“The Look of the Future”
1854 to 2004
150 years of Ministry at Phelps Chapel UMC
“The Church in the Valley” as it was so sweetly referred to by Rev. Daniel S. Robinson 50 years ago, still has those sweet words and memories that won hearts to Jesus Christ and his church at work today.
Some of the names remain the same even though they may be older, grayer and a lot wiser. They are still faithful to their mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching obedience to all the things that Jesus taught.
By God’s grace, love and mercy our Phelps Chapel ancestors have been called home and the ones living now are still carrying on God’s plan from 150 years ago. God’s plan for the Phelps Chapel mission is still steadfast and will continue to be the anchor we can hold onto in this valley.
Phelps Chapel will continue to be a beacon of light that will guide and provide a safe haven and environment during the storms of life. Our bell will continue to ring “The Good News” of Jesus Christ, calling all to come, it’s time to worship, fellowship and preach his gospel of salvation and love.
I am so blessed to be appointed to Phelps Chapel United Methodist Church! The faithful brothers and sisters have ministered to me as much as I have ministered to them. And thank God for this wonderful opportunity and rich blessing that I have received from all the faithful members of Phelps Chapel. God bless you for another 150 years of celebrating life as a faith community.
Sincerely, Your Friend and Pastor,
Terry L. Hughes
The above introduction was to the program produced for the 150th anniversary celebration of Phelps Chapel. The text below is from the program itself.
Phelps Chapel. . . Its First One Hundred years
By Gerald B. Wagner
Methodism in the Pine Creek valley goes back to 1791 when the Northumberland Circuit was established with two ministers being assigned to the charge by the Baltimore Conference. Each man preached daily, taking four weeks to cover the circuit. The circuit began at Northumberland, up the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to Muncy, Williamsport, Jersey Shore and Lock Haven, across Penn’s Valley and Buffalo Valley, back to Northumberland, up the North Branch to Berwick and Wilkes-Barre.
From records left by pastors of the circuit, meetings were held in the Pine Creek area near what is now Slate Run and Waterville very early in the 19th century. The next stop was at the home of Benjamin Baird, at what is now Liberty. No stops were recorded in the area around Phelps Chapel.
Most of the people who settled the Pine Creek area were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, so the first church in the area was the Pine Creek Presbyterian Church. In fact, Methodists were scorned by most people. The following story is told by one of the early ministers of the Presbyterian group:
While preaching in Jersey Shore one day, he noticed a man from Pine Creek and told him to spread the word that there would be preaching the next day in Pine Creek. Upon his arrival the next day, he found a very small crowd to meet him. Upon questioning some of the folk he discovered that the man who spread the word was a Methodist, and the people believed it was a Methodist preacher who was coming.
But such was not the case always, and by 1850 a church had been built in the village of Phelps Mills. The exact time of this work is not recorded, but it is believed that it was done between 1847 and 1850, making the structure over 100 years old. It was in 1847 that the mills were sold to Annson G. Phelps, of New York, and business began on a large scale. The main business of the firm was lumber, but a large grist mill was erected also, just above the site of the original grist mill built in 1789.
It was on June 25, 1855 that the deed for the land and church building was turned over to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Phelps Mills by the owners of the property. The deed traveled to England to get the signatures of Daniel James and his wife, who lived in Liverpool. The other signatures recorded on the deed are those of Annson G. Phelps, Jane G. Phelps, his wife; William E. Dodge, Melissa P. Dodge, his wife; James Stokes, Caroline P. Stokes, his wife, and P. W. E. Dodge, attorney for the group.
Church Land Described
The deed stipulates that the land and church building be used as a place of worship by some “Evangelical Protestant denomination”. When the land ceases to be so used, it reverts to the Phelps estate. The land is described in the deed as follows:” Commencing at a post at the Sound end of the Garden Fence, of the Christ Farm House on Jersey Shore and Coudersport Turnpike 72W. 125 feet. S. 18 W. 100 feet, W. 72 E. 125 S. 18 E. 100 feet to place of beginning”.
Services by a regular assigned Methodist minister probably began in 1854 when the Great Island Charge was created by dividing the former Jersey Shore Circuit. The same year at the meeting of the Baltimore Conference, the Bellefonte District was created to care for the churches in the area. The Rev. George Warren was assigned as pastor and served two years. In 1856, the Rev. Justus A. Melick was assigned. In 1858, the church was part of the area, which became the East Baltimore Conference, and the Rev. John Lloyd was appointed, serving two years and being followed by the Rev. E. E. Allen.
Civil War Pastors
The Revs. J. A. Demoyer and J. P. Swanger each served one year and in 1864 the Rev. James T. Wilson was appointed. He left in the middle of the conference year to become part of the Union army in the Civil War, and no appointment was made until conference met the next spring. At that time, the Rev. George Leidy came to serve the charge. The Rev. James Hunger was the minister in 1866 and 1867, and the next year the Rev. A. Duncan Yocum was the pastor.
In 1869, the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference was formed and Phelps Chapel became part of the Williamsport District of that conference. The district was brought into being at the same time. The Rev. John Guss was the first Central Pennsylvania pastor to be assigned to the Great Island Charge, serving one year.
The Rev. A. B. Taylor served from 1870 to 1872, being succeeded for a one-year pastorate by the Rev. Elisha Butler. The Rev. D. B. McCloskey and the Rev. N. B, Smith followed with two-year appointments.
In 1884, the Rev. G. W. Dunlap began three years on the charge, followed by the thee-year service of the Rev. B. W. Wormer. From 1890 to 1894, the Rev. James H. Morgart was the minister, the longest time spent by one pastor since the formation of the church. His pastorate was followed by a four-year term by the Rev. George N. Frownfelter.
Lumbering faded from the scene over the years as floods washed out mills and unwise practices soon saw a depletion of the tree supply. Floods in 1865 and 1876 took their toll, but the greatest destruction came in the flood of 1889. However, the railroads came to the rescue of the economy of the area by building up its shops at Jersey Shore and Avis.
In 1889, the Rev. Samuel Ham began a distinguished ministry. In addition to his work at Phelps Chapel, he began Methodism at Oak Grove, the present community of Avis. In 1902, an extensive program of repairs and renovation was undertaken by the Rev. Mr. Ham and his faithful parishioners. During the conference year of 1901-1902, more than $1,300 was spent on the repairs.
The work was completed during the one-year ministry of the Rev. Robert T. Whiteley. On May 24, 1903, the church was rededicated. Special services were held from Thursday until Sunday of that week. Speaking the first night was the Rev. D. M. Glover, of Flemington. Friday night, the Rev. W. Emerson Karns, then pastor of First Methodist Church, Jersey Shore, preached. Dr.B. J. Gray, president of Williamsport-Dickinson Seminary, was the Saturday night preacher. Sunday morning the church was rededicated, the Rev. Thomas S. Wilcox presiding elder of the Williamsport District, presiding. At the final service Sunday evening, the Rev. Mr. Morgan, then pastor at Montgomery, brought the message. Special music was had at each service.
Money Raised for Repairs
In all, $2,220 was spent in the work. Obtaining the money to pay for the repairs was the job of Dr. Gray, called by Elder Wilcox “the prince of beggars”. In those days, Dr. Gray spent much of his time conducting financial campaigns for new churches or those undergoing repairs. In the conference journals of the period, it is recorded time after time that financial campaigns were a success under the direction of Dr. Gray.
The Rev. Conway W. Dickerson was the last pastor of the Great Island Charge. He served it in 1904 and 1905. Alter conference in the spring of 1906, the Great Island Charge was divided into the Lock Haven Parish and the charge consisting of Woolrich, Avis, Charlton and Phelps Chapel. This arrangement continued until 1913. Pastors during this period were the Revs. Michael S. Derstine, Harry K. Ash and Rollin S. Taylor.
It was during the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Derstine that the first Ladies Aid, now the Woman’s Society of Christian Service, was formed.
Some of the leading members of the church just 50 years ago, as attested by their donations to the missionary work ofthe general church, were as follows: Edward Wentz and wife, W. G. Rorabaugh, J. K. Wolf and wife, Cecil Kable, N. J. Henry, E. L. Hunt, J. F. her and family, James Kline, J. H. Rorabaugh, Mrs. N. J. Henry, J. B. Kline, W. F. Marcus, Charles Kline, Nellie Denlap, Roy Kline, Jack Salada, Mrs. R.J. Crist and Jennie Crist.
At the 1913 session of the annual conference, Woolrich became a station and Avis, Charlton and Phelps Chapel were grouped together. The Revs. Archibald E. Mackie, Lewis E. Shefflier and Charles Figgles served one year each. The Revs. J. Earl Jacobs and James P Hurlburt divided the next four years and the Rev. Martin C. Flegal served the three years from 1921 to 1924.
Bell Placed in 1921
The bell, which can be heard ringing from the church’s belfry each Sunday, was placed during the Rev. Mr. Flegal’s ministry. The 1,240 pound bell was put in place Saturday, December 17, 1921. It cost $205.
The Rev. Bait E. Crites came to live in the parsonage at Avis in 1924 and remained through the 1925 conference year. At that time, Avis became a station and Charlton and Phelps Chapel became a charge. Thus a circuit which had been composed of as many as eight preaching places had been reduced to two by changing populations and the growth of some towns into stations.
Serving Charlton and Phelps Chapel from 1926 to 1930 were the following ministers: V. P. Whittaker, Russell Brown,
Harry Williams and J. F. Carson. The Rev. Charles E. Diehl served the Chapel and Limestone Church in the Faxon end of Williamsport in 1931 and 1932. Under this plan, one church had services in the morning and the other in the evening to allow time for the minister to travel the 20 miles between the churches. The Rev. W. A. Lepley served the churches from conference time in 1933 until his death February 15, 1934. The Rev. Carl C. Helt, then a student at Williamsport-Dickinson Seminary, finished out the conference year.
Station in 1934
Phelps Chapel became a station in 1934 when the Rev. O. S. Metzler, a retired minister living in Williamsport, began a service which lasted until his death February 10, 1941.
Jesse F. Carson took up the work again and served until 1943. On May 15 of that year, the present Lock Haven Parish was formed, consisting of Phelps Chapel, Chariton, Liberty and Dunnstown, and the Rev. Frank H. Weller took over the work of the parish.
It was during the last year of the Rev. Mr. Weller’s three- year pastorate that the church was renovated again. At this time, the inside of the sanctuary was resided, various small articles were bought to beautify the church, and the arch at the front of the sanctuary was completed, including two stained glass windows.
His pastorate was followed by that of the Rev. Parker Gardner who was pastor until ill health, which led to his death, forced him to retire in 1949.
At that time the work was assigned to the Rev. Daniel S. Robinson who is the pastor at the present time. He was assisted through the years by Ralph Gemberling, Max Cook, and Lewis Crouse and Gerald D. Wagner. During these past five years the church showed signs of becoming revitalized after a decline during the past quarter century.
The most extensive building project since the erection of the church building over 100 years ago was begun in April 1954, when a social hail was begun at the rear of the church, connected to the main building by a breezeway. The project was joined in by the men of the community, church and non-church members alike. Under the leadership of Carlton J. Greenaway, building chairman, the structure was able to be used in the last days of 1954 for the first time. At the centennial service, it was dedicated, even though some work remained to be completed.
The cinder block structure cost over $3,000 for materials and the time of over 100 men. In all, over 3,000 hours had been spent in constructing the addition which provided space for the children’s division of the Church School as well as a spacious meeting hall for “Neighbor Nights”, festivals, class meetings and other activities.
In preparation for the centennial observance, new carpeting had been laid throughout the sanctuary, the floors were reconditioned and six stained glass windows were installed. These were in memory of Mr. And Mrs. Cecil T. Kable, by their children; in honor of Mr. And Mrs. H. C. Bowers by their children; in memory of Mr. and Mrs. A. F. Wentz, by their sons; in honor of Mr. and Mrs. M. F. May, by theft children; presented by the H. B. Bible Class and the sixth one presented by the True Blue and R. K. Classes of the Church School.
Ministers from 1954 to 2004
During the tenure of Rev. Daniel Robinson (1951-1970) the outside of the church was enhanced by a lighted cross and railing around the steeple. This cross has become a landmark to those traveling Route 220. Also a stone bulletin board was installed on the front lawn and a new roof and chimney added. New lights were installed in the sanctuary as well as folding doors between the church and the adjoining room.
Rev. Rollin Taylor joined us in 1970. The congregation felt the need for additional parking so Charles Kable generously donated land across the road from the church for this purpose.
In June 1972 when Rev. Ferne Wolfe was appointed to our church we were- inundated with three feet of water in the sanctuary. No services were held until August 6, then only in the social hall. 1973 saw the rededication of the church and resumption of services in the main church. New carpeting, pews, choir chairs and a piano were added.
Thomas Jones and Joseph Yorks, student pastors, shared the charge preaching duties in 1976-77.
Robert Graybill arrived in July 1977 and was the first pastor to occupy the newly purchased parsonage in Avis. Also during his ministry a new utility room was added to the social hall and the metal steeple cone replaced.
In July 1979 Rev. Samuel Reed became our pastor and Nellie Gray, student pastor assisted. In 1982 Harold Baughman replaced Nellie Gray. During the 1980’s the Avis parsonage was paid off, a 9 x 12 storage room added to the rear of the social hail, storm windows installed and the kitchen was renovated.
Rev. Howard Woodruff joined us in July 1994. During his tenure the Avis parsonage was sold, the sanctuary repainted and Bert Keeler painted a mural of Christ on the back altar wall. Carpeting was replaced as well as the furnace. New front doors and a sound system were installed.
Tami Smith served as our pastor from July 1999 to June 2001.
Our present Pastor, Terry Hughes, was appointed in July 2001. During his tenure the Waterville Church closed and their members joined with us.
During his pastorate the aluminum siding was removed from the church and replaced by insulation board and vinyl siding. The men of the church who were well fed by the ladies did all the work. Concrete letters spelling “PHELPS CHAPEL” were installed on the bank. Also an electric cross and flame were affixed to the steeple. The last large project was the paving of the parking lot, which was a great improvement.
In June 2004 Charlton United Methodist Church closed its doors and the congregation elected to join Phelps Chapel. Charlton had been a church for 111 years and during its history had been previously yoked in a charge with Phelps Chapel. We look forward to welcoming these parishioners into our church family.
Ministers from 2005 to present
When this booklet was first printed in 2004, Pastor Terry Hughes was still pastor, but there have been five more since then.
Rev. Edward Prowant became pastor on July 1, 2005, He served until his retirement in 2010.
On July 1 of that year the second female pastor was appointed, Pastor Catherine Dawes, she served 4 years and moved to a new appointment.
On July 1, 2014 Pastor Joshua Wargo became the pastor at Phelps Chapel. After graduation from seminary in 2016 Pastor Wargo moved to a new appointment at Rouzerville UMC.
On July 1, 2016 Pastor Cody Phillips was appointed to Phelps Chapel. After two years of faithful service he was appointed to Heshbon Park UMC.
On July 1, 2018 Pastor Larry Siikanen and his wife Sharon were appointed to Phelps Chapel. May his welcome be as sweet and his ministry be as blessed as those who have gone before him.