History of Lancaster Presbyterian Church
In the winter of 1817-18 the settlement of Cayuga Creek was experiencing some of the same problems which affect any community of people - gossip, jealousy, a dislike for someone because they are different - not too much different than what we see in today's society.
In an effort to heal these problems and bring accord back to the settlement, a small group of people came together on Saturday, February 17, 1818 in Miss Freelove Johnson's schoolhouse near what is now Broadway and Cemetery Road, the center of the settlement at that time. They were led in worship by Rev. James Mills, who was asked to come to organize a church under the auspices of the Presbytery of Niagara. At the conclusion of the service 13 people presented themselves to be members of the newly born church, organized as the Presbyterian Society of Cayuga Creek.
This was the first organized religious group in the settlement which was settled in the first decade of the 19th century. Buffalo was nothing more than a small village, but offered a good harbor on Lake Erie. Other settlers came east from the New England area to settle on the rich farmlands and woodlands which this area offered. Perhaps the first settlers came to what is now Bowmansville, the name being given by Benjamin Bowman who built a mill on the banks of Ellicott Creek, near what is now Genesee Street. Others settled near what is now Borden Road, others near the Buffalo Creek which meanders through the Lancaster Country Club. So these pockets of settlers formed the settlement of Cayuga Creek. Wooded areas needed to be cleared to build log buildings for shelter and prepare acreage for planting. The Native Americans were mostly friendly and helped their new neighbors in learning the ways of taming the land.
The little church organization met in various homes for the first years of its existence. In 1828 the first pastor, Rev. James Remington, was called, an indication of its growth, both physically and spiritually. In 1831 a decision was made to build a sanctuary, the first for the settlement. The population of the settlement had moved three miles to the west and site was donated by Joseph Carpenter. After a trip through New England to look for some design ideas, construction was begun in June of that year with many of the oak and maple timbers being donated by the Hitchcock and Robinson families, while other timbers came from the salvaged wreck of the "Walk-In-The-Water", the first steamship on the Great Lakes. The church was completed in December 1832 at a cost of $3,010.50. A bell made in Buffalo by Adam Good was hoisted into the Christopher Wren style steeple to beckon the folks of the settlement to worship.
In 1833 the Town of Lancaster was formed by splitting off a portion of the Town of Clarence south of what is now Wehrle Drive. In 1849 the Village of Lancaster was incorporated and in the one square mile of the village the main commerce center was included.
The little community thrived as did the church. Between the period of 1834 and 1851 the church received many new members, offered discipline and counseling to those who drifted from the Lord, and became the center for community activities. But growth also brought problems within the denominational church. In 1837 the Presbyterian denomination split along the lines of "New School" and "Old School" traditions, which caused the local society to be split also. Along with differences in ecclesiastical premises the split also included pro- and anti-slavery issues. The church remained divided for more than eight years with Reverend Remington pastoring to both sides. In 1845 it was evident that the Old School was breathing its last breath. The Lord provided healing and the church was again growing.
In 1851 the pastor, Rev. Skinner, was experiencing some physical difficulties which necessitated the search for an assistant. In the spring of that year a young graduate from Auburn Seminary was asked to come to preach for three months. The Reverend William Waith served the society for those three months and for the sixty years beyond.
In 1852 a brick chapel was built immediately to the west of the church building. This was used for small services and prayer meetings. It was also used for worship services while renovations were done to the original sanctuary. In 1891 a manse was built for Rev. Waith and his family to the west of the chapel. In 1903 the chapel was razed while plans for church expansion were explored. Finally in 1925 a brick educational wing was built at a cost of $35,000. Connecting to the south end of the sanctuary in the three story building it included classrooms and a large fellowship hall, named Waith Memorial Hall in honor of the late pastor.
Rev. Waith began his ministry in 1851 as a supply pastor. After 50 years it was noted that he had never been formally called. After much divisiveness and discussion (some members wanted him to resign; others wanted him installed as pastor), Dr. Waith was formally installed in 1901 as called pastor. He continued until his retirement in 1911, for a total of 60 years. Age and his declining ability to minister to his congregation led to his retirement in June of 1911. His departure left a well-founded church with a strong congregation.
During his pastorate he not only saw the church flourish, but also the community around it. While the town was primarily a rural farm area, the village was the commercial center for both the village and town. It featured not only residential and retail, but also many lumber yards and factories.
The period of 1911 through the mid-1950's was unremarkable as far as noteworthy events in the church. Waith Hall was built in 1925, but four years later the Great Depression struck, leaving the many businesses, and also the church, unable to meet its financial needs. In 1941 the Buffalo Savings Bank forgave a portion of the mortgage on Waith Hall, which removed a heavy burden from the budget.
In February 1942, Wade Elmer Sharp, a young member of the church and an ensign in the U.S. Navy, was killed in action as his ship sank off the coast of Newfoundland in a squall. He was the first serviceman from Erie County to die in the war. In his honor a plaque was placed in the Waith Hall building. During World War II the church reached out to the men and women serving our nation overseas. Letters from the pastor, Rev. C. Lansing Seymour, along with others from the congregation, encouraged the service personnel as they served their nation.
In 1945 the west end of Waith Hall was remodeled into an apartment for the Rev. Grant Selch and his family owing to the fact the manse was sold in 1943 to relieve some financial problems. Rev. Selch served until 1955 at which time the Rev. Walter Vail Watson was called to be pastor. The manse was repurchased for him and his family with a large portion of the funding for the purchase coming from Mr. Charles Brost, a member and local auto dealer.
With the pastorate of Rev. Watson and his sound biblical preaching came unprecedented growth, with the session meeting almost weekly to receive new members. The Sunday school was large enough that rooms were rented in the Elks' building across Lake Avenue, the same building which the church would eventually purchase in 1990.
The growing Sunday school showed need for additional facilities. After some years of planning an educational wing was built to the west end of Waith Hall and dedicated in 1968. Room for the addition was made by the razing of the Victorian manse built in 1891 and repurchased for the Watson family in 1955. The addition included 6 classrooms on the second floor and, on the first floor, three classrooms, an office for the pastor, a boiler room, and a multi-purpose room, named the Watson Room. Another house was purchased for a manse around the corner from the church.
In 1968 Reverend Watson announced his retirement; he was appropriately named as pastor emeritus, a title well earned for his work here. He and his wife, Ruth, were given use of the manse at 17 Lake Avenue as long as they needed it.
Late in 1968 the church welcomed Reverend Richard D. Rettew and his family as pastor to our church. A manse was purchased at 26 Briarwood Avenue for him and his family. He brought new ideas in church growth with him as efforts to reach out further in the community were made. Busses were rented every Sunday to pick up children in Depew and Cheektowaga for Sunday School. Evangelism teams were sent out weekly to call on the families of these children, and the results showed continued growth.
In 1994, after the retirement of Rev. Rettew, the congregation called Rev. Douglas Brandt to be our pastor. It was during his nine year tenure that expansion of the sanctuary was placed on the front burner. After various designs, including a proposal for a new sanctuary, it was decided to reverse the orientation of the present sanctuary and construct a balcony on the third floor level. This increased the seating of the sanctuary by one third and also provided air conditioning.
After Rev. Brandt accepted a new pastorate in California in 2003, Rev. Kelly Negus and his young family were welcomed into the LPC fold in 2006; his compassion and love for the Lord has brought a deeper spiritual life into the church.
On June 18, 2008, the congregation voted unanimously to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church of the USA denomination and to align themselves with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. This was based on the deep conviction to adhere to biblical truths. Legal court cases ensued in an effort to retain our property and our 170 year old sanctuary. Finally, in the spring of 2010, a tentative settlement was reached allowing LPC to preserve its property by purchasing it from the PCUSA.
Although no fund raising activities were held, a mortgage was raised in a little more than two months time. On Thursday, September 9, 2010 the papers were signed allowing the dismissal of LPC from the denomination and the retention of its property.
To God's glory, this mortgage was paid off only four years later in the fall of 2014. Now the church can focus on being a center of outreach for the Gospel in the community, and beyond.
In 2015 there was a complete remodel of the church kitchen and renovations to Fellowship Hall where free monthly soup lunches were held with soup made by the many good cooks of LPC.
Long time ministries through church camp (71 campers in 2017), Wonderfair (a free July 4 community event), VBS and the Christmas Lamb (a community opportunity for evangelism through the Christmas story) continued.
Adult Sunday School and children’s Sunday School from pre-school through Grade 12 continued as an emphasis in our church life as they have for many years. Youth groups are held for grades 3-12 and a young adult group called “Dinner and Bible.” There were, and continue to be, many Small Groups meeting for Bible study and fellowship. A church van is available when needed.
Worship Team, adult choir and the handbell choir enhance Sunday morning worship.
The pastor participated in, and provided leadership in, several groups of local pastors as well as the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
The church newsletter, “The Grapevine” continued to inform the congregation of goings on at LPC as it has for many years. The church has an extensive library of Christian books, fiction and non-fiction.
In 2016 the church web site was updated, and technology was upgraded. A Facebook page helped to reach out to members and interested Facebook users. Exterior lighting was added to the historic building.
The Lancaster Schools allowed LPC to advertise its summer camp through flyers to students in the school system.
A Missions Conference was held with speakers from a variety of local and international EPC ministries. LPC supports many of these missionaries and has a missions budget of $40,000.
In 2017 the pastor led in leadership rolls in the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce, the Community Lenten services, the National Day of Prayer at the Lancaster Town Hall and the Independence Day community worship service.
In 2018 Pastor Negus completed his doctoral studies and a celebration of that accomplishment was held. The church also celebrated its 200th year of faithfully proclaiming the gospel.
Pastor Emeritus Richard Rettew went home to be with the Lord in 2018.
The Trustees continue to keep our buildings in good physical repair. In 2016 the south foyer was updated and adorned with scripture to greet those entering the building from the main parking lot. In 2019 the game room at the Potters House was cleaned and updated for use by Cross Training Athletics. There is a gymnasium on the third floor of the building for use by LPC youth groups as well as CCA.
A special seminar was held in 2018 called “Bridging the Gap” about reaching out to Muslims. Outreach ministries continued through 2019.
During 2020 the congregation was limited in what it could do because of Covid19 restrictions. As soon as possible, Sunday services were resumed with social distancing, masks and sanitizing. Services were live-streamed. Sunday School and adult education continued but most other outreach efforts were put on hold, As of this writing, some are beginning to resume.
There will be a 2021 Junior Camp and Family Camp. Plans are being made to resume Small Groups this summer and into the fall.
- History Compiled by: Jim Allein and Gloria Chaves