WNUPC: 150+ Years of History
Our story is a long and fascinating journey of faith in God through 150 years of worship, service, and fellowship with the West Newton community. A History of Presbyterian Faith in West Newton, Pennsylvania. The history of the West Newton United Presbyterian Church is a story that spans over 150 years, two congregations, and four buildings. It is a shining example of servitude to the Lord, and to the community. Upon reading the following text, one will find that our Church is steeped in history and tradition, yet it has continuously adapted and changed to insure that His message touches the people of His community.
The History of the United Presbyterian Church of West Newton
The following is taken from the Official Record of the organization of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, West Newton, Pa. November 5, 1850: By order of the Presbytery, the Session by them appointed met at the Associate Reformed Church in West Newton. The members were Pastor Samuel Jamieson, Pastor of the Bethesda Church Allegheny County, John Pinkerton, John Wallace, Mungo D. Campbell, and John Gaut, elders of the Sewickley (Dick) Associate Reformed Church. The 42 original members that would transfer to form the new infant church would all come from the previously mentioned Sewickley (Dick) Associate Reformed Church. On the same day November 5, 1850 the following gentlemen were nominated and elected to be ruling elders of the West Newton Associated Reformed Church; George Coulter, Joseph McMillan, Robert Patterson, and Henry T. Hanna. On November 23, 1850 at a service conducted by the Rev. Jamison three of the elders elected were ordained and installed until September 13, 1851. On the fourth Sabbath of 1851, the Session recorded infant and adult baptisms and deaths. The Reverend Alexander Gilfillan Fergus, the first pastor of this congregation was born on November 18, 1823, at Elizabeth, Allegheny County. He was educated at Washington (now W&J) College, and Allegheny (now Pittsburgh) Seminary. He was licensed by the Blairsville Presbytery in the joint charge of West Newton and Sewickley, September 2, 1851. He died that same month on September 30, 1851.The United Presbyterian General Assembly was constituted in 1858 by the Associate Presbyterian and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synods for closer cooperation in their common work and the advancement of their common faith.
The congregation erected its first church building on the corner of Sixth and Vine Streets and dedicated it free of debt in 1850. It worshipped there until a building of gothic architecture was erected in 1883. This second building was located on the corner of Main and North Third Streets, and was also dedicated free of debt. A key financial supporter of this holy venture was the Weimer family, who owned and operated the largest mercantile store in Westmoreland County.Nine ministers served the congregation, most notably the Reverend Thomas Mckee, who served the congregation for 54 years. Pastor McKee retired on October 4, 1959, where the congregation bestowed upon him the honor of pastor emeritus.
Earlier that same year the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America joined to form the United Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. This union resulted in two congregations of the same denomination in the same town, occupying buildings directly across the street from one another. As a result of the action of the two congregations meeting separately on June 2, 1960 each voted for merger, and the United Presbyterian Church of West Newton was born. The formal merger service was held on Sunday July 10, 1960. For a year and a half the new congregation was without a pastor, until Reverend Arthur R. Day Jr., was installed in January of 1962.
The History of the First Presbyterian Church of West Newton
As early as 1822 the Presbyterians had organized a Sunday School in West Newton. This was the first concerted effort to establish the Presbyterian faith in the borough limits.In the year 1835 some liberal-minded Presbyterians living in, or near West Newton determined to erect a house of worship. Since they were unable to finance such a project alone, the Evangelical Lutherans proposed to join them in this enterprise, the Lutherans to hold a one fourth interest, and the right to have a specific part of the time for holding public worship.During this same period of time the Presbyterians living in West Newton remained part of the Sewickley (Stone) Church, whose house of worship was located four miles from West Newton. This mother Church is the oldest Presbyterian Church west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Difficulties arising in the prosecution of cooperative work caused the Presbyterians living in West Newton to request the Presbytery of Redstone for the organization of a church of their own within the borough limits. The following is an extract from the minutes of the Presbytery of Redstone:Session of the Presbytery of Redstone, West Newton, October 2, 1850, the action expressed in the following minute was had: A memorial from certain persons residing in West Newton and vicinity, asking for the organization of a church in West Newton was presented and read. On motion was resolved that the requests of the memorialists be granted and that Mr. R. Stevenson, and Mr. J. R. Hughes be a committee to organize the said church on the 8th day of January, 1851. At the sessions of the Presbytery In Connellsville, April 8, 1951 the following record was made: The committee appointed at the last meeting to organize a church at West Newton reported that they had organized a said church at West Newton with four elders and seventy-one members. After the new infant congregation received kind sentiments, and more importantly approval from their mother church to break free, the following was recorded about their situation:Resolved inn as much as the walls of our church are spongy, and considerably cracked, the painting defaced and almost destroyed, and the roof of the said housing been on nearly fifteen years there is of necessity repairs wanting to make this house as it was when first finished and in as much as out Lutheran Brethren to keep up one fourth of the repairs of said house the committees are instructed to make fair estimate of repairs to the wear and toil of said house the fourth of which shall be justly applicable towards the payment of the original investment made by our Lutheran Brethren The Lutheran investment in the building was purchased for the sum of $650.At a meeting on January 23rd, 1875, the congregation voted to purchase the William Lynn property, on the corner of Main and South Third Streets as a site for a new church edifice, and to proceed to build the same year.
A key funder of the project was George Plumer, who was a descendent of a prominent pioneer family in West Newton.The local newspaper referred to George as a “noble Zion of worthy stock.” He held every public office in the town, and was also very generous to the Church, and to the poor people of West Newton during his entire life
.On February 10th, 1877, on motion of the Trustees, an authorization to continue insurance on the manse and to sell the old church property for the best possible price, and if necessary extend payments for three or four years was made.At a meeting on April 5th, 1877, the congregation approved the sale of the old church property for the sum of $800 to Joseph McLelland. The house he built still stands on the corner of Eighth and Vine Streets.
The new church building at the corner of South Third and Main Streets, was dedicated free of debt in May of 1879. When the church edifice was erected, the choir loft was in the rear of the building, and it was said that it was arranged because the leading soprano refused to sing if the choir faced the congregation. This recess remained in the rear of the building from 1879 to 1907. The modifications made in that year also called for a new pipe organ, which was partly financed by Andrew Carnegie. The pulpit was moved to its current location, and the floor received its current pitch.
The West Newton United Presbyterian Church is the result of a merger of the congregations of the former First United Presbyterian Church, and the First Presbyterian Church. After the merger their combined pulpit committees continued to function and upon its recommendation the new congregation in November of 1961 called the Rev. Arthur R. Day Jr. to be their pastor. In January of 1962, Rev. Day was installed as the first pastor of this new congregation.For a time, both the properties of both congregations were used. Eventually, the congregation voted to dispose of the North (U.P.) building, and to add an educational wing to the south building. On November 13, 1968, the new addition was dedicated. It included a kitchen area, rest rooms, classrooms, a pastor’s study, and a chapel.
In 1987, after 25 years in the pulpit, and a very proactive role within the community, and the church’s youth, and young people, the Reverend Arthur R. Day Jr. retired. In 1988, Pastor William Sukolsky received a call to the church. He would remain pastor for 17 years in West Newton, and his ministry also had many highlights, including the founding of the West Newton Unity Coalition, which helped defeat a new wave of racism in the community. Reverend Sukolsky also helped initiate the current Kids for Christ after school program.2007 also marked another milestone in the congregations storied past. In July of that year the congregation called Reverend Patrick Sileo. He is only the third minister the congregation has had since 1962.
Equipped with a new minister, in a new century of service, the West Newton United Presbyterian Church is just as excited about serving the Lord today, as it was 150 years ago. The Church’s congregates are well aware that the only way to have another 150 fruitful years, is continue to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, by existing as living statements of faith; the result will continue to be a pillar of hope for the entire community of West Newton.A special thank you to Ben Markle for his contributions to this page.