sorely felt. In a memoriam in the 1952 Minutes of Synod we find:
[Dr. Greer’s passing] touched many hearts and this not only amongst the congregation he served, but the friends in the other fields of the church where he labored with such deep spiritual devotion and a warmth of pastoral care that endeared him to the people in both congregation and community wherever he served.
When Dr. Greer entered his rest, First Church had forty-five communicant members, Second had forty-nine. One of the ruling elders of Second Church, James Renwick Bell, died a short time after Dr. Greer – May 24th, 1952. There were four congregations in the Philadelphia Presbytery: First, Second, Third and Orlando. The work in Orlando, begun by First many years prior was a steadily growing work, under the leadership of Alvin W. Smith and was still officially part of the Philadelphia Presbytery. Now the First and Second congregations were both without pastors (as was Third also) for only the second time. During this time, the congregations were wisely guided by their respective sessions – another of God’s provisions throughout their histories. With the reduced size of their congregations and the changing neighborhoods where they were located (prompting many members to move out of the city), the sessions of First and Second petitioned Presbytery to allow them to unite. Their unsuccessful efforts to gain pastoral leadership also convinced them of the need to unite.
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.
C h a p t e r 8
Serving the King of Kings: The Next Century
The Broomall congregation has begun its third century of service to our Lord and Savior. What lies ahead is unknown to us. But it is certain. For we are in the hands of the Almighty God, whose Son, our Lord and Savior reigns as the King of nations. Broomall has been through some difficult years. There are some who would conclude that Broomall is actually a new work, simply the vestige of First Reformed Presbyterian and later First and Second Churches. Yet, the congregation has remained organized in an unbroken state since 1798. It has simply moved out of the city of Philadelphia and into the suburb of Broomall, Pennsylvania. It has been through a lot. In a recent conversation with Rev. Harrington, he noted that writing this paper has given me a great opportunity to gain great knowledge of the denomination as a whole – for many important events occurred at First Church.
Another observation is that had we known now, what we do today, the Dissent Schism of 1833 may not have occurred. For in essence, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America has adopted the position of Dr. Samuel B. Wylie with regard to our relations to civil government. There are some who see this a mistake. On the whole, it is wise and has enabled the Church to convince visitors, by the grace of God, of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When a new year’s yield from the harvest field is in, perhaps then, we would consider a renewed covenant. For now, in our nation, there is such a blight of Bible knowledge and commensurate unawareness of sinfulness, that to insist on covenantal obligations, in the manner of past years, would in a way be like expecting an infant to digest dinner in France on Christmas Day.
Broomall reflects a trend in the Reformed Presbyterian Church as a whole – a gradual increase in attendance and membership. It is import to remember that in this overview of the history of the Broomall congregation, an important item has not been looked at in detail. To do so would require a tremendous amount of further work and research. That item is the congregants. Each person is a vital member of the body of Christ. Each member has a specific task to perform for the glory of God, prepared for him or her from before the foundations of the world. So, let us embark with boldness for the cause of Christ on the journey into this Third Century of the history of the Broomall Reformed Presbyterian Church. Let us remember that we are “…fishing in stocked streams”, to quote one of my former professors at Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. God knows where we need to go fishing – we need to look to Him for guidance and remember – to catch fish, fisherman go where the fish are.
Thus, as we are following Christ’s command, as His undershepherd’s to be fishers of men, let us cast the net in some unlikely places (Luke 5: 3-10). Perhaps it is time to consider the city of Philadelphia. The cities of the nation are in great need of the gospel of Christ and Reformed theology. In a very real way, we can say, “But we have already been there…”; that is what the disciples told Jesus before their miraculous catch. This may be something to consider for the coming years – the return of a Reformed Presbyterian witness in the cities which so direly need it.
B i b l i o g r a p h y
Ahlstrom, Sydney. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972.
Barnes, Albert. An Inquiry Into the Scriptural Views of Slavery. Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1857.
Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Nan A. Talese - Doubleday, 1995.
Carson, David M. "A History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America to 1871." Diss. Philadelphia, PA: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania, 1964.
Crosby, Alfred W. Epidemic and Peace, 1918. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1976.
Dickens, A. G. The English Reformation. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.
Edgar, John. "Education and Congregation: Reformed Presbyterian Missions to Minorities." Bi-centennial Ceremony of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Geneva College, (Pittsburgh, Pa.), June 13, 1998, 1998.
Fisk, William L. The Scottish High Church Tradition in America. Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 1995.
Foster, R.F. Modern Ireland - 1600-1972. 1989. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc., 1988.
Glasgow, William Melancthon. History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America. Baltimore: Hill & Harvey, Publishers, 1888.
Lingle, Walter L., and John W. Kuykendall. Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs. 4th ed. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988.
Lossing, Benson J. Matthew Brady's Illustrated History of the Civil War. 1994, Originally published as A History of the Civil War. New York: Gramercy Books, 1896.
McBurney, Charles. Reformed Presbyterian Ministers 1950-1993. Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1994.
McFeeters, James C. The Covenanters in America: The Voice of Their Testimony on Present Moral Issues. Reasons for the Hope and Work of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Press of Spangler & Davis, 1892.
"Minutes of First Reformed Presbyterian Congregation of Philadelphia." Philadelphia, 1864-1899.
Minutes of Reformed Presbytery of America from 1798-1809 and Digest of the Acts of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in N. America 1809-1888. . Philadelphia: James B. Rodgers Printing Co., 1888.
Minutes of the Eastern Subordinate Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Albany: Hosford & Wait, April 9-10, 1833.
"Minutes of the Session of the United Covenanter Church of Philadelphia." Broomall, 1952-1977.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America." The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol VII-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: W.S. Haven, July & August, 1861.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America." The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol VIII- Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh, July & August, 1862.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol I-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh, July & August, 1863.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol XX, Nos 5 & 6. Pittsburgh: W. S. Haven, August, 1856.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Covenanter, Vol XII, Nos 11 & 12. Philadelphia: William S. Young, June & July, 1857.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian & Covenanter, Vol II-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh, July & August, 1864.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian & Covenanter, Vol III-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh, July & August, 1865.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian & Covenanter, Vol IV-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh, July & August, 1866.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol V-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1867.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol VI-Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1868.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol VII - Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1869.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol VIII - Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1870.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol IX - Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1871.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol X - Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July & August, 1872.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XI - No 7. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July, 1873.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XII - No 7. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July, 1874.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XIII - No 7. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July, 1875.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XIV - No 7. Pittsburgh: Bakewell & Marthens, Printers, July, 1876.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XV - No 6. Pittsburgh: Bakewell, Marthens & Co. Printers, June, 1877.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XVI - No 7. Pittsburgh: Stevenson, Foster & Co., Printers, July, 1878.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, Vol XVII - Nos 7 & 8. Pittsburgh: Stevenson, Foster & Co., Printers, July & August, 1879.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Greensburg: Record Print, June 4-10, 1919.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Pittsburgh: James S. Tibby, June 4-10, 1930.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Session CXII. Pittsburgh: James S. Tibby, June 4-10, 1941.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Pittsburgh: Church Headquarters, June 4-10, 1952.
"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Pittsburgh: Church Headquarters, June 3-9, 1953.
"Notices of Congregations." Vol 1, #10. The Covenanter. Philadelphia: William S. Young.
Pritchard, John W. Soldiers of the Church. New York: Christian Nation Publishing Company, 1919.
Scott, David. Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Albany: J. Munsell, 1841.
Smith, D.D., Rev. Alvin W. Covenanter Ministers 1930-1963. Pittsburgh: The Guttendorf Press, c.1960.
Spitz, Lewis W. The Protestant Reformation 1517-1559. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985.
Stevenson, Thomas P. Fifty Years of Covenanter History. Vol. XI. No. 1 of Our Banner. Philadelphia: Christian Statesman Pub. Co., 1884.
Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. "A Brief History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Pittsburgh: Chester R. Fox, 1964.
Thompson, Elena. "Two Covenanters and the Amistad." Covenanter Witness, March 1998, 16.
Thompson, Rev. Owen F. Sketches of the Ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America from 1888 to 1930. Blanchard, c.1930.
Vos, Johannes G. The Scottish Covenanters: Their Origins, History and Distinctive Doctrines. 1980. Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1940.
Walton III, Charles H. "200 Seek Missing Marple Girl, 8." The Evening Bulletin. Philadelphia, Saturday, August 16th, 1975.
Warner, Philip. Famous Scottish Battles. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1975.
White, William P.: Scott, William H. The Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia: A Camera and Pen Sketch of Each Presbyterian Church and Institution in the City. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott Publishers, 1895.
Willson, James M. The Deacon: An Inquiry Into the Nature, Duties, and Exercise of the Office of the Deacon in the Christian Church. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1841.
A P P E N D I X A
History of Broomall RPC
1798 – Organized in Philadelphia, PA
1802 – First Pastor Called/Installed
1833 – New Light/Old Light Division
First Church (Old Light)
(New Light) RP Gen Synod
1842 – Deaconal Controversy
First RPC Second RPC
Formation of RPCES, PCA
1948 – First & Second Reunite
1956 – Move to Broomall, PA
A P P E N D I X B
History of Pastors
First - Philadelphia
Samuel B. Wylie (1802-1833)
Second - Philadelphia
James M. Willson (1834-1862)
Samuel O. Wylie (1844-1883)
Thomas P. Stevenson (1862-1912)
James C. McFeeters (1889-1921)
M.M. Pearce (1913-1919)
S.J. Johnston (1920)
Frank Stewart (1921-1948)
Samuel Edgar Greer (1922-1950)
United – Broomall
Paul D. McCracken (1954-1965)
Harold Harrington (1968-1980)
William J. Edgar (1981- )