Two Churches Become One

By Barbara Spier

In the beginning (A brief history of Presbyterian Churches in Oakmont):
Oakmont was incorporated into a borough on April 1, 1889 from the second ward of Verona. In 1856 a group of eleven residents associated with the United Presbyterian Church founded the Associated Reformed Church. This later became the Valley United Presbyterian Church and was the first church organized in what now is Oakmont (Gagetta, Calabrese, Zentgraf, & Rogers, 2003). At the time, Oakmont was still a part of Verona.

“In 1858, Peter Bright gave land adjacent to the Bright Cemetery on Fourth Street to the Valley United Presbyterian Church as a site for a church building”, (Foote & Gagetta, 1989, p. 12). At a cost of $1,399.00. 25 members of the church were responsible for the erection of a small building at the rear of the cemetery. This building was the home of the church for forty years. (Oakmont Presbyterian Church; Oakmont, Pennsylvania, 1993). “By December 1877, the congregation had grown to 122 members”, (p. 13). This church became the First United Presbyterian Church of Oakmont. In 1906, a building for the church was constructed at the corner of Fifth Street and Pennsylvania Avenues. This is the site of the present Oakmont Presbyterian Church. In 1917 and in 1964 additions were added to the building.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized by George and Rebecca Lee, who first held services at their farmhouse. Formal organization of the church occurred on February 26, 1871. The Lees were influential in having the congregation’s first church built at the intersection of Washington and Allegheny Avenues. In 1895 another building was erected as the congregation had outgrown the original building. This church was originally known as the Presbyterian Church of Edgewater; later the First Presbyterian Church of Verona; then the First Presbyterian Church of Oakmont, and later became the Riverside Presbyterian Church. (Foote & Gagetta, 1989; and Oakmont Presbyterian Church, Oakmont, Pennsylvania, 1993). The Lee family lived next door to the church and was very active in it. George Lee often preached in various churches and was often referred to as Reverend Lee.

In January 1992, there was a pulpit exchange between the Presbyterian Churches. During the exchange, the Rev. Stephen M. Wilson preached at the United Presbyterian Church and Rev. Donald T. Sherrill preached at the Riverside Presbyterian Church. Following the exchange, two members of the United Presbyterian Church commented on how nice it would be to have one Presbyterian Church in Oakmont. The ministers of the two churches further discussed this idea and presented the possibility to their respective Sessions. A committee was formed to explore the possibility of the merger of the two congregations. After many meetings and much discussion among members of the Sessions of each church, the idea was presented to each congregation for a vote on September 13, 1992. Although the vote was not unanimous, each congregation approved the merger. Following the approval of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, the Oakmont Presbyterian Church was formed. the first official service of the combined churches was held on October 4, 1992 (Oakmont Presbyterian Church, Oakmont, PA 1993).

The new church met at the Pennsylvania and Fifth Street location as that building was larger and not in need of major repairs. Some members of the Riverside Church had more difficulty with the merger as they were leaving a building where there was great emotional attachment. Members had dedicated windows, doors and etc. in memory of loved ones. The congregation of the Riverside Church did request that an air conditioner be added and that lighting be improved to the sanctuary of the building at Fifth Street. These changes were made. A couple of members from the Riverside Church mentioned that on the first Sunday of the combined congregation they wondered, “Whose seat am I sitting in?”

At the onset of the merger, Rev. Donald T. Sherrill and Rev. Stephen M. Wilson served as co-pastors. On January 31, 1993, Dr. Sherrill retired and Dr. Wilson became the Senior Pastor of the Oakmont Presbyterian Church.

Reasons for the merger, member concerns, and outcomes:
Persons interviewed indicated that the reasons for the merger were that the sizes of both congregations were decreasing. This was emphasized by those from the former Riverside Church, who also indicated that that church was in need of expensive repairs and updates and that their congregation was aging. Rev. Sherrill, the minister at the United Presbyterian Church was experiencing some health problems and was considering retirement. It was believed that by merging, the resulting congregation would be stronger and better able to meet the needs of church members and the community. It was felt that, since Oakmont is a small community, two Presbyterian Churches were not needed.

Members of the consolidation committee were in agreement on most issues and experienced growth as they worked together. Initially the members of both congregations had some concern as to what traditions, groups, activities and events would be given up. Members of the choir and the women’s associations had concerns about the changes. As the members got to know one another, priorities were determined, and “people worked together in working things out”. The members of the two congregations quickly blended and worked for the good of all.

Those interviewed expressed a belief that the merger has resulted in a strong caring congregation. Members of the congregation are welcoming and readily help others in need through prayer, contributions and service to those both near and far. It was expressed that the Lord led the merger and the positive growth and strength of the church that resulted.

Current (as of the time this was written) active members who were members of the churches at the time of the merger:
Linda Adzima
Idamary Moore
Sam & Dixie Anderson
Jon Nevin Moore
Martha Ayars
Beatrice Oliver
David Barr
Clare Oskin
Ronald Baker
Louise Osselborn
Donald & Patricia Birrell
Susan Podgers
Wayne & Diane Blackwell
Nancy Purdy
Kathy Bowser
Stacey & Drew Quinio
David Brownlee
Dale Remai
Henry & Ann Buechli
Dale & Joan Remai
Edward Burton
Robert Repp
Lynne Carothers
Glenn Ride
Barbara Cavendish
Lillian Roberts
Joan & Robert Coates
Carolyn Seely
William Coates
Erik & Adele Sellinger
Henry Corson Jr.
Fred & Diane Shields
Martha Corson
Robert & Janet Shoop
Dee Crawford
David & Betty Sipe
Beth DeLibero
Jason Strachan
Jody Dickinson
Mary Ellen Strachan
Kim Dinnin
Beverly Taylor
Marilyn Dunlay
Elva Scheestel/Taylor
Jack & Sharon Eaton
William & Doris Tomlinson
James Eaton
Thomas & Deborah Trumble
Roberta & Robert Erickson
Gladys Vayda
Kathi Ferguson
Vera Viale
Sue Flanagan
Sandra Wahnsiedler
Tim & Lynn Flanders
Donald Weil
Tim Flanders Jr.
David & Jean Wills
Bay & Gene Flanery
Dorothy Wygant
Janet Fusia
William & Ellen Young
Paul & Barbara Gigler
Thomas Gorman
Richard & Nancy Gray
Sue Harbison
Diane Harrell
George & Ruth Hawker
Ralph & Debra Hayes
Douglas Hipp & Kristina Kaiser-Hipp
Stephen & Shirley Hoops
Sally Huber-Lewis
Doris Hunzeker
Thomas & Ellen Jubeck
Terri Kedzierski
John & Carol Kells
Marjorie King
James & Jane Kinter
Nick & Paula Kokales
Sandra Lane
Patty & Gary Lesnick
Thomas & Doris Lewis
Tammy McCarthy
Ralph & Mary McIntyre
Curtis & Karen McLaurin
Daniel McNally
Donna & Joseph McNally
Thomas & Tracy Messenger
Beth Michael
Timothy & Kathryn Milberger

Foote, Edward B.; Gagetta, Vince; Wolfson, Marty; (1989). Beginning at a Black Oak: A Centennial History of Oakmont 1889-1989. Wolfson Publishing, Pittsburgh, PA.
Gagetta, Vince; Calabrese, Paula A.; Zentgraf, Cheryl; and Rogers, Gary; (2003). Images of America: Oakmont. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC.
Interviews with members of the Oakmont Presbyterian Church.
Oakmont Presbyterian Church. Oakmont, Pennsylvania (1993). Presbyterian Publishing House Church Directory Service: A Division of Publications Service, PCUSA, Cleveland.