Who We Are
Paddletown St. Paul's United Methodist Church -- Etters, Pennsylvania
--Pastor Ryan Whisel
Paddletown St. Paul's United Methodist Church is located just east of Newberrytown, PA. It is twelve miles north of York, PA and about 15 miles south of Harrisburg, PA.
Newberrytown was named for the Newberry Friends, a Quaker sect that settled in the area as early as 1741. The town proper was laid out by Mr. Cornelius Garretson in 1791. Forty-three lots were purchased by the descents of the original settlers.
Mr. Garrison presented the inhabitants of the town, and those who may pass through, a well of water. There were three large troughs for the watering of horses. This well is still in use on the “Commons.” The early settlers were Quakers but other religious groups began to infiltrate the area as travelers and newcomers as the town grew.
This was a farming community. The gospel message was carried to the people by circuit riders traveling on horseback to their numerous charges. The circuit riders rotated and often met in homes or at camp meetings. Our own beginning dates back to 1835 with a group of Evangelical members were served by the Gettysburg Circuit meeting in the school house located in the southwest corner of Paddletown Cemetery. Services were held there and it was known as the United Sabbath School of Paddletown Schoolhouse. In 1864 this circuit was divided and the Conewago Circuit was established. The average attendance was about 100 during the season. The Sabbath school was closed during the winter month, from October till April.
In 1873 the members decided that a house of worship was needed. The original building was constructed of native sandstone and still serves as the sanctuary today. This building was dedicated on February 1, 1874. One year later the circuit was renamed the Lewisberry circuit.
The church was incorporated on October 9, 1938. In 1946 the church united with the United Brethren Church become EUB and later, in 1968, with the Methodist Church becoming Paddletown St. Paul's United Methodist Church.
As I interviewed twenty-five plus year members I learned that in the early 1900's the church was filled with people with chairs being put up wherever there was available space. On Sunday mornings over 200 people filled the small sanctuary. The church was the center of the community. The Sunday school was filled with the young married couple's class numbering over 50 members. This Sunday school class was close knit became the core group for married couples. It is still together and a very involved class, however it is much smaller. The church was filled with “Baby Boomers”. Christmas plays, guest speakers, week-long revivals, large community picnics, lots of children, musicals and a Sunday school orchestra with members being children of WWI and GI's were a central part of the church's activities. Ac children grew up and went to college, got married, joined the arm services or moved away because of work, the church school attendance began to drop.
In 1890 the first annual community picnic was held. This event grew with as many as 1500 people or more attending at one time. It was highlight of the year for the church as people came from the community and surrounding areas to hear the band play and eat home-made chicken corn soup. The ladies would kill, clean, cook the chicken and cut off the corn and make large kettles of corn soup which was shared with everyone during the picnic. This congregation was a close knit during the 40's, 50's and 60's. Many of the members were related to each other and lived in the community. They worked well together, helping members of the church and the community with various needs with a strong desire to share the Word of God with others. Many agreed that the church was friendly and always ready to help anyone in need. However, some members said church worship was dull during the 1970's.
In 1974 the Christian Education building was constructed to help provide additional space classrooms for the growing number of children. The building included classrooms, a complete kitchen, and a library, used by members and the community, and a full basketball court. The building of the parking lot brought some dissension among the congregation because it required the cutting down of a grove of trees that had been planted many years earlier in memory of loved ones. The church needed the parking lot because of the CE center and the number of members attending worship. Nearly everyone remembered the church being open and friendly to all people. During the 80's and 90's the congregation grew older with very few young people attending. Although there was a good youth group during the late 80's the average age of the congregation changed very little, it was still an older congregation.
Church members with less than ten years see the church as friendly, helpful and loving. There seemed to be a division between the old (gray hair) and the new members. Very few young couples or children attending, however, the warmth and love of the congregation kept them attending. They all agreed that the church welcomed them slowly began to include them in activities. They are concerned that the age group 18-30 is missing from the church. Although there are a few attending Sunday school and church there isn't any program for this age group.
Over the years the church has changed. Attendance dropped as society began to provide programs and entertainment for children and families outside the church. Sporting events, the opening of shopping malls, and working on Sunday's has caused families to make the choice between worship, school activities and work. Older members witnessed the decline in attendance as they remembered the past with over 200 people attending worship. Today more people drive to church, fewer come directly from the immediate community. The church no longer holds week-long revivals, the band is gone, and the church is no longer a priority in many people's lives.
Although the attendance has fluctuated the faithful have continued to support the church and its programs. Today the church embraces new programs for children, young adults and older adults as they work together. The church is still concerned about the local community and how they can best serve them.
They agreed that the type of leadership by the pastor and others helps the church either be dull or alive. The church camping program is growing and more children are attending events such as “Kid's Night Out.” The VBS program once again is growing from 40 to 75 children participating. Today the church is a “happy” place. There are families in the pews and children are returning to the church. They see “hope” where for several years they saw decline and dullness.
Both groups agree that new members need to know that the church is friendly, caring, faithful, loving, and welcoming. They feel the church has a variety of programs and activities for all ages and are very accepting of new members. Although the church is small it takes on projects which seem beyond their means and reaches their goals. The advantage of a smaller church is that the people quickly include new comers and make them feel a part of the church. This church reaches out to the community and cares about the needs of others and provides many opportunities for you to serve God. They are a “Christ-centered” congregation that relies strongly on prayer and spiritual growth. The congregation loves one another, supports each other and provides a place to worship the Lord and learn.
Like all congregations world and community events effected the congregational growth and attendance. The church was built shortly after the Civil War and shortly after the assignation of President Lincoln. The church became the focal point for the community. When it began its attendance was about 100. There are very few records from the time of the stock market crash of the 1920's and early 1930's but I am sure it affected the chruch. I couldn't find anything during the time frame of WWI except that the church continued to grow with over 200 in attendance and activities. The annex of the church was added due to the increase in attendance and the need for more room for church activities. The church was still the center of the community with the war bringing people to church as they supported the military. World War II again brought the people together in churches to pray. The Korean War and Vietnam War impacted the church, although people came to church the attendance decreased. The invention of television, women working, and a mobile society was reflected in church attendance and activities. The church no longer was the focal point of a family or community.
The race riots of the 1960's, the unrest over the Vietnam War and the dislike and distrust for any institutional establishment affected the church and attendance dropped again, however this congregation remained somewhat stable. The “hippie” group of the 60's turned away from God and society as they protesting almost everything and again the church attendance dropped.
The assignation of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy brought people back to the church for a few months but they soon left disillusioned by what the church had to offer. The church was stuck back in the 1930's and 1940's and the younger generation was looking for something more. The uniting of the EUB and the Methodist Churches in 1968 caused some people to leave the church.
Although no one has mentioned it, I am sure that the malfunction of Three Mile Island had a great effect on the church. Out of fear people moved away from this community, property values decreased, commercial enterprises left and the community was devastated. It had been only 5 years since the church had out-grown its facilities with activities for families and children and had built the Christian Education Center, now it sat almost empty. Today this facility is used by 6 scout groups, two basketball teams, a volleyball team, as a voting place, and practice areas for various sporting groups, VBS, Kid's night out, wedding receptions, funeral dinners, public dinners, and a variety of other events, both by the church and the community.
The church continued to struggle but remained active and stable while other small churches became a part of a two or three point charge.
For the next thirty or forty years the church changed very little. The attendance was steady and it was able to meet financial needs. The church still reached out into the community, taught Sunday school, held Bible Studies, host various activities, and continue to serve God.
Throughout the life of the church, leadership has played an important part in the churches growth. When the leaders were excited and energetic the church grew; when leaders were less energetic it was reflected in the church, with church remaining stable or declining. Over the years programs were introduced hoping that this would bring people to church, most failed to meet the needs of the unchurched. With the many changes in our society the church slipped in the priorities of the people.
Throughout its history the church continued to bring God's Word to those people. They have always been open and friendly, sharing God's love with all people. They have always seen themselves as a family with great concern for the community around them. Their faithfulness, dedication and commitment to serving God has always been the most important part of their journey as a congregation of faith. They are deeply committed to continuing to be the light of Christ in this community.