Murrysville church will mark bicentennial in 2020
Pastor Joseph Hedden Jr. drove past the house of worship he knew as “Hill’s Church” for years before discovering its true name is much longer: the Emmanuel Reformed United Church of Christ.
“I didn’t know it was called anything other than ‘Hill’s Church,’” Hedden said.
What Hedden knows now, after serving as the church’s pastor since 2010, is it will mark its 200th anniversary in 2020, and the congregation has plans to observe it in style.
“We were trying to consider what we want for the next 200 years, and how we can show that to the world,” said parishioner and Deacon Donna Woehler of Murrysville.
Part of how the congregation will broadcast that message is through a new church logo. Utilizing the theme “On God’s Hill,” church officials will accept entries for a logo design contest through Dec. 7.
“When we were originally talking about the future and where we’ll go from here, ‘On God’s Hill’ came to us as an easy theme because it applies to anything we do,” Woehler said.
The “Hill” in “Hill’s Church” varies depending on the source. According to “History of Westmoreland County, Vol. III,” a genealogical memoir published in 1906, Peter Hill was born in 1786 in what was then Franklin Township, the son of German immigrants, and along with Revolutionary War veteran Philip Drumm, donated the land where the original Hill Emanuel Reformed Church was built.
But in “History of Emmanuel Reformed United Church of Christ,” written by then-Pastor George Hoffman Jr., Hoffman talks of a Jonathan Hill who arrived in the area in the 1770s and was captured and killed by Native Americans right around the founding of the United States in 1776.
A definitive date for the establishment of Hill’s Church is a bit of a mystery, according to Hoffman’s book. But an account written by the Rev. Jacob Snyder, who was Emmanuel’s pastor in 1877, states the church came into existence “perhaps about the year 1820.”
By the late 1820s, two Emmanuel congregations — one Lutheran, one Reformed — shared use of the church.
“My understanding is that the Lutheran church would meet and have the church one week, then the Reformed congregation would have it the following week,” Hedden said.
In September 1883, members of the Reformed congregation bought out the Lutheran interest in the church, paying $300 for the church and property, according to archived church consistory minutes. The Lutheran congregation headed a couple miles south, and today worships as Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Old William Penn Highway.
As the 200th anniversary nears, Hedden said the church will celebrate with several events.
“We’re going to have a Mardi Gras party before Lent, and on the last Saturday of June 2020, we’ll celebrate with a worship service that will include Rev. David Ackerman.”
Ackerman is an Export native and conference minister for the United Church of Christ’s Penn West Conference.
Hedden is in the midst of writing a follow-up to Hoffman’s 1995 book about the church’s history, which will cover recent history starting in 1990.
Hedden said he’s looking forward to the celebration.
“The 200th anniversary is exciting to me because it’s almost unimaginable to think about the changes this congregation has seen,” he said. “When we talk about arriving on horse-and-buggy, to getting electricity, to today with cell phones and all kinds of technology. And it’s exciting to me that we have a message that hasn’t changed. Our caring and compassion for people has not changed.
“The big question then is, what happens in the future?” Hedden said. “How do we continue to live out that compassion?”
For more about the church’s 200th anniversary, see Hills-Church.org.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .