- October 20, 2021
Not many churches celebrate 150 years of existence and service to God and their community; happily, St. John’s Newberry United Methodist Church is one of them. Now, as many congregations of all denominations are melting away and closing the doors of their churches, it seems appropriate to look back and celebrate a church that is
Not many churches celebrate 150 years of existence and service to God and their community; happily, St. John’s Newberry United Methodist Church is one of them. Now, as many congregations of all denominations are melting away and closing the doors of their churches, it seems appropriate to look back and celebrate a church that is standing the test and challenges of time.
St. John’s Newberry United Methodist Church had humble beginnings. According to a church history written in 1971, in the Spring of 1871, the Rev. George Hunter, pastor of the First Evangelical Church of Williamsport, organized a small group of faithful worshippers in Newberry that was known as “Class Number 3” of the First Evangelical Church. For $400, they purchased a lot at 1025 Race Street, just south of Apple Street. A deed for the site was recorded at the Lycoming County Courthouse. It cost about $2,600 to build the original church building that would rest on this site. A Sunday School was established five years later. The fledgling St. John’s congregation worshipped at this site until October 1894.
In 1894, the congregation — now starting to grow some — purchased a 61-foot by 180-foot lot at the corner of Newberry Street and Funston Avenue for $1,000. The congregation erected a newer and larger sanctuary and Sunday School unit building there at the cost of $7,362. During the construction period from October 1894 until February 1895, services were temporarily held in Central Hall on Arch Street, in the area now occupied by the Dunkin’ Donuts.
The new church had its formal dedication at what has become its present location on October 27, 1895.
In 1905 a lot at the corner of Funston Avenue and King Street was purchased for the erection of a parsonage. This location served as the church’s parsonage until the 1980s.
In 1907 the congregation requested of the conference that the status of the church be changed from “St. John’s Newberry Mission” to “St. John’s Evangelical Church of Williamsport” and to carry on as a self-sustaining congregation.
The first pipe organ for the church was acquired in 1917, costing $1,900. The organ was rebuilt in 1953 for a cost of $6,735. Almost 30 years later, in 1981, the organ was rebuilt for $42,200.
During the 1920s, additional lot space for the church was acquired.
Under the stewardship and leadership of Rev. Frank H. Sanders, in 1935, a new two-story brick children’s educational building was built, costing $21,000, which was quite an accomplishment during those difficult years of the Depression. The church experienced a notable growth in Sunday School attendance. This building was renovated in 1965.
In the aftermath of the disastrous March 1936 flood, the church served as a safe, temporary refuge for those who had to evacuate their home because of high water.
During World War II, the kitchen facilities of the church were used by the Red Cross for a canteen committee for community canning facilities for three days a week during June, July, and August 1944.
Between 1944 and 1964, several adjoining properties were acquired in preparation for a possible expansion of the church’s physical plant.
On February 27, 1965, the congregation voted to approve plans for a new sanctuary and educational building for $427,000. Ground was broken for the project on March 28, 1965, under the auspices of Pastor Rev. William Lippert. Demolition of the old church began on January 20, 1966. The cornerstone for the new church edifice was laid on April 24, 1966. Dedication Sunday for the new church building occurred on September 24, 1966.
After the new church building’s completion, the church grounds were completely landscaped, and later the church parking lot was completely paved.
St. John’s Newberry has always been a missionary church, beginning with its role in establishing the Heshbon Church. During the 1920s, St. John’s supported a missionary in China. After World War II they supported missionaries in Africa. The most recent being Arlene Brown in strife-torn Rwanda.
A crowning feature for the church came in 1975 when a splendid steeple was placed on the top of the church.
This church has always been committed to its young people and their futures; one of the best ways this is shown is through its support of the Boys Scout program. St. John’s Boy Scout Troop 14 was established in 1918 and is one of the oldest Boy Scout troops in Lycoming County. The Troop has produced many outstanding Scouts, including 132 Eagle Scouts. Their annual pancake suppers are a highly anticipated part of the church calendar each year.
Another way that they have showed commitment to youth has been the establishment of the St. John’s School of the Arts in 1996. The School of the Arts was the brainchild of former Pastor Rev. Jeffrey Seeley, who envisioned it as an additional outreach ministry for this church. The school includes music, dance, instrumental music, and various other types of performing arts. It has enjoyed great success and has raised St. John’s Newberry’s profile in the community positively.
In 2003 the old children’s two-story wing on Funston Avenue was razed, and in its place, a one-story Sunday School unit and music complex was erected.
A huge change came to the church came on July 1, 2004, when the Newbery United Methodist Church merged with St. John’s to become St. John’s Newberry United Methodist Church. This move came after a year of discussions.
In conjunction with that, the St. John’s campus in Newberry was and is maintained as a worship center. The Newberry building on Diamond Street was turned into the West End Christian Community Center with a Board of Directors, and by-laws approved in November 2004. It is one of St. John’s Newberry’s most successful outreach ministries, containing a clothes closet with gently used clothes, a food pantry, and various types of Christian education programs conducted there.
As St. John’s Newberry United Methodist Church looks to the future, it can look back with pride on the past 150 years and look to the future with optimism knowing that in these tough and uncertain times, they have a congregation committed to moving forward and doing its utmost to do their best to better the lot of those in their community and to serve God with love, humility, and enthusiasm under the leadership of the present pastor, the Rev. Dr. Lenore Hosier.