Christ's Church marks 190 years of worship in Greensburg
By Michele Stewardson
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Christ's Church in Greensburg will celebrate its 190th anniversary with a reception and a worship service with the Very Most Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, and readings from the 1789 First American Book of Common Prayer.
That's just the start of how members hope to reach the community to mark this monumental occasion for a church with such deep roots and such committed parishioners.
“We usually only celebrate every 25 years, but with all of the changes within the church in the last 15 years we thought it was important to do something for the 190th. This is a significant event. We're the largest Anglican church in Westmoreland County,” said Steve Swencki, a parishioner and former vestry member.
The church is seeking a new rector. The Rev. Larry Knotts retired after 17 years of service. The Rev. Dan Crawford, formerly of St. Thomas Church in Gibsonia, has served as interim rector for the last 13 months.
“It's important to celebrate (our anniversary) because this is the formal acceptance of the congregation,” Crawford said. “It was the feeling of the vestry that this was something to celebrate. Part of it has to do with looking for a new rector and the hopes that this establishes positive feelings about the church and gets the new rector excited about serving the church.”
The new rector will help to shape the future of the church at 145 N. Main St.
“We're looking forward to receiving a new rector and his spiritual guidance to see how we can grow,” said Barbara Baldwin, vestry member and event coordinator for the anniversary.
Bob Wicker of North Huntington, a member since 1961, said the church had a larger congregation in the 1960s and '70s and now it has an aging congregation. All major religious denominations have seen shrinking attendance over the years, he said.
Whether Christ's Church is dealing with fallout from remaining a city church or contending with the attendant parking problems, Wicker said, it doesn't really matter.
“Through it all, we're a really strong church, very family oriented, a caring congregation ... , ” he said. “That is why we've been there all these years. Not many churches have been around 190 years. We thought it was important to make our presence in the community known again.”
According to Christ's Church history, the First Episcopal Church service was held in Greensburg in 1803 at the courthouse with the Rev. John Curtis Clay and the Rev. George McIlhenny as celebrants. Both were missionaries sent from Philadelphia by the Society for the Advancement of Christianity in Pennsylvania.
The parish charter was signed on Nov. 27, 1822, and was granted by a special act of the Legislature on Jan. 31, 1823. The charter was legally amended and adopted on April 13, 1823.
The first church building was erected on a piece of property given by Judge William Jack on the east side of Maple Avenue. Christ's Church was built on Front Street, now Maple Avenue, in 1824. It was designed by the Rev. John Henry Hopkins and cost $1,683.
The second church cornerstone was laid at the corner of Tunnel and Main streets in 1851. It was consecrated by Bishop Potter and built at a cost of $5,000. The cornerstone of the third and present church was laid in 1889 on the same site.
“The current building is cruciform in shape, 96 feet long and almost 60 feet across the transept. It has a seating capacity of 225,” according to a profile of the church. “The architecture is English Gothic, with a square tower. The bell that was used for 37 years in the second church hangs in the belfry. The walls are of local sandstone and the ceiling is red oak, supported by beams which spring from a series of stone corbels, beautifully carved as female heads.”
The church has a Christian education and administrative office building on North Maple Avenue that faces St. Clair Park.
Christ's Church retains three original stained glass windows given in 1853 by Caleb Cope of Philadelphia. They were moved to the the present church building when it was completed in 1891.
Christ's Church amended its charter in 1902 to give women the right to vote on the election of vestrymen.
Many prominent families were members of the church, including the Lynch, Jack, Humphrey, Unger and Jamison families. In 1969, Carol Lynch Jamison established a scholarship fund in memory of her mother, Hettie Barclay Jamison. Since that time, Christ's Church has funded the education of 28 students who have attended Episcopal secondary schools, colleges or theological schools. Fourteen of those have been ordained to the deaconate or priesthood.
The dedication to outreach is entwined throughout the church's history. The Episcopal Church Women sponsored their first salad bar in 1973, when 80 to 100 lunches were served. It continues today.
In 1979, the church pledged $1,000 to Women's Services of Westmoreland County, helping to bring a battered women's shelter to fruition.
Today, in addition to the salad bar and women's shelter, the Women's Guild supports the Union Mission and Blackburn Center among its many charities.
“The people of our church really thrive on evangelism, fellowship and outreach,” Swencki said. “If your look at our history, (for) the Women's Shelter in Greensburg, we were the first church to contribute to the fund to get that rolling. And we still work with the shelter today.”
Some view the anniversary as an opportunity to teach others the history of the church.
“Life was very different when the church started in the 1800s,” said Kay Ferree of Greensburg. She and her husband, Herbert, have been church members since 1960. “Travel was very different. There were no miracle drugs. It took a lot of faith for people who started the church, along with a lot of hard work, and it's important for people to learn about this.”
“It's important for youth to know we're not a fly-by-night religion,” Swencki said. “The history takes you forward and you continue to proclaim the same gospel that Christ proclaimed.”
Tim Moore, senior warden of the church, said the celebration is a spiritual milestone.
“If you understand better what the church has accomplished, how it can help you in your everyday life, people may go back to church,” said Moore. “There are a lot of problems in this county today because people lost their faith. They need to find their way back. We're a very welcoming church.”
Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.
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