Welty Church of the Brethren celebrates 175th anniversary

September 25, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Lois Shafer, left, of Chambersburg, Pa., talks with the Rev. Paul Heisey Sunday afternoon at Welty Church of the Brethren's 175th anniversary celebration in Smithsburg. Shafer was baptized by Heisey when she joined the church in 1975.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG — For Weldon Eshelman, Welty Church of the Brethren is home.

Ninety-one years ago, Eshelman was on the cradle roll at the church, which on Sunday celebrated its 175th anniversary.

About 100 people attended the celebration, including parishioners and pastors from the church’s past and present. One of them was Norman Cain, who served as pastor from 1968 to 1974.

Cain, who is retired and lives in New Oxford, Pa., recalled how the congregation was so welcoming to him and how he could rely on its members when necessary.

One time, he recalled during the celebratory service, was when he called the board chairman, Robert Graybill, late at night to tell him they were going “barhopping.”

“It got all silent on the other end of the phone for a while,” Cain recalled while parishioners snickered.

Cain explained that a parishioner had not come home and his wife, who had just had a baby, was worried.

Cain said he was concerned about the possibility of someone seeing the pastor exiting a bar late at night.

“I thought it would be better if someone saw the pastor and the board chairman,” he said to the attendees’ laughter.

The church, which is north of Smithsburg and stands on Greensburg Road near Welty Church Road, was started in 1836 by John Welty.

Joyce Stevenson, the church’s unofficial historian, said Welty attended Stouffer’s Mennonite Church but had to leave that church after he joined the legislature because the Mennonite church didn’t believe in mixing church and state.

Welty started a new church, which included a schoolhouse and at first was a union church of three or four congregations, including Church of God and Brethren, Stevenson said.

After Welty and his wife were baptized in Waynesboro, Pa., their new church gradually became a Church of the Brethren, Stevenson said.

Sixty to 70 people usually attend Sunday services, estimated Nancy Hurley, who helped organize the 175th anniversary.

“My mother (the late Eleanor Muritz) used to carry me to church in a laundry basket as a baby,” said Hurley, 66, of Hagerstown. Her mother directed religious dramas for the church.

Hurley said several parishioners have gone on to become pastors, including James Strite.

Strite, 65, said the career decision was influenced by Sunday school at Welty, teachers and other families.

They were always looking out for one another, Strite said.

“Other people looking out, trying to steer me in the right way,” said Strite, who is now pastor at the Peace Light Brethren in Christ Church in McKnightstown, Pa.

Lester Boleyn recalled becoming an interim pastor in 2004 after the church had been “through a couple of tragedies.” Those tragedies included the unexpected death of the Rev. C. Dean Mauk on June 24, 2004.

Paul Heisey, who was pastor from 1975 to 1979, said he has lots of good memories from his time with the church.

There are lots of new faces and familiar ones as well, said Heisey, 85, who lives in the Denver, Pa., area.

“Lots of them, I see a face, but my computer’s down,” said Heisey, smiling as he pointed to his head.

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