Church History

Isaac Rohrer laid out a town of 130 building lots on the Lancaster and Columbia turnpike, four miles east of Columbia in 1814. He named the place Mt. Pleasant because of its commanding view of the surrounding country. Mr. Rohrer reserved two lots for public use. Upon these lots, located to the rear of the present parsonage, the first church meeting house was erected with money raised by lottery. This meeting house also served as our community's first school and the little grave yard on Hoover Street is the resting place of Mountville's earliest citizens. This union church was made available to any denomination which desired to use it. Pioneer United Brethren in Christ preachers took advantage of this opportunity and souls were won to Christ. History records that during an especially enthusiastic "shouting service," the church floor broke and people had to hold onto the hot stove to prevent it from going down through the floor and probably destroying the building!

As converts became more numerous and were drawn to the United Brethren, members who participated in worship at the Union Church made a decision to build a church of their own. A United Brethren bishop, Jacob Erb, lived on a farm adjoining Mountville (town name changed from Mt. Pleasant in 1842 when the first post office was established). Bishop Erb donated a plot of ground from the northeast corner of his farm to the Mountville United Brethren class (site of our current church building). For the nominal fee of one dollar, the deed changed hands in 1844. Trustees for the new property and church building were Jonas Garber and John Hoover.

Between 1844 and 1845 our first building was constructed of brick burnt on Bishop Erb's farm. The building was 1-1/2 story and 30' x 45'. There were two doors facing north toward the turnpike (Main Street), one for men and one for women. (Initially, the English and German language was used at our preaching services during the early years).

When our church was completed in 1845, there was no other United Brethren Church within 10 miles of Mountville. It was due to the consecration, energy and assistance of the Mountville U.B. congregation that U.B. churches in Columbia, Ironville, Silver Spring, Centerville, Marietta, Highville, Green Hill, Stehman's Memorial, and Lancaster Covenant were established.

Our Sunday School was organized in 1849 through the efforts of Jonas Garber. Trustees of our new church included John Hoover, Jonas Garber, John Marks and Jacob Sneath. Other founding members included Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Fridy, Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Gramn, Mr. & Mrs. John Morgan, and Anne Stillinger. Our church was initially attached to the Lancaster Circuit and was served by circuit riding preacher Rev. Henry Staub and Rev. Simon Noll.

The Lord blessed our church and we grew in number and spirit, and after a period of twenty-five years, the leaders realized their building was too small and inadequate to accommodate a growing congregation. Plans were developed to build a new facility across the highway at 45 West Main Street. The lots were bought and the contract for the erection of the new building was given to Jacob Sneath, a builder and trustee of our congregation.

The new church was brick, 35' x 75' with a large basement for Sunday school purposes. It was at that time considered one of the best facilities in the entire United Brethren denomination. It was completed in 1870 and dedicated on the first Sunday in December by Bishop Jonathan Weaver. Rev. Isaiah Baltzell was the minister at the time. In 1871 we hosted the General Conference in our new facility, welcoming delegates from every United Brethren Church in existence.

A few years later in 1884, a prominent figure of our church history, Jonas Stehman, was elected superintendent of our Sunday school. He held this office until 1929 (a total of 45 years)! During his lifetime, Mr. Stehman served as steward, class leader, president of the Trustee Board, delegate to Annual Conference, trustee of Lebanon Valley College and director of the Mt. Gretna Camp Meeting Association.

In 1885 the greatest revival and largest number of converts in our history occurred. One hundred and eight (108) persons came to confess Christ as Lord and Savior and many became members of our church. Rev. H. B. Dohner was our pastor during this wonderful and blessed year.

During the pastorate of Rev. J. A. Lyter from 1888-1892, a reed organ was purchased and a choir formed. A small girl of sixteen was persuaded to act as organist. This position Luella Fridy faithfully filled for the next 51 years!

Also under Pastor Lyter, the Young Peoples Society, later known as Christian Endeavor, and recently Youth Fellowship, was organized. In 1895 under the leadership of Elvira Stehman and Mary Humpbreville, a Junior Christian Endeavor for children was started.

Another important society had its inception in 1893 when the Women's Missionary Society was organized by Ms. Z. A. Weidler.

Among the teachers who served in the Sunday school at our second church were Mr. Jacob Witmer, Mrs. Florence Fisher, Mrs. Annie Fridy Barr, and D. E. Copeland.

Once again, after 34 years of service, we recognized the need for a larger, modern building. Rev. J. M. Walters initiated a "subscription list" for funds in 1904. After sufficient funds were provided, a building committee was appointed, which included Pastor Walters, R. M. Fridy, J. G. Stehman, H. S. Immel, J. P. Gable, J. H. Witmer, J. M. Weller, J. H. Lehman, and A. B. Fisher.

After considering various locations, the committee finally decided on the lot across Main Street where our first church had stood. The lot was bought for $1,000 and in March 1905 our second church building was dismantled and some of the best material used in the construction of the new facility. At this time the congregation voted to name our new building St. Paul's United Brethren Church. During the years of construction, we met for worship in Mechanics Hall (the current VFW) and later the Mountville Mennonite Church. Our new church was initially 56' x 88' and built of granite from the Derry quarries.

On a perfect Sabbath Day, the church was dedicated on September 22, 1907. The total cost was $57,000. The beautiful windows, doors, and furnishings were donated to the church by various societies and individuals of the congregation.

In 1905, also under Rev. Walters' pastorate, the Otterbein Guild was organized by Mrs. O. M. Fridy and Susan Balsbaugh.

In 1909, a new parsonage was built upon the former site of our second church. Our pastor, Dr. R. R. Butterwick and family were the first to enjoy living in this "commodious and well-arranged brick parsonage," which was erected at a cost of $5,000.

In 1919 we commissioned Miss Edith M. Fridy, a member of our congregation into missionary service. She served as a missionary to the Hartford School for Girls in Moyambia, Sierra Leone. Another member of our church, Clarence Musser, was called to missionary work in Japan in 1925.

In 1925 the basement was enlarged for Sunday school and social functions and a new heating system was installed.

Rev. Fridinger had the longest pastorate at St. Paul's lasting from 1933 to 1946. During his years the Otterbein Brotherhood came into existence, the choir added chimes to the organ, and we celebrated the 100th anniversary of St. Paul's Church in 1944.

The Last 50 Years

By Charles Shellenberger
Edited from the "History of St. Paul's Church"
that Edith Fridy prepared for our 100th Anniversary

It was in early May of 1944 that, what was then St. Paul's United Brethren in Christ Church, Mountville, PA held a subdued but glorious celebration of its founding. This was in the midst of war, one month before the invasion of Europe and 15 months before peace would come. Many young men and women from the congregation were actively involved. Folks of all ages on the home front were doing what they could to assist the cause. There was a week of services, culminating on May 7 with the president of Lebanon Valley College, Dr. Clyde A. Lynch delivering the message. He was the grandfather of our present pastor, Rev. John H. Lynch.

The Rev. M. V. Fridinger was the pastor at that time and served until 1946, having been the pastor for 13 years. This was the longest time of service in the history of the church. He is remembered for the newsletters that he regularly sent to the service people of the town and the pictures he took when they were home on leave. Although the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service began while Rev. S. T. Dundore was pastor, Rev. Fridinger developed it into a beautiful and meaningful pageantry. This was a "can't miss" service for people of all ages.

Rev. and Mrs. LeRoy R. Walters came in 1946. His father, the Rev. J. M. Walters, was pastor when the present sanctuary was built. At this time the church was redecorated, the stained glass windows were releaded and the old pipe organ was replaced. In 1946 our denomination, the United Brethren in Christ merged with the Evangelical Association to form a new church, the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB).

In 1952 Rev. & Mrs. Norman I. Fake moved to 45 W. Main Street. The plans for a new addition were started and on Sunday, September 15, 1957 the two-story educational building and fellowship hall was dedicated. One of the first events in the hall was the annual birthday party on March 19. It was well attended but a two foot snowstorm that started during the program caused much difficulty getting home. The weight broke electric and phone wires with no service for days and weeks.

Then in the fall of 1958, Rev. & Mrs. Harry Himmelberger, with their four boys, occupied the parsonage. During the next eleven years, Harry was pastor in the fullest sense of the word. Being the first younger pastor for years, a large number of young people became members. The youth fellowship was active with bi-monthly meetings, spiritual, social and fund raising events. Although parents of the youth were responsible for helping set-up the programs, Harry attended every meeting. There were weekend trips to the mountains and one long day at the New York World Fair with a Phils-Mets game in the bargain.

In 1968 our E.U.B. denomination merged with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church.

Rev. & Mrs. Russell Becktel were with us from 1969 to 1973. He was a strong Bible preacher who reminded us that our days are numbered and to be prepared. His ministry laid a good foundation upon which pastors who were to follow would build.

On July 1, 1973 we greeted new occupants of our parsonage. Albert & Sara Frank with their three children, Andrew and twin daughters Anna & Lora became part of our congregation. The children were all pre-teens so they did a lot of their growing up in Mountville. Sara's work with the missions group was vital to its success. This was not an easy period for Al as he came at a time of tumult in our nation and a shortage of funds in the program of the church. He and the officers had to do much prayerful thinking as to how to meet the obligations. Later the church received the first of a number of bequeaths. During Pastor Frank's stay, a wonderful and uplifting Lay Witness Mission was held. Our weekly Christian Preschool became a reality in 1981. Rev. Frank's caring ministry of nine years was third longest at St. Paul's.

It was in July 1982 that Rev. Melvin G. Sponsler became the pastor. He and Marilyn were the parents of four children who were leaving "the nest" at the time. Not only was Mel the spiritual leader but in a few years Marilyn was named director of music. The choir increased in number and ability. Rev. Sponsler assumed the position as senior pastor at Mount Hope Church in Aston, PA.

In 1990 Pastor John Lynch came to St. Paul's from Ranck's Church in New Holland. Sharon and their daughters Katrina, Amanda, and Rachel completed the parsonage family. Pastor John came to a church rooted in faith and ready to continue to grow in love. In 1991, the property next door was purchased for much needed parking. While watching this work, Don Bechtold saw a bird fly into a hole beneath the church tower and not come out again. This aroused need for inspection which showed serious deterioration of the tower and required that the stones be removed one by one. It was a very dangerous and expensive project in which, thankfully, no one was injured. The tower has been replaced without the bell section and with our Lord's help and a caring congregation, the debt was paid. In Nov. 1993, the first Community Thanksgiving Dinner was served in fellowship hall under the leadership of members Tom & Patty Wright. Our members have supported this community outreach for many years by donating food, preparing and serving the meal, delivering takeouts, and serving people from Hershey Mill Home, Faith Friendship Villa, and The Gatehouse for Women in Mountville. Our church family grew in spirit and number under Rev. Lynch's leadership from our average attendance of 190 in 1990 to 240 during our 150th anniversary year in 1994. Pastor John was one of the youngest pastors to serve the church and was with us until the end of June 1998.

Rev. Arthur Rettew and wife Pat came to St. Paul's in July 1998 and he retired in 2004.

Pastor John W. Cordes, wife Jan, and 3 sons, John III, Brad and Evan, joined us July 2004 until the end of 2006.

Rev. Sharon L. Barley and Rev. Theodore Mefferd served as interim pastors from 2007-2009. Pastor Sharon previously was serving at First UMC in Lancaster in various capacities such as leading worship and teams, and teaching adult Sunday School classes. Our Art & Soul Cafe was begun under the guidance of Sharon and fellowship hall was remodeled and a stage was built. Her children, Micaiah and Ben were part of our children's Sunday School. Pastor Ted retired in 2003 as a full-time pastor from Cornwall UMC, having served for 13 years. After retiring as full time pastor, Ted returned to Covenant UMC as Interim Part Time Associate Pastor, with shared preaching and leadership roles until 2005, then came to St.Paul's in 2007 with his wife Esther. They have two sons and a granddaughter.

Pastor Janet Sue Steger came to us in 2009 and is married to Rev. Thomas Steger who is also a United Methodist pastor. Janet served a congregation at Mount Gretna UMC before joining us, while Tom served a congregation in Lebanon. Janet has two children and two step-children, along with 8 grandchildren. Pastor retired from the ministry in 2013.

Pastor James Cavallero and wife Jan began ministry at St. Paul's on Sunday, June 30, 2013, after his serving as the Lead Pastor for over six years at First Church in Tamaqua, PA. His previous experience includes serving in pastoral positions in suburban churches in the Philadelphia and Allentown areas. He is a graduate of the UMC Licensing School and his educational background also includes a B.S. in Education and an M.E. in Administration. Pastor Jim has two adult children, two adult step-children, and three grandchildren. He enjoys woodworking and they are dog animal lovers. Our Church Secretary/Administrative Assistant Mary Anne Becker has been with us since September 1990.