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Annual service gives public chance to worhsip at old Pa. church

June 14, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Rocky Spring Presbyterian Church stands on a hill in a peaceful, wooded area four miles north of Chambersburg in Letterkenny Township.

The brick church, built in 1794, has not had an active congregation in more than 100 years. Its gated pews of unfinished wood with shoulder-high backs and flat seats are empty most of the time.

But one Sunday a year, it is filled with worshippers singing, praying and enjoying the austere beauty of the huge arched windows and cream plaster walls with white and dark gray trim.

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The church is owned by the Carlisle (Pa.) Presbytery and is overseen by five trustees, all members of the Presbyterian Church of the Falling Spring in Chambersburg. The Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution helps with maintenance.

One of the requirements when the DAR took over the care of the church was that a service led by a Presbyterian minister would be held annually, according to DAR member Nancy Burkey of Chambersburg, a retired teacher with an interest in history and genealogy.

That service was held Sunday.

"The story is told that the line for Letterkenny Army Depot stopped here because of this church," Burkey said. The spring that provided water to the congregation, however, is within depot boundaries. "Every year, they turn it on so we can have water at the service," she said.

The water fountain is outside; there is no running water or electricity in the church.

Almost everything in the church is original. A sound board, which acts as a microphone, hangs over the elevated pulpit. Most of the floor in the church is brick, with wood planks used in the pew area.

Two original wood-burning stoves stand at the front of the church. Their long stovepipes rise only to the attic. The church has no chimneys; the smoke stayed in the attic and provided extra warmth. Some historians say the reason for a chimney-less structure was to prevent Indians from seeing the rising smoke.

Names of congregants still are on the pews, which were moved from the original log church on the site, Burkey said.

Before the main service, Shirley Lanman of St. Thomas, Pa., regent of the Franklin County DAR chapter, and chaplain pro tem Marjorie McFadden of Chambersburg led a memorial service for eight recently-deceased members, including Jennifer Hege Demuth, who died of cancer at the age of 27.

McFadden, a 52-year DAR member, said she attends the service every year.

Three of her ancestors fought in the Revolution, she said.

The Rev. Edward Hale, pastor of Lower Path Valley and Burnt Cabins Presbyterian churches, conducted the colonial-style worship service. Congregational singing was a cappella, although the choir brought recorded music to accompany their anthem.

The offering was collected using old, long-handled velvet bags.

"What would those who used this place think of us?" Hale asked in his sermon. "Some of them had to flee to Carlisle because of Indian raids. They endured a 13-year struggle from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution. I believe they would offer us hope. They knew what it was to live in stormy times.

"Our best days are ahead of us," he concluded.

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