‘Oldest Covenant Church’ Debate Settled

Post a Comment » Written on September 24th, 2008     
Filed under: News
YORK, PA (September 24, 2008) – St. Paul’s Wolf’s Covenant Church in York, Pennsylvania, can again claim bragging rights as the oldest church in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The church, which was formed in 1763, earned that distinction just two years ago when it joined the denomination. That distinction appeared to be challenged this year when Paradise Holtzschwamm Evangelical Covenant Church joined the denomination.

Records submitted to the Covenant said that Paradise was formed in 1762. That information was passed along to delegates at the national and East Coast Conference annual meetings.

Stillman: “Now what am I going to harass him about?”

Matthew Stillman, St. Paul’s pastor, said, “not so fast.” He was not ready to yield the church’s “bragging rights.”

Stillman has since good naturedly “harassed” Paradise’s pastor, Tom Bellis.

The churches do share a common history. The two congregations actually are only five miles apart, with Paradise being located in Thomasville. Both initially were started by German immigrants and were members of the German Reformed Church. Over the years, as various denominations merged, both churches ultimately became members of the United Church of Christ before the congregations decided to transfer into the Covenant.

Stillman began looking through the records of the German Reformed Church. He also called the Lancaster Theological Seminary, which keeps the archives of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which was the successor to the German Reformed Church.

He found the evidence he needed.

Among that evidence was the diary of Peter Lischy, the congregation’s first pastor. According to the diary, Lischy served from 1763-1770.

There is no definite mention of the Paradise church until 1766, when it called its first pastor, Philip Otterbein. He would go on to become one of the founding members of the United Brethren in Christ Church.

“I’ve got documentation,” Stillman said. “They don’t have any documentation.”

On Friday, Bellis conceded the issue. “They’re the oldest. We were formed in 1765.”

And what about that 1762 date? “I don’t know where that came from,” Bellis said.

Stillman initially sounded disappointed when he learned his good friend had conceded, asking, “Now what am I going to harass him about?”

Stillman said it is unlikely St. Paul’s will remain the oldest church in the Covenant. Other UCC churches are considering joining. Because the forerunners of that denomination expanded westward, any church east of St. Paul’s probably will be older.

That also happens to be another argument for St. Paul’s being older than Paradise, Stillman said. “We’re east of them.”

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