JERSEY SHORE - On June 28, 1792 on a grassy lawn shadowed by the majestic "Tiadaghton Elm," the Rev. Isaac Grier preached his first sermon for the newly founded Pine Creek Presbyterian Church, which later became the Presbyterian Church of Jersey Shore.
This past Sunday, 50 members and friends of the church celebrated its 220th anniversary with a similar outdoor worship service on the exact same spot, by the lower Pine Creek bridge.
Pastor Charlie Winkelman preached on "Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?" relating the faith of Abraham and Sarah to the faith of those early Presbyterian pioneers.
Sixteen years before that first worship service, under the same elm tree, the Fair Play Men of the area had signed a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, on July 4, 1776, unaware that a similar declaration was being signed in Philadelphia on the same day.
Two years after that, in 1778, an Indian uprising had chased most white settlers out of the West Branch valley, but the sturdy Irish and Scotch-Irish pioneers eventually returned. With George Washington still in his first term as President, they gathered to form a church.
The first building was not built until 1798, near the site of that first worship service. It was of good size, with two front doors and a gallery but no seats (congregants brought their own) and no heat. A stone and bronze plaque commemorates the site today, dedicated at the church's 125th anniversary in 1917. The pastor at that time was Rev. Joseph Ewing.
Over the years the church has had four different buildings. As Jersey Shore was founded and grew, more and more Presbyterians lived there, and in 1832 the congregation joined with the Baptists in building what as called "The Union Church" at the junction of Seminary and Broad streets.
Wanting to be closer to the town center, the Presbyterians in 1852 built a larger building on South Main Street near where the laundromat is today. It contained the first pipe organ in Jersey Shore. It survived the terrible flood of 1889 but burned to the ground in 1893.
The next day the congregation met and decided to rebuild, and the cornerstone of the current building at 235 S. Main St. was laid on Sept. 12, 1894. It cost $35,000, and included a 16-foot square, 102-foot high tower with a 1,550-pound bell and, later on, a town clock. The building was dedicated to the worship of God on July 14, 1895.
In 1967 a Christian education wing was added. The great flood of 1972 brought eight feet of muddy water into the sanctuary, but the congregation persevered. In 1989 renovations added a wheelchair lift and saw the whole facility repainted.
Today the church supports the Love Center, helps needy families, and is involved with Krislund Camp and Conference Center in Madisonburg, an After School Kids program for neighborhood children and an annual Veterans Day Prayer for America service. The members have blended traditional and contemporary worship each Sunday with music from both a choir and praise band. The church also has small groups for women, men, youth and older adults and a full range of programs for all ages
According to Pastor Charlie Winkelman, 220 years ago "some brave Presbyterian pioneers proclaimed that nothing was too hard for the Lord. Sunday's historic worship service showed the fruits of more than two centuries of devoted believers who proclaimed that same faith, and looked forward to what the Lord will continue to do in and through them, for the glory of God."