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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The "The President Of The United States Worshiped Here" Story

Historical plaque which stands outside the
First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA.

President James Buchanan was a member here.
It was an ordinary day.  Having a good laugh with Barry, the sexton of the First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was making a visit to another one of the historical churches in the city of Lancaster and after arriving, found an open door, made my way to the office, and was assigned Barry as my escort.  Quickly, the conversation turned to the bell tower of the church and Barry told me about the time when a photographer from the Lancaster newspaper arrived to take a photo of the church bell located in the tower of the church.  After making their way to the tower, the photographer asked Barry if he could push on the bell so he could see the clanger a little better.  Back and forth the bell went until the photographer had his photo.
Church as seen from the East Orange St.
The next day Barry saw his image on the front page of the paper, pushing the bell.  And then a friend called him and said they saw his photo in their paper in another town.  And, to top that off, his mother called him and said she just got her copy of People Magazine, and their was his picture, pushing the bell.  I asked him if he was up to going there today and he said, "Sure."  Then I realized I probably couldn't make it to the top so I asked if he could maybe just turn on the lights in the church for me.  Shortly Barry had turned on all the lights in the church and I entered the historical church sanctuary located on Lot No. 25 at the corner of Orange and Cherry Streets.  The earliest documentation the church has is documented in the minutes of the Donegal Presbytery meeting at Chestnut Level on June 16 1742.  
Plaques on the front of the church telling
of the historic background of the church.
It was in 1763 that Pennsylvania Governor James Hamilton granted Lot No. 19 on Orange Street to the Presbyterian congregation as an English Presbyterian burial ground.  Today that lot is the middle of three lots on which the present sanctuary and chapel now stand.  It was also the sight of the original house of worship.  That building was soon surrounded by the old cemetery which now rests beneath the present chapel.  The appearance of that first building came in 1844.  In a few years Robert Fulton Sr., father of Robert Fulton Jr. the inventor and artist, deeded lot No. 25 to the congregation and a new church was built, today's church, containing a central tower topped by what appears to be the same octagonal belfry that can be seen today.  Eventually every thing above the belfry was replaced in 1877 with a well-proportioned spire.  
Cornerstones from 1763 when the church was originally
established, 1850 when it was rebuilt, and 1877 when it
was remodeled. 
Then, along came Lancaster's renowned architect, C. Emlen Urban, who added changes which included the three marble doorways and the windows above them, as well as a round window on the next higher level and white painted cornices which emphasize the architectural line of the facade.  On the front of the church now are two plaques, one presented by the Lancaster County Historical Preservation Trust and another by the American Presbyterian and Reformed Historical Site No. 37 Registered by the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA.  
Entering the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church.
Well, I walked in the center door of the sanctuary and was greeted by lovely organ music.  Took a couple photographs and headed to the front where the organist was practicing.  Suddenly Eileen stopped, turned and looked at me, and asked if she could help me.  I said she could help by continuing her lovely practice on the organ that was installed in 1947.  
Eileen practicing at the organ keyboard.
I told her why I was there and told her I sang several times in the church as part of a mixed choir from First Presbyterian and St. James Episcopal which is located across the street.  I told her that Reginald Lunt was choir master for her church and Frank McConnell was organist and choirmaster at my church, St. James. We combined to sing Handel's Messiah a few times with Mr. Lunt directing and Mr. McConnell on the organ.  She told me she knew both well as she turned back to her music and began practice.  I watched as she adeptly maneuvered the piston, tablet and pull knobs while not loosing a beat during her practice.  The organ she was performing on was built by the Aeolian-Skinner firm from Boston, Massachusetts in 1947.  It was designed and finished by G. Donald Harrison and is representative of the highest grade of tonal design and superb workmanship for which the firm is known.  There are 5,000 pipes with 75 sets of pipes covering a wide range of tonal range and is one of the finest organs in America.  I faded into the background and began taking a few more photos to share in my story. After wandering about for about fifteen minutes, I stopped back in the office, thanked them for their hospitality and exited through the door I had entered about forty-five minutes before.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Another view of the steeple.  Click on photos to enlarge.
"The Sower"  This window depicts a sower scattering the seeds.  Made by Tiffany Studios of New York City and installed in 1921.
"Jesus the Good Shepherd"  The window depicts Christ as the shepherd in green pastures beside the still waters.  Made by Tiffany Studios of New York City and presented in 1920.
"The Pilgrim"  This window shows a figure, a pilgrim, on life's rocky road looking toward the cross being borne by an angel.  It represents the promise of salvation for all mankind.  The shield at the top and the Greek letters Alpha and Omega at the sides symbolize the sustaining power of faith.  The window was made by the Nicola Goodwin D'Axcenzo Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and installed in 1937.
The last remaining widow original to the present church when it was built in 1850.  It is located on the west side of the sanctuary balcony.
"The Woman at the Well"  One of three windows done by the D'Ascenzo Studios, this window is located in the west wall of the narthex.  It pictures Jesus at the well in Samaria.  It was installed in 1941.
The view of the sanctuary through the eye of a church mouse.
One side of the sanctuary is not exposed to the outside so lights have to illuminate the stained glass windows on that side of the church.
I found this painting near the church office while roaming the church.  It features small square canvas units, each painted and place together to form the whole.  It depicts Vincent Van Gogh's "Undergrowth with a couple - 1890. 
The church Chapel which sits on top of what at one time was their cemetery.  In 1889 the chapel was expanded over the cemetery and excavation dirt was piled on the cemetery, covering many of the gravestones and leaving only the tops of other in sight.  Taller stones had been removed and laid flat on the ground to make room for floor beams, joists, and steam pipes.  A few of the tombstones were installed in the walls of the church and hallways.
Hall leading from the offices, past the Chapel to the main church.
One of the tombstones I found in a wall in the hallway. 
The current Memorial Garden.  Church members can have their remains buried in this area and their names listed on a large  plaque near the Chapel.  
My final shot as I departed.

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