OUR FIRST HUNDRED YEARS: 1875-1975
EXCERPTS FROM “125 YEARS OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS: THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF BETHLEHEM 1875-2000”
PRAISING GOD AND TAKING COURAGE: 1875-1900
…A mustard seed, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches…
For The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, the parable of the mustard seed serves as an example of how great growth can come from humble beginnings. This small congregation that began in the latter half of the 19th century had, even then, the promise of ministry and service, which would in time circle the globe. That kind of growth could hardly be envisioned by the 22 men and women who signed a petition in 1875 asking that a church be organized “under the style and title of The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.” Bethlehem in 1875 was a community of 14,000, and was as diverse in its businesses and interests as it was in its ethnic and cultural make up. Many Presbyterians felt that the German pastors were not reaching the English-speaking portion of the population, and that a church of their own theology and type of worship was much needed.
And so on Sunday, November 14, 1875 in the parlor of the YMCA this Presbyterian Church was formed and took its place among eight other Protestant churches in Bethlehem. Twenty-one persons entered into a covenant with God signified by their uplifted hands. Four elders were elected and ordained, the Lord’s Supper was administered, and this first organizational service closed with the Doxology and Benediction.
In the early days, various clergymen held Sunday services in the parlor of the parsonage that was located at the southeast corner of Broad and High Streets. With some apprehension the small congregation moved to an unoccupied church building in 1877, formerly used by the Moravians. $160 was paid for a one-year lease for the church and an adjoining house for Sabbath School purposes. These buildings were later converted into two houses at 57 and 59 West Union Boulevard. Attendance began to rise accordingly from 21 to 80. Meanwhile, several candidates for the pulpit were heard with different degrees of satisfaction. At a church meeting called in March of 1876, the Rev. Alexander D. Moore of Northumberland, Pennsylvania, was enthusiastically called to become the first full time pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem and he served for 15 years.
In May of the same year a silver communion cup and a baptismal bowl were given as gifts to the church and were used to administer the sacraments until the early 1900s.
The first statistical report of the Church reflects its struggles and its steady progress: Communicants–28, Sabbath School–140, $2 contributed to General Assembly and $1,711 of congregational expenses. Help came from the National Board of Home Missions in an initial grant of $300, later to reach $1,500. On another November date, two years later in 1897, the Session and Trustees appeared before Judge Meyers in Easton and the Church became incorporated.
The use of capitalization in the “Church” refers to The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem and is used to avoid repeated use of the formal title.
During the summer of 1877 a prominent Presbyterian minister from Philadelphia, who was a former moderator of the General Assembly and current President of the Board of Home Missions, spent some months in Bethlehem, at that rime considered a summer resort. The Rev. George W Musgrave, D.D., LLD., found the little church on Union Street, preached to the congregation, and declared that even the Apostle Paul could not have drawn a congregation in a place like that!
Dr. Musgrave asked the officers of the Church to go with him in search of a suitable location for a church building, and thus began an exceptional relationship between Dr. Musgrave and the people of First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem. He then offered a challenge grant of $1,000 if the congregation would purchase a lot and in a year erect a chapel to cost no less than $3,000.
Blessing God and Taking Courage, this handful of people, encouraged by and in partnership with their friend, purchased a lot measuring 110 feet on Center Street and 80 feet on North Street for $1,800. Then Musgrave offered an additional amount of $500 if the proposed building would have a second story for Sunday School purposes, an additional $200 if it would have stained glass windows, and $300 if the debt would be reduced, bringing his total gift to $2,000.
The total cost of the property and building was $7,500, with an indebtedness of $2,300. The Musgrave Chapel, as the building was co be called, was dedicated on Sunday April 7, 1878. Again Dr. Musgrave challenged the congregation to pay off the debt by offering a gift of $500; the local paper, The Bethlehem Times, published an article of encouragement and support; and by Tuesday, April 9 of the same week the entire debt was paid off!
The daily press also noted the presents that were given to the Church – slate hitching posts, a bell, screens for the windows, a pulpit desk, clock, pew ends, a Bible and hymnal for the pulpit. Later the Moravian Young Ladies Seminary planted poplar trees on the Lot.
An interesting piece of history is connected with the bell. During the presidential campaign of General Ulysses S. Grant, a bell was cast by the Bethlehem Iron Co.— the forerunner of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Several men casting the bell threw silver dollars into the molten metal to insure a silver tone. The bell was mounted on a truck and rung throughout the Lehigh Valley. It was later secured from the Iron Works by an elder of the Church, who was superintendent of the foundry where the bell was made. When the Musgrave Chapel was razed in 1912, the bell was sold for $50 to the school board of Freemansburg for mounting in the Madison School’s belfry. Later the bell was removed from the school and placed in front of the Freemansburg Borough Hall.
Once again Dr. Musgrave came to the aid of the Church by purchasing two adjacent lots costing $1,400, one to the north on Center Street and one to the west on North Street. In all he gave approximately $8,000 in financial contributions, as well as inspirational encouragement, when both were needed most. The congregation, in appreciation and respect after Dr. Musgrave’s death in August of 1882, draped the Church in mourning for thirty days and resolved: “That we shall ever cherish his memory; and as long as The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pa., shall exist, his generous aid and his exalted virtues shall not be forgotten.”
The Church grew steadily in membership with some amusing sidelights appearing in the Session records:
” … that it be announced from the pulpit, if the way be clear…that the members of the congregation should not occupy the same seats from Sabbath to Sabbath…Whereas our Church is not yet self supporting…the pastor requests some of the ladies of the Church to act as organist by turns.”
… and from December 1887, ”that all members of the church shall consider it to be their duty to visit those new families nearest them.”
In 1889 we see the first request from the Presbytery and Synod to assist others in the denomination; an assessment of $30 for aiding the weaker churches of the Presbytery.
The cause of Christian missions had become the special concern of church women all over America during the 19th Century. Many activities of the women of The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem were part of this national trend. A Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was organized in 1884, followed by a Women’s Home Missionary Society in 1885. The two groups joined to become the Women’s Missionary Society in 1898.
Mission-centered groups were organized for girls of various ages under such names as the Musgrave Mission Band, the Little Light Bearers Society, the Wide Awake Mission Band, the In-As-Much Circle, and the E.B.R. Circle for teenage girls.
Several members of the Church led a Sabbath School in Hottelsville, in an area north of Bethlehem, which was attended by more than 50 members of the Church. It came under care of the Session in 1894 as the Hottelsville Mission Sunday School of The First Presbyterrian Church of Bethlehem until it came under the care of a Lutheran Church. The small church was located on the East side of the block between Elizabeth and Washington Avenues, and later was turned into an office and conference rooms for a community agency.
In 1891 a call was extended to the Rev. Josiah L. Litch, pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church of Norristown, Pa., who was installed in 1892 as the Church’s second pastor. The original manse at Broad and High Streets, where the Church’s first services were held, was sold for $4,000. A house on the north lot of Center Street, that Dr. Musgrave had previously purchased, was erected at a cost of $4,830 and occupied by 1893.
The Rev. Litch also hoped to erect a new church building during his pastorate, but the “courage of the original 21” and a benefactor such as Dr. Musgrave seemed to be lacking. However, a building fund was established with contributions of $1,700. The fund was to eventually play an important role in the construction of a new building by 1913.
Rev. Litch was greatly loved by his people, and his death in August 1900 came as a shock to the Church. The Session minutes record the sentiments of the congregation, “That we bear testimony to the earnestness and faithfulness of his work as a pastor; to his remarkable eloquence as a preacher; to his sincere effort to win souls for the Master; and to his desire to build up and strengthen this Church.”
The first 25 years of The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem were filled with courage and determination. From the humble beginning of 21 members who had no meeting place, to a Church of 184 members with a chapel, a manse, and a vigorous Sunday School, is a progression co be viewed with honor and gratitude within the Church’s rich history.
CHRIST IS OUR CORNERSTONE: 1900-1925
The third pastor to be called by The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem was the Rev. Francis H. Laird, from the Presbyterian Church in Portland, Pa. He was installed in 1901, but remained only until 1904 because of ill health.
Several times it was suggested that a new church be built. Dr. Musgrave had suggested it not long after the Musgrave Chapel was built, as did Rev. Litch. Rev. Laird also thought a new church should be undertaken, but the time never seemed right. Instead, renovations were made to the Church at a cost of $500. In 1903 a fire broke out in a corner of the basement which destroyed part of the church floor and the fresco work. Not more than a month later the Chapel was carpeted, the frescos repaired, and electric lights installed.
The Rev James Robinson, pastor of the Olivet Presbyterian Church in Reading, Pa, answered a unanimous call to become the fourth pastor in 1905 and began a long and loving relationship with First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem that continued for more than 25 years. During his years as minister, membership and giving increased, and the physical property changed considerably.
The King’s Daughters, a women’s group collecting funds for different needs within the Church and community, presented the Church with a large oak communion table and 180 individual communion glasses in five wooden trays, replacing the silver cup.
In 1906 the Session complied with the request of the congregation to change the serving of wine used for communion to the juice of the grape.
The desires for a new church building became more vocal as the need to have an adequate building to serve the congregation and attract new members became evident. It was also generally thought in those days that the building, their beloved Musgrave Chapel, was the least attractive of the church buildings in the city!
In 1912 a committee was elected to begin planning and collecting money for a new building, the cost to be $22,000. The $22,000 figure was later increased to $25,000. The building fund which had been started years before had by now accumulated more than $6,800, with another $7,000 in pledges, bringing the total to a solid beginning of $14,000. A Philadelphia architect and an Allentown builder were selected.
The old Musgrave Chapel was torn down on November 28, 1912 to make room for the new building. While construction was underway the auditorium of the Franklin Elementary School, directly across Center Street, was used for services, without charge from the Bethlehem School Board. The cornerstone for the new building was dedicated in March of 1913 at a Saturday service in the Franklin auditorium. Many local ministers, including the President of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, participated. The hymn “Christ is Our Cornerstone” was central to the service.
The cornerstone was a piece of Carolina granite given by the contractor. Enclosed in a copper box and sealed were such items as a history of the Church, The Presbyterian journal, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, The Bethlehem Times and The South Bethlehem Globe newspapers, a list of members of the Church, two Sunday bulletins and several coins.
By November 1913 the new church building at Center and North Streets was completed. Dedicatory services of celebration were held for an entire week with dignitaries visiting from New York City and Princeton Theological Seminary. The total cost of the church building including the furnishings was approximately $32,000–$10,000 more than the original estimate.
The building construction was not to end there. Increasing attendance at Sunday School brought about the decision to replace the current Sunday School room with a larger, modern room that could be opened to the sanctuary with a gymnasium and additional rooms below ground. An adjoining lot on North Street was purchased for this annex building. Construction for the project began in May 1920 and was completed by March 1921 with a total cost of approximately $72,000. That this additional space was more than twice the amount paid for the church, only eight years earlier, indicates the importance and priority given to Sunday School education and activities for the growing congregation.
As with the Musgrave Chapel, many gifts were presented by members or committees of the congregation–pews, book racks, pulpit cushions and Bible, collection plates, carpeting, memorial windows for the church as well as the Sunday School room. Contributions toward the purchase of a new Mohler organ costing $2,000 were made by the King’s Daughters and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
A beautiful marble baptismal font was presented in 1923 by a couple who were members of the Church, replacing the silver bowl given in 1876 Although a silver baptismal bowl has often been used in the intervening years, the marble font will be restored to use in the year 2000, the 125th Anniversary of the Church.
During the first 50 years in the life of the Church, the membership grew to 670, the Sunday School continued to be healthy and active, a new church building replaced the original chapel and a Sunday School wing was added. Dr. Robinson, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary said, ” … hitherto hath the Lord helped us”. Other notes of interest during the years 1900 to 1925 include: Sunday School sessions were changed from the afternoon to 9:45 in the morning. A schedule of ushers was initiated by the Elders and Trustees of the Church until the responsibility was taken over by the Young Men’s Club. In May 1914 weekly offering envelopes were introduced, as was the Every Member Canvass, whereby each member of the Church was visited personally and asked to consider pledging.
During the First World War American flags were placed in the church tower and the Sunday School room. A Roll of Honor was placed in the vestibule, and a memorial service was held for a young man of the Church who died in France.
The Church sent congratulations to the Moravian Church on the observance of their 175th anniversary in June 1917.
Also in 1917 a Boy Scout Troop was organized which met in the Sunday School room. This was to become Troop IL the oldest Scout Troop in Bethlehem.
In June 1919 Moravian College and Theological Seminary bestowed upon Rev. Robinson the degree of Doctor of Divinity, the first person outside of the Moravian Church to receive an honorary degree from that institution.
50-50 in 1950: 1925-1950
The Rev. James Robinson, now in his 20th year, continued to serve the Church as pastor. In 1927 the Church voted to adopt its first foreign missionary. A medical student in China was selected by the Women’s Missionary Society and support was continued until 1930. The Church then sponsored a missionary to Korea from 193l to 1945. After 1945 the man and his family returned to this country having spent over a year in hiding from Japanese soldiers. The women of the church had been involved in Christian missions since 1894, as described in more detail in Chapter One, long before the Church began to support missionaries in the field.
An attempt was made in 1927 to change the charter to allow women to serve on the Board of Trustees, but the attempt failed. Our first woman trustee, Ruth Kent, was elected in 1972.
In the fall of 1928, Rev. Linus E. Brown, the first Associate Minister, was hired to assist Dr. Robinson in his increasing duties.
The Church celebrated Dr. Robinson’s 25 years as pastor in 1930, bur two years later, in June of 1932, he died of an illness that had plagued him for ten years. An active Pulpit Committee considered many candidates and recommended The Rev. W. Sherman Skinner to the congregation. He was unanimously elected and installed in February 1933.
Two important decisions were made at a special congregational meeting in November of that same year. The first was to organize a Board of Deacons to minister to the sick, shut-ins and needy of the congregation. The second was to organize a nominating committee whose function would be to select nominees for various church offices.
It is interesting to note that the makeup of the nominating committee begun in 1934 still remains effective today: 1 elder to serve as chairman, 1 deacon, and 1 trustee–each appointed by their own boards and 4 members at-large from the congregation. Later this was amended to elect 2 elders, 2 deacons, and 2 trustees, one each year for two years.
The first Minister of Music, Miss Dorothy Cox (who became Mrs. William Hitchens) began her duties in September 1934. She served for six years, formed choirs for four different age groups, and continued to substitute at various times until 1950.
In 1936 Rev. Skinner left to become co-pastor of the Germantown Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The Rev. Augustus Welsh, pastor of Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church (which later became the United Church of Christ) on Center and Market Streets offered his services for any emergencies that might arise in the interim period. The Pulpit Committee that secured Skinner was reactivated. Although the Committee traveled as far west as Cincinnati and as far south as Wilmington, their job was assisted by an unexpected circumstance.
It was all due to a case of laryngitis. A good friend of the Church, Dr. Roberts of Princeton Theological Seminary, sent a young man, Rev. Barnett S. Eby, to take his place in the pulpit one Sunday morning. Rev. Eby made such an impression on the congregation with his forceful sermon that the Committee’s work ended and Eby was called in June 1937.
In 1937 Edward McCance, a young man of the Church, entered the Ministry and came under care of Presbytery. He was the first to do so in the 62 years since the Church was founded. Rev. Ronald Brooks and family went as missionaries to Africa, and were adopted by the Church.
The Session increased from 9 to 12 members and the Deacons from 6 to 9 in 1940.
On December 31, 1940 a mortgage burning was held at a Watchnight Service, as the New Year’s Eve service was called. The debt of $35,000 was cleared.
Rev. Eby wished to return To Princeton to study for his Doctor’s Degree. He offered to resign, take a leave of absence, or do whatever the congregation would decide. They decided on a leave of absence with the hope that he would return. They also authorized session to engage an assistant pastor for a period of one year.
The Rev. Roger P. Enloe was thus engaged and began work in June, 1941. In 1942 Enloe was appointed co be a co-pastor with Rev. Eby. However, Eby decided to accept a call co a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Mr. Enloe offered to resign but was persuaded to remain and was installed as pastor in October 1942.
During World War II, 134 young men and women of the Church enlisted or were called to serve. Among them was Rev. Enloe who joined the Navy in 1944 and was assigned to the Marine Corps where he served until August 1946. Seven of the young men lost their lives defending their country. Dr. David D. Burrell served as interim pastor until Rev. Enloe returned in January 1947. Miss Elinor Kratz (lacer Mrs. Luther Conant, Jr.) was appointed the first Director of Christian Education. A summer vacation Bible School was begun at the Church in 1947, an offshoot of the cooperative venture with other churches starred in 1924.
Beginning in April 1947 an early morning service was added. The first service began at 9:00 a.m., followed by Sunday School at 10:00 a.m., and an identical church service at 11:00 am. The manse next to the Church was not being used as the pastor’s home and was converted into a Church House for church offices and meeting rooms for various committees and organizations. It was here that Westminster Fellowship, the high school age youth group, met every Sunday evening.
It was thought for some time that one women’s group would be more efficient than the various women’s societies. The King’s Daughters, Ladies’ Mite, In-as-Much Circle, etc. became the Women’s Association organized in June 1947.
Attendance at Sunday evening services and Wednesday evening prayer meeting was decreasing. With a great deal of reluctance the Session decided to discontinue those services as of Easter 1948. Also during that spring the Trustees purchased a house at 707 West Market Street as the manse of The First Presbyterian Church.
The Men’s Club had been holding successful supper meetings and in April 1949 the men decided to unite with the National Council of Presbyterian Men. A charter was received and a local council of men was divided into seven groups.
Because of the inadequacy of both the Church and Sunday School buildings to accommodate the growing congregation, a committee was appointed to investigate the possibilities of relieving this situation. After many meetings the committee presented a report to the congregation in June 1949 with these options:
- Purchase property and erect adequate buildings
- Increase the size of the present building
- Build a second church building, probably on the West side, and divide the congregation
The congregation voted to buy a site for a new building and a new committee was appointed to conduct a survey and determine the cost of a new church…a committee that was to see its study brought to fruition two and a half years later.
A Memorial Trust Fund was established at this time to offer members a means of expressing their sympathy to bereaved families, which would also provide funds for the education of young people for full time Christian service.
Rev. Enloe inaugurated Communicant Classes for the instruction of youth and adults wishing to join the church.
In the fall of 1949 Mr. Stoddart Smith was engaged as Organist and Choir Director with work to begin January 1950. Rev. Enloe was sent to Italy by the Foreign Mission Board of the General Assembly to represent the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. at a meeting of Protestant Churches.
For many years it was hoped that the Church’s amount for benevolence giving would equal the amount spent on expenses for the Church. A goal had been set some years prior—”50-50 in 1950″. In 1950 the goal was reached! 816 pledges brought $30,000 for benevolence and $30,000 for the Church. The Church grew to 1,000 members with increased numbers at work in various church activities as well as in other churches in the Presbytery.
MORE MEMBERS MORE LIKE CHRIST: 1950-1975
Early in this time period, in May 1951, Rev. Enloe resigned so that he might go to Spain to work for the board of Foreign Missions as part of its European staff During that summer an interim pastor came to this country from Wales and immediately captivated the congregation with his authoritative preaching and engaging Welsh accent.
Dr. Roberts, Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary and the congregation’s long-term friend, had accepted an appointment for the summer of 1951 at the Presbyterian Church of Llandudno, Wales, where The Rev. Elam Davies was pastor. Dr. Roberts arranged for Rev. Davies to fill the pulpit at The First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem during that time. The Pulpit Nominating Rev. Elam Davies 1952 to 1961 Committee was so drawn to Rev. Davies’ preaching and pastoral skills that they called him to become Senior Pastor. Davies was installed in March 1952 and served during a hallmark period of growth and expansion while guiding the building of a new church edifice.
The growth in membership and increasingly diverse demands upon the Pastor’s time prompted the need for competent pastoral assistance. The Rev. Dan Hiett was hired as Assistant Pastor from 1952 to 1954, followed by the Rev. Joel Mattison who served until 1956. Rev. Vernon Hoover came in 1957 and remained through the interim period following Davies’ departure in 1961, as did Rev. Jack Bowers who came in 1960 and remained until 1963. Dr. William Hulick was Christian Education Director and William J. Whitehead became Organist and Choir Director.
In September 1952, after more than a year and a half of work by some sixty people, the Building and Development Committee recommended:
- That the congregation be continued as one unit
- That the present edifice be sold
- That the congregation approve the purchase of a new site at a location which was projected to be the center of growth of future population north of Bethlehem.
In January 1953, 52 acres of cornfields on the Bath Pike, considered at that time to be a distance out in the country, were purchased for $80,900.
A mortgage of $60,000 was to be paid in 20 semi-annual installments. Forty-two members of the congregation agreed to meet any default in payment.
More than 50 churches of various faiths and regions were consulted and/or visited. In June of 1955 a contract was awarded to construct a sanctuary and a south wing with furnished classrooms and offices at a cost of $1,250,000.
Assets including cash, pledges, the value of the present Church and other properties were sufficient, except for a loan of $200,000.
Groundbreaking for the new Church was held in June 1955. The first spades of earth were turned by the eldest Church members. In a few weeks the outline of the new sanctuary, from base to steeple, framed in steel beams, was visible on the horizon.
The method of framing the structure with 280 tons of steel beams, fastened together with cold steel bolts, had one of its earliest applications in the church construction here.
The new sanctuary had a seating capacity of approximately 750 with choir seating an additional 42. At the end of a seven-year building program, actual expenditures had increased by 5%; all overruns were approved by the congregation and made possible by unsolicited contributions.
The bell for the steeple was forged in England and was given by Building Committee Chairman C.H.H. Weikel and his wife, in memory of their son who had given his life in World War II. Other unsolicited gifts made possible the organ chimes, landscaping and the floodlighting of the steeple.
Among the many letters of encouragement from well wishers was one from President Eisenhower.
Dedication Week was celebrated at the end of February and into early March 1957. Rev. Sherman Skinner, Pastor from 1933 to 1936, spoke on Thursday evening of that week.
Special music was provided by the Princeton Seminary Oratorio Choir. Elam Davies shared these thoughts with the congregation, as Chairman Weikel presented the key.
“Our first word as we enter this new sanctuary and its spacious Christian Education facilities, is one of deep gratitude to God for His guidance over the years…We call to mind the words of the psalmist, ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.’ “
Three years later, in April 1960, the Building and Development Committee, hard at work once again, was authorized to begin the design and planning for a Fellowship Hall and Chapel. In July 1961 construction began and was completed by September 1962. The project was divided into three phases and amounted to $2,200,000. By January 1975 the paid-up mortgage on the entire project was “burned” in a special ceremony at the annual Congregational Meeting.
From the decision in 1950 to seek a new site for a new church building, to its financial completion in 1975, 25 years of committee meetings, blueprints, and the faithful dedication of the congregation were rewarded in this momentous venture and symbol of faith.
In 1961 Dr. Davies accepted a call from the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, Illinois. A Pulpit Committee was appointed and began a search for a new senior pastor. Some of the Committee members heard the Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie of Winnetka, Illinois speak at a conference and were struck by his personal experiences of faith and his vision for the church. Rev. Ogilvie accepted the Church’s call and was installed in September 1962 and served until 1972. With a background of counseling and relational theology, Ogilvie introduced Koinonia, a Christian fellowship within the Session. The Elders divided into small groups for the purpose of mutual nurture through sharing faith and personal experiences.
The Session also reorganized into departments of Worship, Koinonia, Evangelism, Outreach, and Stewardship, each chaired by a Session member with other members from the congregation serving on the committees.
The development and aiding of Koinonia groups for the congregation became the task of Rev. Bryan Jay Cannon who came to the staff in January 1964. At the same time Cannon took responsibility for Inquirers’ Groups as new people sought to join the Church. Youth Inquirers’ Groups were begun in 1972.
In 1963 the Brandt Memorial Scholarship Fund was founded in honor of Barry Brandt, a son of the Church who lost his life during military service. The fund continues to provide educational opportunities to deserving students who demonstrate scholastic ability and the need for financial assistance.
In 1964 a week-day Nursery School was begun for 4 to 5 year olds in the Church School rooms, serving families of the Church and the community. Financially supported through tuition, and with its own Board of Directors, it continues to serve as an ongoing outreach program of the Church.
The Staff grew and experienced many changes: The Rev. Spencer W. Marsh, Jr., Christian Education from 1964 to 1966; Rev. Edward Rettig, Youth Pastor from 1966 to 1968; Dr. Johannes de Kock, Associate Pastor from 1966 to 1968. Rev. Keith Brown, Adult Education Pastor in September 1969; Rev. John Brown, Youth Pastor from 1969 to 1971; Rev. Russell H. Feroe, Jr., Pastor of Outreach and Youth from 1971 co 1973. Mrs. Hugh Roberts (Mary) became Director of Christian Education and Children’s Work in 1966. She laid a strong foundation for children’s work and served with spirit and wisdom until 1977.
The Rev. Richard M. Ferguson, Pastoral Care and Administration, came to the Church in 1970 from St. Clairsville, Ohio. A gifted man in organizational and administrative duties with insights into managing personnel issues, he was also asked to serve in regional and national aspects of the Presbyterian denomination. In September 1975 he was elected Moderator of the Synod of the Trinity, the regional body under which First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem is governed, the largest of 17 synods in the United Presbyterian Church.
In February 1972, Lloyd Ogilvie was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California where he became Senior Pastor and started a television ministry, Let God Love You, allowing people of the Bethlehem Church to stay in touch with their dynamic, relational former preacher. Lloyd Ogilvie was later appointed Chaplain of the U.S. Senate in January, 1995, and upon confirmation, began his duties in March, 1995.
A Pulpit Committee was appointed. By this time Search Committees studied hundreds of dossiers and traveled as far afield as California. But similar to the times when interim preachers Rev. Eby and Rev. Davies came to the attention of those attending worship, many in the congregation were commenting about the increased maturity and wisdom of Keith Brown’s preaching.
The Rev. Thomas Tewell, a 1973 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, was called as Assistant Pastor for Adult Education and installed in 1973. At the same service the Rev. David Dorst, formerly youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, was installed as Assistant Pastor for Youth. In 1973 William Whitehead, a gifted organist and musician, left to become Organist and Choir Director at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.
In 1971, Ruth Kent was the first woman Trustee to be elected, almost 100 years since Trustees were first elected to oversee the facilities and finances of the Church.
Dr. Mary Faith Carson came to Bethlehem as Professor of Religion at Moravian College and became part of the staff in 1973 as a Parish Associate, assisting in worship services and Adult Education.
From the 1960s into the 1970s many programs relating to spiritual growth of the Church were started. Many remain in effect today, or had their beginnings in those ministries. In the area of spiritual growth and increased communication the following are but some examples:
In 1965 special services of prayer and the laying on of hands for healing were started. Also, a Guild of Intercessors, formed by some 60 members, committed to pray regularly for those in need.
Macedonian Exchanges were begun. Teams of two to twenty visitors from the Church traveled to other churches to witness to their faith and what it meant in their individual lives.
The Church newspaper, The Pulse of the Church Alive, began publication in 1968. Tape cassettes of worship services became available to shut-ins and members of the congregation who had missed the service.
Early morning worship services were held on the Church grounds on several Sundays during the summer. A Thanksgiving Service of praise highlighted with special music was begun in 1974.
What had been known as Sunday School took on new forms. In 1971 a Youth Academy for 11th and 12th grades began, in which three to four courses were offered for twelve-week periods. The open concept idea merged two or more age groups in “learning centers.” Bible Study series were offered by pastors. The Church Library was expanded to include Church history, personal devotion, Scriptural commentaries, and Christian social responsibility.
There was tremendous growth in the Church’s outreach to others, and local mission efforts were enhanced by participation with the Greater Bethlehem Area Council of Churches.
A Vietnamese refugee family was sponsored by the Church in 1975 and helped to begin new lives in this country, just as the Church assisted in the resettlement of European refugees following World War II
Several members of the Church were very active on the Board of Housing Opportunity Association, a community organization helping families to provide down payments to own their homes.
Garden plots for use by members of the congregation and other interested persons from public housing or the Spanish speaking community were plowed and prepared for gardening.
Beginning in 1968 deputations of high school youth were sent to various parts of the country to help where needed. Teams have been conducting vacation Bible Schools, cleaning up neighborhoods, helping in reconstruction, etc., ever since. In 1974 The Tent ministry was initiated with varied programs of interest featured on three summer evenings a week near Memorial Pool.
The Church helped to purchase the Central Park Nursing Home in 1973, which later became Lehigh Manor, now Westminster Village.
The Church supported South Terrace Neighborhood Association, the Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations, Youth Enabling Sponsors (YES) for young people who were on Northampton County probation.
Dr. and Mrs. George Conard lived in South Korea for six months where Dr. Conard taught Engineering at Yonsei University, in response to a program entitled Volunteers in Missions, a clearing-house for matching talents of individuals with mission needs. In addition, strong Mission interest and support was given to the Brookses in Cameroon, West Africa; the Meloys in Lebanon; the Moffetts in Seoul, Korea; the Lloyds in Japan and Rev. Nelson in North Carolina.
By 1975 a number of Koinonia Groups, called K groups, had been meeting for 15 years reflecting the strength of small group Christian fellowship. The final mortgage note of the Church’s building indebtedness was ceremonially burned at the 1975 Annual Meeting in January.
The 1OOth anniversary of the Church was celebrated with 10 days of special services from November 7–16, 1975. Former pastors Eby, Davies, and Ogilvie spoke, and members of the church enjoyed visits from pastors Mattison and Hoover, former organists Stoddart Smith and William Whitehead, and missionaries Ronald Brook and the Meloys.
The First Presbyterian Church, 2400 strong by 1975, spanned ten decades of faithfulness with members living out their Christian convictions as Christ’s ministers in the Church, the community and the world.