SOUTH EBENSBURG CONGREGATIONALISTS
In the year 1797, a number of pioneer Welsh families settled in the South Ebensburg District. The original settlers comprised the following families of Daniel Gibby, John Roberts and William Williams. These families emigrated from North Wales. The arrived in Ebensburg in the year 1797. Daniel Gibby settled on the farm now occupied by James Evans, near the former Pensacola School. John Roberts began his new life in this country on a farm that is partly owned by Mrs. Herman Roberts and Clarence Makin. William Williams originally settled on the farm that later came into the possession of Joseph O. Thomas. It is indeed interesting to note that the present church parking lot was a part of this original farm.
During the long ocean voyage from Wales, a romance arose between the daughter of Daniel Gibby and one of the sailors. These young people wee married and the daughter of this union was the first white female child born in South Ebensburg District. Very early another Welsh family by the name of Lloyd arrived and made their home on the land a little to the north of the present Community House. A son of this family, Evan Lloyd, became known as the first white male child born in this section.
It may be well to study the motives that tore these pioneers from their past moorings; dissevered intimate family ties, inspired them to face great dangers and overcome almost impossible difficulties. Knowing but dimly the past centuries of Welsh history, we know that there were great social and economic wrongs. But we believe finally that the religious motive was the great dynamic of their lives. Though the great majority of the people at that time belonged to what was known as the non-conformist group, e.g. the Welsh Baptist, the Congregational and Presbyterian and Wesyleyan Denomination, yet the inhabitants of this principality were taxed one-tenth of their farm income to support the Established English Church. A fervent and personal religious life aided by a sense of injustice brought these new citizens to this country.
That they were true to their ideals is evident from what transpired in the coming seventy years - two generations of time - from 1797 to 1867.
Their very first consideration was for the preservation of their religious faith. In these earliest days they worshiped in the Ebensburg Congregational Church, John Roberts and William Williams being charter members of that congregation in April 1797. The means of travel then were difficult, and soon a more local means of public worship was evolved. Neighbors assembled in the home of William Williams on the Sabbath Day for prayer, preaching and Sunday School services. Mid-week services were also held in the same manner. Later the pastors of the Ebensburg Congregational Church preached at regular intervals in this home. This custom was well known during the pastorate of Rev. Llewellyn Powell, 1847-1864.
The period of 1867 to 1937 now marks a very important epoch in the life of this community. The great Civil War is ended, which had drawn into service every able bodied man, and exhausted the resources of the country. Yet in this time of national crisis and great physical need the descendants of worthy forbears reveal that the spirit of the past still survived, for again their first thought was to maintain their religious faith and hope. Immediately at the close of this terrible war, their first concern is to organize a separate Church organization and to erect a new Church edifice. This resulted in an organization and the church now known as the (Bethany) South Ebensburg Congregational Church.
The church building committee was organized in 1865. This committee was composed of John T. Hughes, Owen Roberts, William Humphreys and David Evans. The dedication services were held the second Sabbath in June, 1867. The original Board of Deacons was composed of the following members: Humphrey Francis, Owen Roberts, and David Evans. Humphrey Francis was previously a dean in the Ebensburg Congregational Church. It was appointed to hold the first service on the closing Sabbath of the year 1866. But due to a severe snowstorm, only a few persons were present. With the opening of the year 1867 a regular order of services was observed in the new church.
The Bethany Sabbath School was organized March 24, 1867. This marks a very important milestone in the life of this institution. The work and influence of the School has been of incalculable help to the church during its entire history.
The first officers were: Superintendent, David D. Evans; assistant Superintendent and William W. Howell.
The following order of public services was maintained for many years. Alternate preaching and prayer services were held each Sabbath morning at 10 o'clock and evening at 7:30 o'clock. Sabbath School held Sabbath afternoon at 2 o'clock. Mid-week meeting was held Thursday evening and a Missionary Prayer Service was observed the first Monday evening of each month. A Young Men's Weekly Prayer Circle was organized in 1868 and continued for several years. The lives of these young men were influenced greatly by this medium of worship. Annual meeting and afternoon services were held on Thanksgiving Day and one public service held on Christmas Day. At the time of its organization, the Sough Church affiliated with the North Ebensburg Congregational Church. Previous to this time the pastors of the Ebensburg Congregational Church had supplied the pulpit of the North Church. In 1867, these two churches called a pastor who served both congregations, preaching services were held on alternate Sundays, a class meeting was held the Saturday afternoon preceding the Communion Service that was commemorated every fourth Sabbath. In recent years the Sabbath School is held each Sabbath Day and preaching services are held on alternate Sundays. An annual Thanksgiving Day Service is observed by the congregation.
Another organization that greatly affected the life of the youth of the church was the Christian Endeavor Society that was organized in the year 1889.
With the closing of the pastorate of Rev. James Jenkins, another very important change marked the life of this church. About this time the North Church merged to form a new church in the then new town of Colver. Though now standing alone, the South Church determined to continue its organization, In the year 1914 the church called Rev. Arthur Davies, but his pastorate was of short duration. For a number of years thereafter, Rev. John R. Thomas, pastor of Ebensburg Congregational Church, acted as supply minister. During this time, the Sunday School continued in a more or less active condition.
With the opening of the 20th Century has been recorded a great crisis in the rural life of our nation. Our industrial civilization, the manufacture of the automobile and improved highways have revolutionalized our modern life. There has been a marked decrease in rural population. During this transition the rural church has suffered greatly and many country churches curtailed their work or closed their doors. This local field also felt acutely this change and especially so when left to its own resources. There were years of discouragement, but the spirit of the forbears possessed their descendants. The work was continued and later there was a marked improvement and a measure of success. With the number of people available, we believe we can say truly that our church is an active and successful rural parish.
In recent years the people of this community purchased the adjoining vacated school building and transformed it into a community center. Though this organization is distinct from the church, yet the church has through its members created and preserved a high Christian civilization in this part of the country.
The church membership at present comprises 80 members and 20 absentees. The Sunday School enrollment is 86.
In 1928, Rev. John R. Thomas was called to be the Pastor. Rev. F. Edmund Jenkins is present pastor.
As reported in the Mountaineer Herald, August 16, 1954