Dear friends of Penn Central Conference,
But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
” (Acts 20:24)
Paul speaks to the Elders at the church in Ephesus as he bids them farewell. He warns that the church will face trial and division. He is also sure that Christ will continue to work within them and through them. The original congregation in Ephesus does continue for some time (most likely into the 5
century), but eventually its ministry comes to an end. However, the centuries of its existence served as a consistent witness to the good news of the gospel and spawned countless other Christian communities in the area.
Ephesus is a good reminder that churches do not die. Congregations rise and they decline, opening and ending times of ministry – some for centuries, and some for only a few years. If we claim the church as the body of Christ, then we cannot say (though we often do) that churches die. After all, the risen body has escaped the bonds of death. The church as the body lives. Individual gatherings of that body come to an end – they bring their ministries to a close. The reasons for ending are complex and almost always include demographics, geography, and material resources. Sometimes endings also result from conflict, poor leadership, and historical decisions with lasting impact. Regardless of the reasons, the body serves and witnesses for a time and then draws to a close.
Currently we are experiencing the end of the ministries of four of our churches in Penn Central. Two have already ceased worship and disposed of property. Two are in the process. I want to list them here so that we can hold their members in our prayers. And also so we can give thanks for the thousands of lives they have affected – through worship, singing, baptisms, communion, confirmations, weddings, funerals, Vacation Bible Schools, Christian education, pastoral care, Bible studies, youth groups, outreach, advocacy, celebrations, vigils, picnics, parades…and more. Their ministry was a living witness and it continues. The lives affected will carry all of that joy and good news to where they go to next. Please hold them in prayer and in gratitude for their testimony over the last 161 to 290 years.
St. John’s UCC in New Columbia
: Founded originally in 1817 in Milton, PA. Items from St. John’s including the altar, candelabras, alter candles, large print bibles, alter cloths, hymnals, bibles in pews, Sunday school materials and more have gone to St. Paul’s in West Milton, St. Peter’s in Lewisburg and St. John’s in Lewisburg. Final worship service was Sunday, February 23
. Proceeds from sale of property will fund a variety of community-based missions in the area including food distribution.
Zion’s Reformed in Ephrata
Founded in 1852. Zion’s formed originally as a union church to serve both Lutheran and Reformed Germans in the area. Later the two groups separated and built their own churches. The current Zion building still displays the bell and weathervane from the original church. The building was sold recently to the Coptic Church in the area, who will benefit from the beautiful gathering space. Financial distributions have been sent to
Ephrata Area Social Services
Power Packs Project, Ephrata Manor
Bethany Children’s Home
Water Street Mission
Penn Central Conference and more.
Due to Covid-19, Zion’s was unable to have a closing worship service.
St. John’s UCC in Lebanon
: Founded in 1859 and served by the illustrious Rev. Henry Harbaugh. The church building will transfer to the Penn Central Conference in July (future use under exploration). Meanwhile, sacred objects will move to the sister church, St. Mark’s in Lebanon, including the original 1859 Bible presented to the church by Tabor Reformed Church, the mother church in the area at the time. Final worship service for members is Sunday June 28
at 10:30 AM. Financial proceeds will benefit St. Mark’s church, the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society, the Penn Central Conference, Lebanon County Christian Ministries (the local food bank), Lebanon Rescue Mission (the local homeless shelter), and Lebanon Valley Home in Annville. Rev. Dave Jones has served as their pastor, and also at St. Mark’s.
Zion UCC in New Providence
: Founded in 1730 this church includes a historic graveyard. The church building will be sold while the graveyard will exist as a separate entity with its own endowment. Rev. Bob Bistline has been serving recently and the final worship service will be Sunday July 26
at 3:00 PM (in person). Dr. Lee Barrett from Lancaster Theological Seminary will preach. (Note, these plans are subject to change depending on course of Covid). Distribution of financial assets is still in discussion.
All of these church communities will be named and remembered at our Annual Meeting on August 29