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Township, Lancaster County, Pa

"Churches of Today and Yesterday in Southern Lancaster County" by Fellowship of Solanco Churches, Raymond Dunlap, George Herbert, & Richard Yates , Sr. printed 1968


The Octorara Covenanter, Associate, Associate Reformed, United Presbyterian Church of North America, "Shrine" Church is located on the North side of Route 372, between Green Tree and Quarryville, in Bart Township, at what is locally known as Middle Octorara. On the opposite side of the road is found the Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church. In order to rightly understand the reason for the location of two Presbyterian Churches so close together, one must return, in history, to the land of Scotland in the year 1733 and review the violent upheave I which occurred that year in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the Established Church of Scotland, and the resulting divisions of later years which were not completely hen led until" the union of 1958 created our present United Presbyterinn Church in the United States of America. From the year 1721 to 1732, the General Assembly of the Scottish Church was torn by complaints and protests from certain of its Ministers over "alleged deadly errors in doctrine and practice." The Assembly accordingly proceeded to discipline four of the leaders of the protesting group; namely, Reverends Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moneief and James Fisher. These four gentlemen being fully supported by their respective congregations, proceeded to constitute a Presbytery by the name of the Associate Presbyterian Presbytery. They were soon joined by others who were also dissatisfied with the actions of the Assembly. As their numbers increased, other Presbyteries were formed, and finally a Synod was constituted; this Associate Synod came to be known as the "Secession Church" and its adherents "Seceeders." After being greatly prospered for several years, there arose a difference of opinion within their ranks as to the meaning of the Burgess Oath. By 1748 the contention again reached the point of separation, and the two opposing parties became known as Burghers and Antiburghers.

While these events were taking place in Scotland, settlers continued to arrive in the Colony of Pennsylvania, and particularly in Southern Lancaster County, bringing with them the same strong religious convictions of their native land. In 172 7 those who adhered to the General Assembly of Scotland organized the Middle Octorara Presbyterian Society and erected a log Meeting House to which all were welcome. But it was only natural for those of the Associate group to desire Ministers of that persuasion and a Meeting House of their own. Since coming to America the Burghers and Antiburghers had agreed to forget that issue, since the Oath had no application here. Repeated appeals were made to the Antiburgher Synod, the Associate Synod of Edinburg, for the Ministers to break to them the Bread of Life. The Reverend John Cuthbertson, the first Covenanter Minister to come to this Country, arrived in 1751 to serve, not as a settled Pastor, but rather as a roving Missionary, traveling extensively throughout this and neighboring Colonies, with his residence and chief field of operations at Octorara. Through his efforts six acres of land were secured from the tract purchased by the Middle Octorara Society from the sons of William Penn in 1738, and on this plot a stone Meeting House was erected in 1754. The first settled Pastor was The Reverend Alexander Gellatly, who with the Reverend Andrew Arnot had come in 1753 in response to the appeal for Ministers. They were authorized to organize congregations and constitute a Presbytery, which they proceeded to do on November 2, 1754 at the Octorara Meeting House. The name given to the Presbytery was The Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania. Mr. Gellatly was followed by the Reverend John Smith, and it was during his pastorate that a Union was formed between the above Presbytery and the Covenanter or Reformed Presbytery which had been constituted in 1774 by the Reverends John Cuthbertson, William Lind and Alexander Dobbin. This union took place at Pequea on June 13, 1782, and was called the Associate Reformed Presbytery. After Mr. Smith came the Reverend Ebenezer Dickey who was followed by the Reverend Robert Annan, whose untimely death occurred December 5, 1819 as a result of having been thrown from his carriage on the previous Sabbath while on his way from his home near Andrews Bridge, to preach here. During the interval between Mr. Annan and the calling of the Reverend William Easton in 1827, the congregation decided to return to the Associate Presbytery. The union of 1782, because of general dissatisfaction in various congregations, had in fact created three Church bodies instead of one as had been hoped. In 1858 a union was again accomplished between the Associate and Associate Reformed Synods, creating the United Presbyterian Church of North America. This union proved to be permanent and continued until the union in 1958 of that body and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America created the present United Presbyterian Church. Most of the foregoing historical statements have been gleaned from a Memorial Sermon preached in this church by Reverend Easton on June 9, 1872, and later published in pamphlet form.

The first building stood until 1849, when it was replaced by the present one; the stones of the first being used again in the second. While this was being done, services were held in the Mars Hill School House. The structure had an entrance at each end, with an aisle wide enough to place the long Communion table with benches on either side for the communicants, and sufficient room for the Elders to pass along both sides. A very high pulpit was located on the north side.

The Reverend David Anderson was installed as Pastor May 10, 1881, and a few years later at his instigation the frame addition was added to the west end of the Church and an Academy established to provide a measure of further education for the youth of the commun-ity beyond that furnished in the local public schools. This institution flourished for a period of years, numbering among its students many prominent citizens of later years. When the Academy had served its purpose, the room was rented to the Bart Township School Board in 1901 for use as the first High School in the Township, and continued as such until the erection of the Central School near Green Tree.

This church boasts at least three sons in the ministry: one, the, son of a Ruling Elder with his roots deep in this congregation, who must be credited to Middle Octorara because of his membership there. Most notable of its sons was the Reverend William B. Anderson, son of the Reverend David Anderson and wife, who had served In Missionary to India for forty years and was called home to become Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the United Presbyterian Church. In 1939 the building was recognized as the oldest of the United Presbyterian Churches of North America and declared a Shrine of Presbyterianism by the General Assembly of that church. One of the first acts of the General Assembly after the Union of 1958 was to direct its restoration and maintenance as a National Monument. The restored Church was dedicated with fitting ceremonies November 11, 1961.

Most of the pews are original, some few are reproductions. The pulpit furniture is that formerly used in this Church, but the pulpit is from the Muddy Run Associate Presbyterian Church. The pulpit formerly used in this Church now stands in the rear of the Sanctuary and serves as a registration desk. The rude handmade pulpit bench of the Smyrna Associate Presbyterian Church is also in the building and so labeled. The Academy room has been converted into a museum as well as a room that will accommodate smaller groups. The pews from Muddy Run have been placed in this room along with the long Communion table and benches from that Church. In the museum are found many photographs of former pastors and members, group pictures of historic interest, an old Communion tankard, old Psalm books and numerous other items of interest. There is a growing collection of old Bibles contributed by interested persons, many with family records and some with special histories.

The burying ground at the rear of the church, although rather small in size, contains the graves of five Ministers of the Gospel, three of whom, Reverends Annan, Easton and Anderson, were pastors of this church. There is also the grave of the Reverend Joseph C. Camp-bell, a Son of the Church, and that of the Reverend Ephraim H. Stevenson, Missionary to India for twenty years.

The Church is now under the direction of Donegal Presbytery and is open to all Evangelical groups that desire to use it for Worship Services, Retreats, Conferences, Meditation and Prayer. Light and heat are provided, making it available all seasons of the year.

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