FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
In attempting to write a history of the establishment of the First Christian church of Ebensburg, the writer enters upon the task with more or less misgivings. For the most part the actual records of the church have been lost or destroyed. However by comparing dates it has been possible to solve complex questions, to a satisfactory conclusion.
A history of the church would be incomplete without some reference to the Beula church, which was among the first, if not the first Protestant church in the county. A church building was erected in Beula about 1796, under the supervision of Rev. Morgan John Rhees. While it was known as a Baptist church, the constitution of the federation expressly says: "Art. 1 - That union shall be called the Christian church."
Morgan John Rhees was the first pastor of that church. He served for a period of four years, when he resigned, and suggested to the church that a call be extended to Rev. Richard Michael, of Anglesea, Wales. That reverend gentleman arrived after a tempestuous voyage on sea and land, in Beula in due season and preached his first sermon. Before the Sunday following he became suddenly ill and died. In or about 1830 it is found that Rev. Benjamin Davis was installed as pastor. During his pastorate a church was organized in Ebensburg, known as the Second Beula church.
A year or two later Alexander Campbell occupied the pulpit in this second church and preached one or two sermons.
An autobiography of Morgan John Rhees at that time speaks of the Herculean tasks and willingness to sacrifice that was necessary in order to attend divine worship in those early pioneer days. For example, says the author, "When would we find sisters now-a-days who would be willing to attempt to do what Mary Shadrach very often did - walk from Two Lick to Beula over Indian trails, rough roads, a distance of nearly 25 miles in order that she might enjoy the privilege of the Sanctuary. Another of those earnest, self-sacrificing sisters was 'Old Kitty Rees,' as she was familiarly called, who used to walk from the Broad Fording (near Blairsville) to Beula, a distance of 30 miles, and she was always present on every communion occasion."
It was during the pastorate of Rev. Benjamin Davis that an event occurred that brought about a division in the church, and which ultimately resulted in the organization of the First Christian church of Ebensburg. This event took place in the year 1835 or 1836.
This spirit of unrest existed for some time, when it was finally agreed by mutual consent that an advisory council be called, which was presided over by a Mr. Miles. After hearing statements from each of the contending parties or factions, and finding it impossible to effect a reconciliation between them, the council recommended that all those in favor or organizing a new church should manifest their desire by going to and standing up at one side of the meeting house, while those favoring adherence to the old faith and Baptist principals should occupy a similar position on the opposite side. This was promptly done and a careful count showed there to be fifty on each side. For some time after this both factions continued to worship in the same house, occupying different hours of the same day. From the best information obtainable this church was located on the corner of Lloyd street and Cherry alley.
The Baptists, not satisfied with existing arrangements, proposed the sale of their interest in the building for the sum of $128. The other faction promptly accepted the proposition and became owners of the building.
In the early days the compensation awarded a pastor was merely nominal. Quoting again from record it is learned that a member of the church who contributed one or two dollars per year was regarded as being unnecessarily extravagant.
It is said that Festus Tibbott, who was among the first pastors of the church, never received any compensation during his many years of service. Mr. Tibbott was a miller by occupation, and it was while adjusting some machinery about his mill that he met with an accident which ultimately caused his death. He was about 63 years of age at the time of his death.
About the year 1848 a new church building was erected on the northwest corner of the present Ebensburg Public School grounds. This building did service for a number of years when building and lot were disposed of to the school board of the borough.
The present structure was completed and ready for occupancy in the year 1867.
The first minister to occupy the pulpit in the present structure was Rev. Wm. Schell. From the years 18678 to 1874 no record has been available.
During the year 1917 the congregation of the Christian church secured a very desirable parsonage adjoining the church. Through the generosity of Sherman Tibbott the house and lot were presented to the church. The members contributed the sum of $2,000 with which many needed changes both inside and out were made. All modern improvements were installed making it one of the most desirable residents in town.
The number of members at various times in the history of the church included: 1835 - 50; 1884 - 94; 1896 - 144; 1906 - 135; 1924 - 173; 1930 - 209; 1935 - 256.
Pastors who have served in the church include: Rev. Benjamin Davis, Festus Tibbott, Pyatt, W. S. Lloyd, Willcox, Williams Schell, Smith Lanfar, George Klendenan, Rodge, Cox, Kelch, Hall, Ward, Oldham, Wilfing, Mahan, Morrison, M. M. Manley, Bower Cooper, Klyger, Willard, Lytle, F. Allen Massem, Oldham, O.D. Young, E.Z. Gallagher, C. Waymon Parsons. H. J. Sinclair, Garth Maynard, J.L. Fergusson, H.E. Martin, John W. Love, and the present minister, Luther B. Norris. The present membership is 233.
As reported in the Mountaineer Herald, August 16, 1954