A  Congregation in the Atlantic Presbytery
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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

Total                                               28,000

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.