Early Church of God Activity
The denomination we now call “The Churches of God, General Conference,” was founded in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1825 under the leadership of John Winebrenner. In the years that followed, Winebrenner and other Church of God preachers fanned out into the surrounding counties organizing new churches. The main road from Harrisburg to York passed through New Cumberland, either across the Camel Back Bridge through Bridgeport (now Lemoyne) or on the ferry that connected New Cumberland with the East Shore. An entry in John Winebrenner’s journal, notes that he preached in New Cumberland on January 4, 1826, “at early candlelight” with John 3:14-15 as his text.
A New Mission Church
During these years New Cumberland was a small town with few industries. It faced the Susquehanna River on one side and was surrounded by farms and open fields on the other three sides. This began to change following the Civil War.
People began moving to areas of northern York County. New factories, businesses and shops appeared. Developers began raising houses in open fields. By the last decade of the nineteenth century New Cumberland was a prosperous community poised for a period of rapid expansion and growth.
This growing community caught the attention of the East Pennsylvania Eldership (now Conference) of the Churches of God, which was looking for a place to plant a new mission church. The groundwork for this project was laid at a meeting held on July 21, 1897, at Conewago Camp. On November 26, 1897, a committee of the board of Church extension visited New Cumberland and was impressed with the potential for a mission church. There were only two churches in New Cumberland at that time, the population was growing, and among the families that had moved into town from York County were several that had been actively involved in Churches of God.
On January 18, 1897, the board decided to buy property in New Cumberland as the site for the new mission church. The board purchased the Taylor lot on the corner of Fourth and Reno Streets for the sum of $550. Fifty dollars was paid at the time of the purchase and the balance was paid in five annual installments of $100.
Construction of the First Building
On May 17, 1898, the decision was made to build a brick church 32 feet by 45 feet. The new Bethel would be a simple building, almost identical to a one-room schoolhouse except for its stained glass windows.
The cornerstone was laid on July 26, 1898. As the new Bethel neared completion, final steps were taken to formally organize the mission church. This was done at an evening meeting on Saturday, November 12, 1898…the birthday of the New Cumberland First Church of God.
The dedication of the new Bethel took place the next day, November 13, 1898. The first service was held at 10:00 A.M. The Bethel was crowded since the other two churches in town (Methodist and United Brethren) had dismissed their services and encouraged people to attend the dedication. Elder C.I. Brown of Mt. Joy preached in the first service, using Hebrews 2:2 as his text. Two additional services were held that day, with Elder J. T. Fleegal preaching on Ecclesiastes 9:10 in the afternoon and Pastor Rishel preaching on Psalm 122:6 in the evening. The Methodist and United Brethren Pastors assisted in all three services.
Construction of the Present Bethel
Rapid growth and a clear vision for the future led the young congregation to realize that it was quickly outgrowing the little brick Bethel that had been its first home. The Church Council voted to begin construction of a new Bethel, with work to begin about April 1, 1914. The cornerstone of the first Bethel was saved and placed in the Reno Street wall of the new building, where it may be seen today. The new church was completed at a total cost of about $25,000.
In the years that followed, continued growth meant that additional space was needed for Christian education. When the second Bethel was built, it has been designed on the “Akron Plan” then popular. By 1960 this arrangement had become obsolete; it was hot in the summer and noisy all the time. A new education wing was added to the existing facility in 1966.