York Town Square

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Cross Roads church’s story links up with U.S. religious history

In 1999, Ron Hershner wrote “Cross Roads: A History and Reminiscenses,” an insightful story of a York County town.

Now, the York attorney and authority on southeastern York County has turned out the best history of a single county congregation that I’ve seen with his “Round Hill Presbyterian Church, 250 Years of Faith.” …

Hershner published the book (available via www.yorkheritage.org) in advance of his home church’s anniversary in 2006.
The church’s story intersects with many events, both small and large, in American church history. (For a description of the building, see “Get around to seeing ornate Round Hill church” in York Town Square archives.)
For example, Hershner subtly explores the on-again, off-again interplay between the straight-from-Scotland United Presbyterian Church — now Hopewell Presbyterian Church — and the nearby Scots-Irish-fed Presbyterian Church — now the Round Hill Presbyterian Church.
Both Scottish groups settled southeastern York County in large numbers, and that speaks to the prevalence of Presbyterian churches in that sector.
Hershner explores in detail or in passing several other events (my comments in parenthesis):

— Round Hill, along with York’s First Presbyterian, was pastored by one of the most influential county ministers of the first half of the 19th century, Scotland-educated Robert Cathcart. (The Cathcart story detailing his faithful every-other-Sunday rides from York to Cross Roads, a 17-mile journey, could be a biography in itself.)
— German Reformed churches, sharing union church buildings with Lutherans, faded in that area because members felt at home doctrinally in the Presbyterian churches. “By the mid-1800’s, Protestant doctrine mattered more than ethnic origin,” Hershner wrote. (This explains why relatively few congregations of the United Church of Christ, successor to the German Reformed, today meet in that part of the county. The German Reformed and Presbyterian churches shared similar foundational documents, or confessions.)
— Church board (Session) minutes included only one mention of the Civil War during that four-year period. The conflict was divisive north of the Mason-Dixon Line, too, so some churches located near the North-South line avoided the topic, Hershner explained.
— The church switched from using wine for communion to the unfermented grape juice made popular by Methodist Dr. Thomas Welch during the feverish temperance times of the late 19th century. The church restocked in 1887 from Welch’s New Jersey vineyard after three years of satisfactory use. (Methodist grapes squared with Presybterian thinking even if Methodist theology did not.)
— In 1888, the Session addressed the quality of singing in the church. At one point, the Session dissolved the choir, only to reinstitute it three years later with an apology for its actions. (The church, thus, went through such worship wars years ahead of the current debate over music.)
— The Session, on one occasion in the late 1800s, reaffirmed the General Assembly’s prohibition on dancing, believing such acts to be a bad Christian witness.
— In 1896, Round Hill’s Sunday School membership stood at 188. Church members totaled 167. By 1952, Sunday school membership was 162, and church membership numbered 208. (After the Sunday school movement began in America’s churches in the early 1800s, membership often outpaced church membership. But as the decades passed in the 20th century, Sunday schools declined. Today, some churches count Sunday school attendance at 50 percent of worship service turnout as a victory.)
— The church built a manse for its pastor in 1895. (That was in the day that parsonages near churches was in vogue. Today, reflective of many congregations, the Round Hill manse is used for other purposes. The trend nowadays is for pastors to receive a housing allowance to purchase their own houses, and those homes often are far from their churches.)
— Round Hill lost a member in World War II when Cyrus B. Lloyd was killed in action in Belgium. (With 570 or more deaths in World War II, York County churches of all stripes lost good congregants. Nearby St. Paul’s Evangelical (now United Methodist) in Red Lion lost 11 men in uniform.)
–In the 1950s, Round Hill and two other churches jointly purchased a motion picture projector. (This followed a 20th-century movement to use silent films as morality plays and later talkies as a form of community outreach. Interesting to contrast with the movement in some denominations today to eschew Hollywood.)
— Mazie Manifold was elected Round Hill’s first female elder in 1956. (The election of woman as elders and pastors later became so controversial that congregations split from the mainline Presbyterian Church to form their own denominations.)
— Elders Sara Miller died in 1968 and Charles Wilson in 1971. Hershner pointed out that Wilson followed the custom of elders being selected from influential church families, and Miller, Round Hill’s second female elder, was chosen in the 1950s not to represent a family but to add diversity to the Session.
— In 1986, the church started locking its doors when its building was not in use, surely a sign of the times.

I should point out that Round Hill was not alone in dealing with these moments in America’s church history. In readable fashion, Hershner did an effective job in bringing these moments to light in telling the congregation’s larger story.