Historical Articles about
Oakmont Presbyterian Church
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 31st, 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:
Sam & Dixie Anderson
Jon Nevin Moore
Donald & Patricia Birrell
Wayne & Diane Blackwell
Stacey & Drew Quinio
Henry & Ann Buechli
Dale & Joan Remai
Joan & Robert Coates
Erik & Adele Sellinger
Henry Corson Jr.
Fred & Diane Shields
Robert & Janet Shoop
David & Betty Sipe
Mary Ellen Strachan
Jack & Sharon Eaton
William & Doris Tomlinson
Thomas & Deborah Trumble
Roberta & Robert Erickson
Tim & Lynn Flanders
Tim Flanders Jr.
David & Jean Wills
Bay & Gene Flanery
William & Ellen Young
Paul & Barbara Gigler
Richard & Nancy Gray
George & Ruth Hawker
Ralph & Debra Hayes
Douglas Hipp & Kristina Kaiser-Hipp
Stephen & Shirley Hoops
Thomas & Ellen Jubeck
John & Carol Kells
James & Jane Kinter
Nick & Paula Kokales
Patty & Gary Lesnick
Thomas & Doris Lewis
Ralph & Mary McIntyre
Curtis & Karen McLaurin
Donna & Joseph McNally
Thomas & Tracy Messenger
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.
A VISION TO UNITE US
The Merger Committee has evolved and now shares a vision that a merged Oakmont Presbyterian Church will more greatly glorify God and bring great new blessings to his people.
We envision new opportunities for our children and young people made possible by united resources and increased participation. We see diverse youth groups meeting different interests, a full time youth leader, perhaps a youth musical, a magnet Sunday School with strong attendance. Only a lively program that imaginatively motivates our young people will assure a meaningful present and an assured future.
We envision a church with sufficient dedicated members to effectively demonstrate a caring, responsive ministry for the elderly that constitute a large portion of our joint membership. Two ministers can better assure visitation to the sick and shut-ins. There are transportation needs, social needs, as well as spiritual. The elderly must count on us; the new Oakmont Presbyterian Church must be there.
For all members -- married, singles, new members, women, men, we must demonstrate what a caring creative church of some size is able to respond. To do the job, we must carefully develop lay Christian leadership, as well as identify, empower and develop the spiritual gifts of our members. We will be in a position to encourage service and Christian fellowship. Retreats, work camps, evangelism outings are now more easily possible.
We envision a truly active outreach mission to our local community and to world-wide missions. A new enlarged church will have justifiable confidence to undertake both simple and complex tasks. We will be in a position to regularly make our healing presence known in the community as major and individual needs develop. It would be both good and wise to sponsor events that non-member community residents are invited to attend and begin a relationship with them. We could sponsor a foreign family or sister congregation.
Together, the members of the new Oakmont Presbyterian Church will determine the exact opportunities to pursue. It is clear to all members of the Merger Committee that a vital, new, enlarged congregation of Presbyterians in Oakmont can mark the anointment of a major spiritual re-awakening, and allow a rich, enlarged ministry for all of us. With restructured resources and a refreshing rededication by His newly unified people, the Lord's work can truly flourish here. After prayerful consideration, we urge adoption of the proposed merger and the acceptance of a greater church vision to the Glory of God.
From the Merger Study Committee of the First United and Riverside Presbyterian Churches.
It's a Beautiful Baby (First Sermon at Merged Church)
Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16
Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16 (NRSV)
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
There are a few things I will remember my entire life
seeing the birth of my sons.
babies are miracles
Anyone who has ever seen a newborn baby, there is no question: men & women are part of the process, but babies come from God.
The author of Ephesians calls the church a "body."
There is no question in my mind. This new body of OPC, like babies, comes from God.
Considered in 1958 and discussed about 1964.
Many asked "why 2 PCs in Oakmont?"
It was a dream for some, an impossible dream.
But God's Spirit was poured out on members from 1st United and Riverside Presbyterian Churches and they began to see a vision.
It was a bold vision of 2 strong churches becoming stronger by being one church.
This new church was conceived 9 months ago.
It grew and matured w/ a healthy diet of study and discussion.
There was a question whether it would ever reach full term & be delivered.
After intense labor, this new body was born 3 weeks ago, and we bring it home today.
As I look around I think “it is a beautiful baby church”.
Ephesians speaks powerfully to us of God's plan for this new body of Christ.
"God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world...."
"Christ has made known to us in all wisdom & insight the mystery of God's will....to unite all things in him, things in heaven & things on earth."
As we bring it home, we are not naive about what newborns require and what this new church requires.
Several days after bringing baby home, you feel that you'll never sleep again and that you'll be feeding junior and changing diapers for the rest of your life.
1st week is traumatic.
I was never so thankful to see anyone as I was to see my mother-in-law arrive a week after delivery.
At birth of the new OPC we acknowledge this newborn brings challenges and requires the same kind of loving care.
Developing into 1 new identity
There is little time for admiration. Committees need formed. The sick need to be visited. The baby's budget needs changed.
Ephesians seems like the first letter written to this newborn OPC:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
We stand and see a miracle.
Friends, this is a miracle and it is up to us to nurture it that it may grow and mature.
Lowliness & meekness will help us avoid pride which divides rather than unites.
It helps us remain flexible when great flexibility is needed.
Forbearance is important.
Some have said, it feels strange. It does.
New relationships need to be established, trust developed, and respect built.
We don't understand everything about each other and some things seem odd.
I noticed a gurney in the room where the offering is counted. I assume treasure is greatly affected by your offering.
Recently, I saw a member standing next to a pew. She was inspecting the padding on the pew. I fully expected that she would kick the pew to see if it were solid. I could not tell if she was planning to sit in it or buy it?
Lowliness, meekness, & forbearance will help this new body grow.
We are as responsible for its well-being as are parents of a baby. Sometimes Don and I have felt like parents - we're not sure who's the mother and whose the father, but I'm glad that we're working together and we do work well together.
Former RPC members take time to get to know this man. He has great experience and the highest commitment to the new church.
Former FUP members - you got a new church and a second pastor.
lets sit down for coffee & talk.
We are all the members of this new body with the same goal in mind - the health & growth of this new church.
That was evident at the 1st staff meeting -
confident that we'll develop into a real team.
quality of people working for the good of this church.
I'm encouraged about our taking care of this new body.
- dedicated & talented staff who serve
- committed members
- guiding hand of God who encourages us to live in lowliness & meekness forbearing one another
Oh yes - the woman so helpful in the transition time of our newborns, my mother-in-law arrives Tuesday.
Inaugural Sermon, October 4, 1992, Oakmont Presbyterian Church