WESTERNVILLE — The Westernville Presbyterian Church will celebrate its 200th anniversary at a service at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21 at the church on the Stokes-Westernville Road. The Rev. Jeffrey Courter will officiate a worship service intended to evoke a service of the early 19th century. The public is invited to join in the worship service.
The First Presbyterian Church and Religious Society of the town of Western was organized at the initiative of the earliest settlers of the town who in 1810 pledged to fund the establishment of a meeting place for addressing the spiritual and community needs of the town. The church was constructed in the village of Westernville and dedicated on Jan. 15, 1818.
Originally the church building was shared by three denominations – Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. The joint use of the building fell on hard financial times and, in 1830, the notable town father, George Brayton, settled the debts of the society and purchased and deeded the church to the Presbyterian congregation.
The building underwent many renovations over the years. A steeple was added, a narthex appended and in 1892 a chapel on the east side was constructed. Electric wiring was installed as it became available in the town and in the 1950s the basement was excavated to make space for Sunday School classrooms and social gatherings. In 2015 the church embarked on an addition on the west side that provides for meeting space, a study for the pastor, handicapped bathrooms and an elevator lift to allow handicap access to the basement. The addition will be completed in early 2018.
Many notable pastors served the congregation over the years. The Rev. George Washington Gale pastored from 1825 to 1827. The Rev. Gale invited his friend the Rev. Charles G. Finney to conduct revival meetings in 1825 and that date is noted as the start of the famed evangelist’s revival tour across central and western New York, creating what is now known as the “burned over district” meaning that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” [unconverted people] left over to “burn” [convert]. A feature of this revivalist evangelism was highly emotional personal conversions to accept the Holy Spirit with fervency. Rev. Gale became a founder of the well-known “Oneida Institute,” a pioneering educational institution in Whitesboro. Gale went on to Illinois where he was a founder of Knox College. Rev. Finney became nationally and internationally known for his preaching and eventually founded Oberlin College in Ohio. The Rev. Wilson Parmalee pastored the church over many intervals starting in 1858. Also serving the church was the Rev. William A. Griffith, father of the late Emelyn Griffith of Rome. The longest serving minister was the Rev. Chester P. Lippy who pastored from 1965 to 2003. Rev. Lippy is now pastor emeritus.
Following his tenure, the church called its first female minister, the Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee. Rev. Schmidt- Lee was succeeded by the Rev. Jeff Courter, an army veteran who served in the Afghanistan conflict and relocated to Westernville from Chicago in 2015.
The church has an active membership of 85.