The First Church in Ebensburg and the First Congregational Church in Pennsylvania was organized here on April 29, 1797, and was composed entirely of Welsh people. All of the services were in the Welsh tongue. In order that we may lay hold intelligently upon the threads with which we will weave our story we must look to Philadelphia, the port at which Welsh and other nationalities landed in goodly numbers towards the end of the Seventeenth Century, to take part in the formation of this country in Colonial days; to watch the direction into which providence led them. A number of Welsh people came over for the first 15 or 20 years after were the most numerous class of immigrants being prominent in the Philadelphia sector and leaving many traces of themselves for many miles around Philadelphia in the names of the places.
In the late summer of 1796 some Welsh people led by Rev. Rees Lloyd left Philadelphia to found a Welsh colony on the top of the Allegheny Mountains; the group led by Rev. Lloyd reached the summit, 2300 feet above sea level, near the close of 1796, and settled here in Ebensburg. A second group led by Rev. Morgan John Rhees settled at Beulah, three miles from Ebensburg, about the same time and shortly afterwards founded a Baptist Church there.
Ebensburg was no doubt caled after the name of the place in Wales (Ebenezer Church at pontypool, Monmouthshire, South Wales) where Rev. Lloyd was ordained and probably has some reference to that passage in Scripture, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer." (I Sam. 7:12)
In April, 1797, the Congregational Church was organized with a membership of 24. It is significant that from the beginning its freedom has appealed to Christians of all denominations and nationalities; only 12 of the 24 were Congregationalists originally as one was received by confession and the 11 remaining persons had been Welsh Presbyterians or Calvinistic methodists as they were then called.
The charter members of this first church organized in 1797, taken from minutes written in 1820, are as follows:
Officers: Rev Rees Lloyd Shepherd; George Roberts, Deacon.
Members: Rees Lloyd and Rachel, his wife, George Roberts and Jane, his wife, Hugh Roberts and Elizabeth, his wife, Robert Rodernick, Thomas Phillips Jr., Margaret Rees, John Jenkins, James Evans and John Thomas. (Congregationalists): and William Gryffyth and Jane, his wife, William Williams and Hannah, his wife, John Roberts and Jane, his wife, Robert Williams and Gaynor, his wife, Jane Roberts, Thomas Gryffyth, John Roberts and Catherine, his wife; (Calvinistic Methodists.)
Ebensburg's first church has had a remarkable history for the permanency and length of its pastorage having had only 14 pastors in 157 years, an average of over 11 years for each pastorate. Its pastors have been:
Rees Lloyd, 1797-1817
Rev. George Roberts, 1808-1839
Rev. William Tibbott, 1808-1822
Rev. Morris Jones, 1827-1839
Rev. William W. Williams, 1839-1843
Rev John Howes, 1843-1847
Rev. Llewelyn Powell, 1847-1864
Rev. Thomas R. Jones, 1866-1884
Rev. George Hill, 1884-1892
Rev. R. Sirhowy Jones, 1892-1898
Rev. J. Twyson Jones, 1898-1908
Rev. Henry H. Gurnsey, 1909-1912
Rev. John R. Thomas, 1912-1950
Rev. F. Edmund Jenkins, 1951-
During the ministeries of Revs. Thomas R. Jones and George Hill the English language became the prevailing medium of expression in the services, and in the year 1886 a resolution was passed that the English language alone be used. This was a very important decision at that time but the large number of churches which have perished because of refusing to give up the use of the mother tongue in services shows the wisdom of that decision.
The first Congregational meeting house was erected in 1797, where the Lloyd cemetery now is, about one half mile from the center of town. From the "Cambria Herald" of Ebensburg of 1874, we gather the following facts:
"Ebenezer church was the first church ever built in this vicinity. The site of the chapel was immediately opposite Lloyd cemetery, (to the south). It was built of logs, one story in height and was about twenty feet square. The roof was built of clapboards, which was also the ceiling; and in its entire construction not a single nail was used." There is no vestige left to show where Ebenezer Chapel once stood.
The second meeting house was also constructed of logs in 1804, on the rear of the present parsonage lot. The third building was erected on Sample street in 1832, opposite the second meeting house. Trustee Rowland R. Davis described it as follows: "A brick building two storied with two doors in the center. The men entered on the right and the women on the left…..the pulpit was half-round in shape very high from the floor with a door on the east side of it….this building is now referred to as the old brick church."
The fourth church building was erected in 1869. It was a substantial brick building, 50 by 80 feet with a gallery in front over the vestibule. Pews were made of ash and walnut; windows of Gothic style lit with lamps and a reflector; heated by two furnaces in the cellar.
The present church is the fourth church remodeled with only the walls remaining from the old edifice. A tower 86 feet high and an organ recess were added in 1806, in 1832 the space under the church was excavated and a kitchen and dining room as well as a steam plant added at a cost of $10,000; in 1947 for its sesquicentennial the present chancel alter arrangement was voted and carried out together with the installation of a gas furnace. The parsonage, next door to the church was built in 1894.
Having been so richly blessed, the church has not neglected the spending of men into the ministry and lists the following ministers from its roster: Rev. Thomas Roberts, son of Rev. George Roberts; also a grandson of Rev. George Roberts; Rev. Thomas Brookbank of Arizona; Rev. Richard J. Evans, missionary to Washington Territory in 1859 and Rev. Jess Hill, son of Rev. George Hill.
The Church School was organized in 1819 during the ministry of Rev. George Roberts and Rev. William Tibbott. Today the school has an enrollment of 340 with an average attendance of abut 200. Elmer Empfield is the present superintendent. The school pioneered in establishing a nursery for children during the worship service and has recently purchased necessary equipment for greater use of audio-visual teaching materials.
The membership has grown through the years from 24 in 1797 to 146 in 1830; 1830, 106: 1897, 237, and today in 1954 500 members in active service. Though the church is and will remain English, the Welsh people will not be forgotten and the Book they read the Gospel they preached, and the God they served and worshipped will be held in reverence forever in Ebensburg's First Congregational Church wihs is now proud to be known as "The Friendly Church."
The friendly spirit may be seen in its relationship to the Kane Church as well as churches in this community which were started by original members of the Congregational Church but who exercised their freedom to establish other churches as had their ancestors in the case of the Congregational Church.
As reported in the Mountaineer Herald, Monday, Aug 16, 1954
SEE UPDATE 2003