At the time of the organization of the first Eldership, in 1830, local churches had been established at a number of points in Dauphin, Lancaster and Cumberland counties. Such organizations were effected at Middletown, in 1827; at Lisburn and Mechanicsburg, in 1828; at Linglestown, in 1829; and an independent church at Lancaster came into fellowship about 1827.
The years immediately following the organization of the first Eldership witnessed similar results in the formation of local churches in various localities in eastern Pennsylvania. A church was organized at Fredericksburg, Lebanon county, in 1830; at Mt. Joy, Lancaster county, in 1831; at Landisburg, Perry county, in 1832; at Churchtown, Cumberland county, in 1833; at Camp Hill, Cumberland county, in 1833; at Newburg, Cumberland county, in 1834; the same year an independent church at Shippensburg came into the fellowship of the Eldership after the manner of the church at Lancaster; the church at Elizabethtown was organized about 1836. Work had also been started about this time in Maryland, in Carroll and Washington counties.
These churches were the visible and organized results of the great and extensive evangelistic work carried on by Winebrenner and his co-laborers during the first decade after his separation from the German Reformed Church. The list of his fellow laborers, our first ministers of the gospel, is a list of self-sacrificing and devoted servants of Christ whose names have been perpetuated with increasing affection to the present time. Andrew Miller, David Maxwell, James Mackey, William McFadden and Jacob Keller are the best known of those who began their work during this period and made for themselves a permanent place in our history. Winebrenner was their leader in every sense of the word and gave himself unreservedly to the great work in which they were engaged. Soul-winning, which should always be the master passion of the Christian ministry, was the daily desire of their souls and the constant object of their efforts. To this end they utilized every opportunity and facility. They gladly preached the gospel of salvation to the few persons who could find room to meet under a neighbor's roof. They availed themselves of larger meeting-places whenever and wherever they could be found. And in the summer time they went out into the great open spaces to feed the multitudes with the bread of heaven. These camp-meetings were perhaps the most effective of all the agencies employed during those early years to reach the unsaved and acquaint the people with our teachings and practices. The number of conversions ran into the scores and hundreds. Winebrenner was at his best as a revivalist, especially in the midst of a successful camp-meeting, and under his clear and impressive preaching there were many remarkable manifestations of divine power.
By this time the work had extended beyond the Allegheny mountains and the confines of the Keystone State. Its extension naturally followed the line of emigration. Many of our people had moved from eastern Pennsylvania to Ohio. While they were seeking to better their condition in a material way, they were not unmindful of their spiritual interests. Requests came back east for the preaching of the gospel and, so far as possible, these Macedonian calls were answered. Jacob Keller and Thomas Hickernell were the pioneer missionaries to Ohio and they were assisted by other ministers less widely known. Camp-meetings were the first evangelistic agencies and they were attended with an encouraging measure of success. From 1835 to 1840 meetings of this kind were held in Wayne, Holmes, Stark, Richland, Tuscarawas, Allen and Mercer counties, and in due time churches were organized in these and other counties.
The territory of western Pennsylvania, lying between the original field of operation in eastern Pennsylvania and the newer field in Ohio, naturally received attention. Thomas Hickernell and Jacob Keller labored here for a short time in the early stages of the work, but John Hickernell, a younger brother of Thomas Hickernell, was the real pioneer in western Pennsylvania, where he spent nearly all of his long and useful life. A very hopeful and substantial beginning was made in Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland, Butler and Venango counties during the closing years of the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. In 1839 churches were organized at Bethany, Westmoreland county; Slippery Rock, Beaver county; Old Harmony, Butler county; and one in Venango county. The first mentioned is now the church at Alverton; the last mentioned is the church at Barkeyville. In the same year John Hickernell began preaching in Pittsburgh, which became the central point of all missionary operations in the western part of the State.
During the decade from 1840 to 1850 the home base of operations was extended to Bedford, Blair, Fulton, Huntingdon and Schuylkill counties in Pennsylvania and to Frederick county, Maryland. West of the Allegheny mountains Fayette, Cambria, Indiana and Greene counties were the new additions to the field of missionary operations. And in Ohio appointments were opened in Marion, Columbiana, Miami and Summit counties. Work was also started, with encouraging prospects, in the western part of Virginia.
But the activities were not confined to these established fields. Three other states, which have ever since been prominent in the work of the Churches of God, were entered by our missionaries during these years. In 1842 the Ohio Eldership extended its work over into Adams county, Indiana, and by 1850 the work had spread into Huntingdon, Allen, Wells, Noble, Whitley, DeKalb and LaGrange counties. Here, as in Ohio, Thomas Hickernell was the leading missionary. In 1847 George U. Harn, a native of Maryland and one of the ablest of our early ministers made an extended missionary journey into Illinois and organized a church at Mt. Carroll in 1848. Others had been engaged in preaching the gospel in Illinois and appointments had been opened in LaSalle, Ogle, JoDaviess and other counties. Harn went on into Iowa, where missionary work had already been started by Emanuel Logue, sent out by the Eldership in eastern Pennsylvania. By 1847 Logue had established a church near Trenton, in Henry county, and the following year organized a church at North Bend, Johnston county. At these and other points the missionary efforts were attended with an encouraging measure of success.
Almost without exception the work at the various points in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa was started with a nucleus of Church of God people who had emigrated westwardly from eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. In a few cases the preachers accompanied these families, in other cases they followed them, either on their own responsibility or by official appointment as missionaries. Under these circumstances the preachers were among former acquaintances and friend, yea more, their brethren in the Lord, who were willing to stand by them in proclaiming the precious truths of their common faith to others. But their opposition from without was often of the strongest kind, and many times they suffered the severest persecution. To file already mentioned heroes of the faith of these early years we may well add the names of Joseph A. Dobson, J. M. Klein and Joseph Glenn, in West Pennsylvania; and Daniel Wertz in Virginia.
The hardships endured and the trials suffered by these early missionaries of the cross make a record which can be but dimly visioned by those of us who now live at so great a distance from their times and under circumstances vastly more favorable. Much of the country over which they traveled was wilderness land. Malaria had not yet been conquered by sanitary measures. Means of transportation were crude and primitive. It was a time when the minister's usual means of travel was on horseback with the saddlebags as his equipment. The journey which modern facilities for travel have turned into a pleasure trip was then a tiresome experience of exposure and danger. But none of these things turned them aside, neither counted they their lives dear unto themselves; for they were determined to be faithful to the ministry which they had "received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" [Acts 20:24]
As in eastern Pennsylvania, so elsewhere, the first step was always missionary evangelism. Then, as soon as it was thought prudent, churches were organized, and as soon as they were financially able they erected modest meeting-houses. The plan for co-operative action by these churches in a given territory was also carried out, resulting in the organization of the Ohio Eldership, in 1836; the West Pennsylvania Eldership, in 1844; the Indiana Eldership, in 1846; and the Iowa Eldership, in 1848.
Another event of much historical importance occurred during this period. It was the organization of the General Eldership, in 1845. The annual Elderships had been found quite useful for co-operative effort and the doing of things in which all of the churches had a common interest but which no church could do alone. This naturally suggested the wisdom of having a General Eldership through which the annual Elderships could co-operate in all matters of a general character. With this end in view Winebrenner visited the Ohio and West Pennsylvania Elderships in 1844, explained the purpose and advantages of the proposed general body and urged the election of delegates. As the annual Elderships were composed of the ministers and lay delegates from the local churches, so the proposed General Eldership, in keeping with the same principle of representation, should be composed of a certain number of ministerial and lay delegates elected by the annual Elderships, the number to be determined on the basis of the number of ministers in each Eldership. At first each Eldership was given one ministerial and one lay delegate for every ten ministers. In 1902 the basis of representation was changed to one ministerial and one lay delegate "for every eight ordained pastors, and for every fraction above three-eighths." In 1921 the basis of representation was changed to one ministerial and one lay delegate "for every eight hundred members and major fraction thereof." It was at this time that women were made eligible as lay delegates to the General Eldership. From 1845 to 1905 the General Eldership met triennially; since 1905, quadrennially.
Twenty-two delegates were appointed to the first General Eldership?twelve by East Pennsylvania, six by Ohio and four by West Pennsylvania. Thirteen of these?six from East Pennsylvania, three from Ohio and four from West Pennsylvania came together at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 26, 1845. Winebrenner was elected Speaker. A Constitution was adopted, containing the necessary rules of co-operation and providing for the management of all general interests. Resolutions were also adopted expressing the position of the body on public questions.
This work of evangelism and church organization, which had its beginning in Harrisburg in 1825, had now been going on for a quarter of a century, and we naturally pause to ask, with what results? It was at the close of this period (in 1849) that Winebrenner issued the second edition of his "History of Religious Denominations," in which we find the most accurate statistics available. He gives the following figures:
East Pennsylvania?number of licensed and ordained ministers, 56; organized churches, 75; preaching places, about 130; probable number of church members, 6,500.
Ohio?ministers, 20; organized churches, 40; other appointments, 90; church members, 3,000.
West Pennsylvania?ministers, 16; churches, 30; regular preaching places, 60; church members, 2,000.
Indiana?ministers, 4; organized churches, 10; other appointments, 25; church members, 300.
All of these statistics, except the number of ministers, are given by Winebrenner as the "probable" number. He also estimates the scattered members at two hundred or more, and then gives the following recapitulation:
Aggregate number of ministers, 96; organized churches, 155; preaching places, 305; church members, 12,000.
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