Stewart Memorial United Methodist Church is a loving and caring community of faith. Our vision is to welcome newcomers with open arms and provide a church home for those seeking a relationship in and with Jesus Christ. We also recognize that our future lies with our children and we want to be a place for all children to come and know and love Jesus Christ.
The Origin of Stewart Memorial United Methodist Church
The following was submitted by the late Mrs. Herbert G. Williams upon the occasion of the church's seventy-fifth anniversary. Mrs. Willams is a direct decendant of the church founders and had held many offices in the church throughout her life.
The origin of the Stewart Memorial congregation dates back to about 1880, when a small group of people held Sunday School in a one-room schoolhouse in the sparsely settled village called Rendham. After periods of lagging and spurts forward, the people began to hold church services in the same building when they could secure a minister to conduct a service.
About this time the people began to talk about building a church, but money was scarce and the project difficult to get started. However, a group of the interested men held prayer meetings in the homes, hoping to stir up more enthusiasm for the project. In the area of this present church building was a farm belonging to John Stewart and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Stewart. Mr. Stewart was a native to Philadelphia, and his wife of Plains, Pa. They resided here from 1842 until 1880, rearing a family of five daughters. This home was well known in the region for its Christian influence and hospitality.
After the daughters grew up and married, the parents moved to Scranton, where they established a new home. Having many business interests, this was more convenient, but they retained the farm in Old Forge. On April 8th and 10th, 1890, Elizabeth Ann and John Stewart passed away at their Scranton home, being victims of a grip epidemic which was prevalent and on April 12th, their fourth daughter, Mrs. Sarah Stevens also died. The remaining daughters, heirs of their father's fortune, were as follows: Mrs. G. B. Kulp and Mrs. W. D. Loomis, both of Wilkes-Barre; Mrs. Charles B. Scott and Mrs. Louis C. Hessler of Scranton.
After the sad events of the passing of their parents and sister, Kathryn Stewart Hessler, the youngest of the family, decided to spend the summer at her old home, her father's farm in Old Forge. As she and her husband were spending a quiet evening together in these peaceful surroundings, a group of men came to their door. Introducing themselves, they explained that they were in the habit of holding prayer meetings in the homes about, and asked if they might enter and hold a meeting there. In her usual gracious manner, Kathryn Hessler invited them in.
At the close of the meeting, these devout Christians unfolded the desire of their hearts, namely, that they desired to build a church in this community, where people might worship God and they sought her aid and support.
Being captivated by their need and earnestness she invited them to return for more meetings, and to bring others with them. In the meantime, she had her piano moved down from her city home and she played for hymn singing. After some thought, Kathryn Hessler conceived the plan of laying the need of the Rendham people before her sisters, and soliciting their aid.
The sisters agreed to do something, so they donated the land on which this church and parsonage now stand. The church was erected in due time and presented, free of debt, to the people of this community, as a memorial to the lives of their beloved parents John Stewart (1820-1890) and Elizabeth Ann Stewart (1819-1890) who had themselves been ever zealous in good works and kind hospitality.
The corner stone of the church was laid October 10, 1891, and the building dedicated in 1892.
The first Board of Trustees were:
- Lemuel Slocum
- Louis C. Hessler
- W.H. Crocker
- Joseph Morton
The round memorial windows were installed by the Stewart daughters. The other colored glass windows were given by members during the pastorate of the Reverend Jeremiah Custard. The stones for the front were gathered from the Stewart farm by Lemuel and William Slocum, nephews of John Stewart.
As was stated, the church was conceived in the Sunday School, which has always been the vital part of the church. Its first Superintendent was:
- Mr. John Ayers, followed several years later by Mr. George Johns who served for many years.
- Samuel Baker
- R. Willis Rees
- John Ayers
- Stephen Johns
- E. B. Decker
In the early years, we were blessed with good choir leaders, and people who loved to sing. A few of the leaders were Mr. William Crocker, Stephen Johns, Henry Evans, Fred Mackinder, and Garfield Williams. The first youth choir was organized by Miss Blanche Johns.
Through the efforts of the congregation, spurred by the beloved President Elder, John C. Eekman, and still assisted by Kathryn Hessler, the parsonage was built in 1897.
Over the years the church has grown consistently, and has been served by twenty nine ministers.
Through recent years, our church has numbered over 300 persons. But as a small member congregation, we have a family spirit among us. Our people truly care for each other. However, this does not make us an exclusive group. Our bulletin board on the church front lawn says, "Visitors Are Expected!" First time visitors are not treated as strangers but receive a genuine warm welcome and acceptance. Many visitors return to stay. New glass doors on the front entrance to our church declare, "There is openness and welcome here."
We seek to minister to the needs of others. Girl Scouts have always been welcome to meet here. "Meals-on-Wheels" use the facility to serve the greater community. We reach out to help the needy in the Kentucky mountains, residents at Wesley Village in Pittston, patients at Clarks Summit State Hospital and Migrant Ministries. We installed in 2004 a new elevator-lift for those who have difficulty in using stairs to enter the sanctuary on the first level of our building or enter the meeting-dining room at the lower level.
In October 2003, our congregation, in cooperation with First United Methodist Church, Harrison Street, Old Forge, held a successful "Homecoming Sunday" to welcome back former pastors and parishoners with a special worship service followed by a dinner.
The Christian Education program is being re-organized. It is now called, "Adventures in Faith" and includes children who are Pre-school, Kindergarten, and Elementary grades. Sessions are held each Sunday at 11:10 AM and include Bible study, music, and personal and group activities under competent leaders. Programs for youth and adults will be announced.
Our church groups include: Church Council, meeting the first Monday of each month except July; United Methodist Women, meeting the second Wednesday of each month except July and August; the Choir which meets twice a month on call from the director.