Williamsport church celebrates 200 years

April 29, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

WILLIAMSPORT - The Rev. Wilfred Downs dismounted his horse after a trek along the C&O Canal and hobbled up the aisle of the 200-year-old Williamsport United Methodist Church.

He then removed his rimmed hat and brushed his long, brown hair from his eyes to prepare a Scripture reading from the altar.

Sort of.

The Rev. Richard A. Kroll, current pastor of the 480-member Williamsport United Methodist Church, played the part of Downs, a traveling circuit rider and pastor of the church from 1859 to 1861. The act was part of the celebration of the church's 200 years in existence.


"It's two centuries of faith ..." Kroll said after the service, while still dressed as a circuit rider and wearing a long black coat. "We're still here, and I think that says something about who we are."

A circuit rider was an itinerant preacher of the Methodist denomination who served an area, or "circuit," consisting of usually 20 to 40 appointments mostly in pioneer cabins, schoolhouses or taverns, according to the church. The circuit system was developed by John Wesley for English societies and developed in America by Francis Asbury, the first bishop of the Methodist church.

The Williamsport church was part of a circuit that included Boonsboro, Smithsburg, Clear Spring and Chambersburg, Pa.

It was founded in 1801 and called the Methodist Episcopal Society, and services were held in homes until a church was built in 1813 on Potomac Street, said historian Nellie Payne.

In 1846 or 1847, trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Society bought the property of the current church's location at 25 E. Church St., which evolved into the Williamsport United Methodist Church. Years later, the church was used to house Union troops.

Payne and co-historian Evalene Leaf said they think the church has survived so long because of the hard work of its members, young and old.

"That's significant that we have committed to God and serving the community and the world," said church member Joan Knode, who helped promote the church's bicentennial event.

Town historian Maurice Snyder dressed up as town founder Otho Holland Williams for Sunday's celebration.

"It's been well-respected," Snyder said of the church. "We hope to open our arms to our entire community."

"I hope we're here for another 200 years," said Jerry Knode, who dressed as a Civil War soldier.

The church remodeled its sanctuary 10 years ago and recently completed a $500,000 restoration of the education center. It also holds community service events throughout the year and sponsors Boy Scout Troop 17, the oldest troop in Maryland.

"We're trying to be involved in the whole community," Joan Knode said.

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