Old Testament Scripture: 1 Kings 8: 22 -30 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:
“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.
“Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.
New Testament Scripture: Matthew 28: 16-20 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A Missionary Church
I need some history memory help this morning. Does anyone remember when the Berlin Wall came down? OK… Do you remember the Exxon Valdez? How about the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope? Do you remember when Iraq invaded Kuwait? All these things happened in 1990. To many of us, it does not seem like it was that long ago does it. Hold on to those memories for a minute.
Does anyone remember the show, Daniel Boone? Have any of you gone over to Oglebay Park or up to Fort Steuben in Steubenville for the Historical Reenactments of pioneer times? Have you all read or know the story of Elizabeth Zane and her running from the fort to the blockhouse and then back to get gun powder? Very good. Keep all this in your mind.
It is the summer of 1809. Ohio became a state just 6 years ago. Belmont County is only 8 years old. The last battle of the Revolution across the river at Fort Henry was just 27 years ago. The town of Bellaire will not be laid out by Jacob Davis for another 25 years!
Think about how it does not really seem all that long ago that the Exxon Valdez ran aground and the Berlin Wall came down. That is the same amount of time as it was from the end of the Revolutionary War to the original formation of this congregation. Indians killing our neighbors and taking our livestock is a real, vivid memory. Although it was remote from the people who lived here on the frontier, The United States is a very young nation. Still in infancy.
As we sit here this morning, it is hard to imagine this area a raw wilderness just beginning to be settled. Think about how the people lived and acted at those pioneer reenactments. Think about how the area was portrayed in Daniel Boone. This very ridge did not have anyone living on it. Cabins were just springing up along McMahon’s Creek and down at the bottom of Indian Run… Do you know that is the name of the creek that forms in the valley right behind the house where Mrs. Bowman used to live? This area is being settled by sturdy people from Ireland and Scotland and Wales. Families with the names of Cunningham, Livingston, Moore, McKimmons, Simmons, Merritt, Paxton, and McAllister.
During that late summer or fall, the word was spread that a Presbyterian Minister was traveling through the area and would be stopping for a service. Knowing the names of some of these early settlers and their home countries, it’s not hard to imagine that these folks were weary to hear the Word preached to them again.
Remember our time frame here. There is no mass media. Gatherings of people were very limited. The opportunity to gather together to hear the Word and sing some hymns and just enjoy Christian Fellowship was a rare thing. The act of an organized church service was very important. Families lived in isolation. Community get-togethers were a very rare thing so something like a church service was a joy. This coming of a preacher would have been a pretty big to-do! From the short history written in 1962, “There were present on that occasion some who came from curiosity that they might see what a Presbyterian minister would look like. They felt the need of the preaching of the Gospel. It was this feeling that brought together those assembled that Sabbath day under that old elm.”
And so… On the north side of McMahon’s Creek, nearly a mile above it’s mouth, there stood a large elm tree. The site where this tree stood is not far to the north side of the B & O Railroad at the point where, in 1882, was situated the dwelling of Mr. David Klee. Under this stately elm tree people from all around the area came together that Sunday to hear Rev. Abraham Scott preach. The map I found of 1882 Pultney Township is very hard to read but there is property indicated to be owned by Klee in this general area. I cannot find any documentation about exactly where the Klee house was located, but from what I’ve been told and read, I’m pretty sure this elm tree was located somewhere in the area very close to the West Bellaire School as it is recorded that it was across from the “Old Indian Field” which is the flat area between the creek and what is now West 23rd Street.
After the preaching of the Word and the praying of the prayers and the singing of hymns and psalms, the Rev. Scott asked if anyone present desired the formation and organization of a Presbyterian Church. It is said that 20 persons of those gathered indicated their desires by standing. There were necessary questions asked and solemn answers given and the election of elders was undertaken. I bet even that nominating committee had a hard time filling their slate!!! Two upstanding men of the community, John Cunningham and John Moore, were elected as Ruling Elders. It is upon this footing that the very congregation we make up today was created.
They continued to worship there under the elm for a short period. If the weather was poor they would meet in the home of Elder John Cunningham whose house was said to be a few rods north of the elm. Many of the members of this congregation must have lived farther up the McMahon’s Creek valley or farther up on the ridges as it was determined that the elm tree was not centrally located. They decided to move an additional mile west and that a booth should be built to allow the minister, Rev. Arbuthnot, to be protected from the weather. This booth was built close to the southern end of the ridge upon which our cemetery now sits, almost directly over the old B & O railroad tunnel. A small cemetery was located here also. Digging graves on that ridge proved to be a challenge due to all the rock, hence the origin of our name.
A short time later a tent was erected further up the ridge. This tent was located in the center of the “old section” of our cemetery and was used for 4 to 7 years. In 1814 the church had grown sufficiently to consider the building of a regular house of worship. The congregation saw fit to lease a 1 acre plot from Mr. John Wallace for the area which is now our cemetery. The lease was for 99 years.
Consider again the era of which we speak. The grave of Jacob Wise was one of the first. He was buried in February, 1814, having been thrown from his horse. The next grave is of Phillip Wise, a little child of George Wise, who was accidentally shot in 1816.
In the spring of 1817 the congregation came together, felled trees and pulled them in from the surrounding area, building the first church edifice in this immediate area. The church building was 28 feet wide by 40 feet long. At first it had only a stamped dirt floor. Many years passed before it had a ceiling overhead!! Each family built their own benches or pews. Later, stoves were installed for warmth. We worshiped here until 1846.
From the Historical Sketch that was created for our 200th anniversary: “While looking at the growth of this church, we must bear these facts in mind; the country was but thinly settled; very little land was cleared, indeed it was probably not all entered yet; money was very scarce, which always makes hard times; and there were few ministers and hence their work was much scattered. All these discouraging features constrain us to say the great wonder is not that it grew so fast, but that it grew at all.”
I pause here from the history lesson for a question. If we had to bring our own chairs to church, would we? Would we even show up? Probably not. I know times are different. I’m aware that it is a little silly in this time of disposable everything to ask if we would bring our own pew to church, or to build and supply our own place to sit. But how willing are we to do what is necessary to come together to worship.
In 1834 we called our first pastor. Rev. Benjamin Mitchell. Prior to this time the preachers were all Stated Supply pastors. Membership had grown to nearly 80 people. The old log church had nearly reached its capacity. It was decided that a newer, more appropriate structure be built but some of the congregation thought that was presumptuous considering we only leased the ground for 99 years and we were already 20 years into that. So, a Mr. Joshua Keyser was appointed to visit all of the heirs of the Wallace clan and ask them to sign the deed over to the church. He was successful and in 1846 a new brick church was built. This building was located in the lower section of our cemetery. It was located in the area of the graves and stones of George Wise, Hugh Giffin, Alva A.Wise, John K. Wise, Israel Day.
Consider the area covered by members of the congregation at that time. Let’s imagine walking around the outside. First, let’s go down the river to Wegee creek. Now walk out the creek and over the ridges and turn north at Jacobsburg. Follow a line north by northeast that roughly goes through Glencoe and hits Wheeling Creek somewhere between Barton and Blaine. When you cut Wheeling Creek walk back down the creek to the river and then down the river to Wegee again. That is very roughly the area from which the congregation of the Rock Hill Church traveled to come to services on this ridge. We’ll see in a few years that this area was just too big for one church.
The nice brick building built in 1846 was serving our congregation well but there were cracks starting, physical and social. We just talked about the area from which people were traveling to get to this location. And this was long before cars. Papa or one of the boys would have to get up and put the harness on the horses and hitch the wagon. Mother would get the children ready in the Sunday Meeting Clothes. They’d climb in the wagon; maybe some would ride horses, and ride over the ridges and through the hollows and back up what would become Tunnel Road and later Patterson Hill Road to church. Today it takes at least 15 – 20 minutes to get over to Jacobsburg. How long do you think that ride would take in a wagon or on horseback? Hearty people they were!
Yes, some small cracks can be seen starting to form in the foundation of the church building. And some cracks in the congregation too. Probably not out of malice but out of necessity. In these nearly one hundred years since the church formed, many more people have come to make a life in Pultney Township. Those long wagon rides on Sunday morning are trying. So in 1860, the Rev. Hollyday organized the First Church in Bellaire and 41 members of Rock Hill left to worship there. Sometime during Rev. J.J. Lane’s pastorate from 1868 to 1879, the Coalbrook Church was formed down in Neffs and a total of 66 members went there. Pretty significant that in a matter of roughly 20 years the congregation was reduced by 107 members!! It is said that our rolls never broke 200 until just a few years ago. If there were even 150 members before these departures we’re saying 2/3 of the congregation left!! How would we deal with that today? Also keep in mind that our congregation was depleted as people left to form part of the Martins Ferry Church which would break again and form the Kirkwood church in what is now Bridgeport. Then also families left to form the Wegee church which at some point became the Shadyside church.
And at the same time the cracks in the foundation keep getting wider and start to move up into the wall. The building that has served as our church for roughly 45 years is in decline. By about 1890 it was understood that another building would need to be built. The foundation was badly broken along with the walls. Think for a moment about how hard it was for us to just recently come together with the funds to fix the foundation of this building. We know the cracks in that foundation showed up years earlier. Those cracks were monitored by a few of the men as they would be cleaning up around the church. And when the congregation came together for a dinner or a social, you know one of the lady folk would comment about how she’d been telling this trustee or that elder how it needed fixed but it was ignored. Just like our sandstone foundation blocks that had been slowly eroding in the weather. It was probably ignored or pushed aside until such time that it was just so bad that it could be ignored no longer. It must have been so bad that all of the temporary fixes had been tried. It was decided that a new church building would have to be built.
And so it was. A new church was built. A little further up the hill so as to hold a more commanding location at the top of the ridge, a new building, though slightly smaller than the previous church, was built. The new church was of modern form, beautiful and cruciform shaped, it was erected with large memorial windows in each end. One dedicated to the first two elders, John Cunningham and John Moore, and the other to the first pastor, the Rev. Benjamin Mitchell. The Rev. W. V. Milligan preached the first sermon as the church was dedicated on June 3, 1891.
To understand the world at this time, consider that the first gasoline powered car makes its debut in Springfield, Mass. Thomas Edison patents “The transmission of signals electrically” which we will come to call radio. Also that same year, Edison’s prototype kinetoscope is shown to the public and later in the year he patents the motion picture camera. The world around Rock Hill is changing. Some of the older men of the church are said to have remarked that they would build this church for the young people and they hoped it would last for a hundred years. I’m sure it had to have been a challenge for the people of this congregation to assemble the funds needed to build that building. But, just like they, and we, have done from the beginning, they got together, made a couple hard decisions, adapted to the situation and strove forward.
Now it’s June 25, 1902. The beautiful church that sits where my grandparents, Frank and Katherine, are now buried is a mere 12 years old. A horrible storm strikes the area, terrific rain and awful lightning. The church is struck by a bolt and is set alight. From the 1962 history, “When the pastor saw the fire, he started for the scene, rousing the people on the way. Presbyterian, United Presbyterian and the stranger within our gates made heroic efforts to put out the fire, but the means were not sufficient and the beautiful sanctuary was consumed.” In a very few hours the church is nothing but the hollow brick shell. Ohhh… What will we do now!! You might hear that for the first day or so but not for very long.
It’s hard for us to understand now, some one hundred years later, but when that building burned, Rock Hill still considered itself a missionary church. The Rev. Scott who came to McMahon’s Creek to preach was a missionary. He was bringing the Word to the edges of civilization. Not even one hundred years after the church was formed we had moved our meeting place 5 times. Not to count the times when we had to meet in a member’s home or over at the Rock Hill School due to some issue or the other.
So what would we do? We adapted again. I’m sure there was much hand wringing and many sleepless nights but on July 22, not even a month after the fire, the congregation voted to build a new church, this one right here. The land was donated by the Galloway Sisters, Mary and Ermina. I believe their house is now owned by Gary and Christina Pastor. How much do you think it cost to have this building built and furnished? The total was $13,000. AND it was all built, furnished and paid for before it was dedicated to the service of our Lord on August 26, 1903. The average family income in 1902 is $681. That’s national average. The farmers and hardworking folks of Rock Hill probably didn’t make even that.
When this church was built there was no basement. There was basically a tunnel that went from the cellar door to the furnace. A coal furnace. Mom tells me about Roy and Nellie Givens walking up here from their home over on Jordan Run road to fire up the furnace on Saturday so it would be warm for Sunday. In post WWII America, the church and the community are growing. The mills and the mines and the various factories of the Ohio Valley are very prosperous. People are making a good wage and want to move out of the cities into a more rural environment. Rock Hill is growing and so is the church. We need more space for Sunday School and for meetings and social engagements. In 1948 the old coal furnace was replaced with 2 modern gas fired furnaces so the dirtiness of the coal was no longer a problem. In 1952 it was decided that a basement would be dug!
Most of the planning and work was done by church members and Trustees. The men and boys of the church, fueled by the hearty meals provided by the women, started to remove the dirt and create the basement. The use of a hay elevator was donated by Paul Greenlee. My dad told me that he spent more time running to Kennedy’s for parts and working on that elevator than he did shoveling. He also said that by the end that elevator was nearly ruined by the sandstone. Dale Heil brought over a tractor with a scoop to move the dirt and spread it after it was hauled out. That dirt is what makes the wide spot right over here when you come around back of the church. J. Ernest Giffin supplied an electric jack hammer that made life a little easier as Rock Hill proved her name. I don’t know if any of the men of that time were miners but I am sure they all gained an appreciation for having to work under ground.
That was also when the church got indoor plumbing! Until the basement was dug there was an outhouse just over the bank, one side for the gents, one side for the ladies. The brick steps and the support posts are still out there if you want to see. Mom says she never remembers going in there though!
The basement was completed and dedicated by Rev. Weir on August 12, 1956. I cannot imagine what this would cost us today to try to take on a project of this magnitude (OSHA would have a field day!!) but in 1956 it was done with $446 in donations and many hours of sweat by our members.
Some of you may well have been around for that project and remember it much better than I can tell. I know we’ve faced some other decisions of expansion or not to expand. Some may remember an idea to build a fellowship hall. I found the drawings when I was rummaging around here a couple years ago. There was the enclosure of the back porch in 1976. I remember that very well. I mixed the mud as dad laid the block for the foundation and the crooked brick. Dad hated to look at that. Just a few years ago we built the Pavillion. It has proven to be a wonderful asset. As has the purchase of the house next door. In fact, we have had 3 different manses. Two over at the end of Hospital road on 214 and the one next door. Each one causing some significant financial burden for the church but in the end coming out for the better.
I’ve spoken mostly about the physical, but what of the emotional and social change this congregation has faced. We have had 35 different pastors. Some as Stated Supply, some called, some interim. Each time a pastor has moved on we have faced some amount of turmoil. Imagine how things were when over one hundred members followed pastors to different churches.
We have sent our sons and daughters off to war and buried at least one of our sons during. A plaque over here honors Chester Braun who was killed in Belgium in 1945. Take a walk through our cemetery on Memorial Day. Old Glory is quite prevalent on the graves of those who have served.
Think about our Gospel message today. Jesus tells us to go, make disciples, and baptize them in his name, The Great Commission. We did just that last week for Cody and Erica and Brennen and Amy. We are still growing and spreading His Word.
Today we dedicated new additions to this Old Tent that was pitched along McMahon’s Creek, over 200 years ago, more improvements to our church building, continuing to follow that Great Commission. We will continue to be the The Light on the pedestal of Rock Hill. We will continue to spread the Word; as we must, because those who went before demand it. Just like Reverend Abraham Scott did as he came to the edge of the frontier in a place called Pultney; spreading the Word.
A Missionary Church never dies.
Amen and Amen