Honey Brook United Methodist Church, which has a history that predates the name Honey Brook, is celebrating a big birthday in 2013. Throughout this year the church is recognizing its 190th anniversary, honoring its longest-tenured members, and remembering its long and rich history.
The Methodist Church is the oldest institution in Honey Brook, said Reverend Coleen Brandt Painter. The first meetings of the church that would become Honey Brook UMC took place in the homes of its members in 1823, when the town was called Waynesburg. In the 1880s, when railroad service came to the town, a name change was necessary because of confusion with another borough in Western Pennsylvania. The church sanctuary dates to 1902. The building itself goes back to the 1840s.
Reverend Painter used the church’s semi-circular pews as a metaphor for its welcoming nature.
“I think it makes for a friendly church. What really impressed me when I came here is how close knit they were. When you join this church, you join the family,” Painter said.
Painter is the church’s second woman minister. It continues a tradition of notable women from the Honey Brook UMC. One of its most notable members was Reverend Lela McConnell. She was raised in Honey Brook, but found her calling as a missionary to Appalachian Kentucky in the early 1900s. In 1931, McConnell established the Kentucky Mountain Bible College, an institute that still exists today. Conrad said she remembers McConnell attending the church after she retired to Honey Brook.
Other members of the church have also become ministers, including Rev. Dr. James Bamberger of the Terre Hill and Churchtown United Methodist Churches, she said.
On Sunday, April 21, the church kicked off its anniversary by celebrating members who have been a part of the church for more than 50 years. According to church historian Kathryn Conrad, of the 44 members who have been with the church for more than a half-century, 28 were able to attend the service. These long-time members are a link to the time when the Methodist church was the center of the town, she said.
Conrad has been a member of the church since 1934.
At age 9, Conrad was inspired to join the church by Reverend Harry H. Truax, who was very friendly to the church’s children.
Conrad said some of her favorite memories of the church included Rev. Truax’s children’s services, which usually involved some kind of symbolism to teach the kids.
“He would go through so much work on the children’s services. He always had some kind of object to teach the children bible stories.”
At that time, Conrad said, everyone was expected to attend church. There was not even a nursery for infants.
Another vivid memory for Conrad was a special service that the church held to commemorate the end of World War II. Honey Brook had a number of soldiers, as well as a woman from town, assisting in the war effort. Each week the church would choose a “boy of the week” who would be sent a letter.
The church continued to thrive into the 1900s, when a local philanthropist named Ella Quien provided the donations for many modernizations, including stained glass windows, electric lights, the organ, and the sanctuary that members have come to know.
“We really have to be thankful for Ella Quien. If there was a need, she fulfilled it,” Conrad said.
About 20 years ago, those stained glass windows were renovated and preserved with the help of a $20,000 bequest from a deceased member, Conrad said.
Stained glass windows are traditionally used as a teaching tool for bible stories. Today a projector screen stands alongside them, a modern version of that classic teaching tool.
This year’s activities celebrating the 190th anniversary include the following:
On May 19 the church will celebrate Pentecost by hosting Minister Cynthia L. Pollard of the Network of Biblical Storytellers International Society. The Biblical Storytellers are known for their dramatic recitations of bible stories.
In June (date TBA) the church will host a performance from local bluegrass musicians Randy and Josey Brendle.
July 21 is the church’s “I remember” Sunday.
In September (Date TBA) the church will hold an organ recital and hymn sing, an afternoon featuring a covered dish supper.
On October 13, Rev. Dr. Anita Powell, superintendent of the central district of the Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church, will preach at the church’s “homecoming service.” former ministers will be invited as well.