Story by Tracey S. Lewis
Pennsylvania Conference’s Harrisburg First church recently welcomed more than 300 members and guests to its special 125th year anniversary service, themed “Come Home to Jesus.”
The event featured a weekend of fellowship, testimonials and renewed commitment to reaching the lost through personal revival and recommitment to God’s love. Speakers included Pastor Chuck Holtry; Kenneth Stout, a professor at Andrews University (Mich.) and former pastor; and Gary Gibbs, Pennsylvania Conference president, who helped mark the church’s milestone and commended its legacy of service and steadfastness in Central Pennsylvania.
“Because ‘Christ's love compels us,’ this church family has continued in their legacy of evangelism,” says Pastor David R. Sanner. “During the eight years that I have pastored here, the members have committed themselves and their resources to reaching the community through the various ministries, the Harrisburg Adventist School, personal Bible studies and public evangelism.”
A History of Dedicated Members
In July 1894, under the direction of I. N. Williams, 12 faithful and dedicated members founded Harrisburg First. The church initially held meetings in members’ homes and in various halls throughout the city. As the church’s influence and God’s blessings spread, it moved to its first home, located at 615 N. 17th Street on February 2, 1929. In 1943, Roberta Karmel, now Harrisburg First’s oldest member at age 102, got baptized at this location.
As Harrisburg First grew and began holding two morning worship services, it was evident the congregation needed a larger home. In 1967, led by Walter E. and Mrs. Haase, the church opened its doors to its current facility at 424 N. Progress Avenue, with the capacity to accommodate more than 400 members. Pastor Mark Heisey was the first person baptized in the church’s new location. In 1980, the church’s school moved to this property as well.
“Over the years, by God’s grace, the church has not only persevered through challenging times, but flourished,” says former longtime member, Anna Mills.
One highlight was in 2005, when church leaders planned an evangelistic series with a well-known Seventh-day Adventist speaker. After all preparations were finalized, including printing 130,000 brochures, the speaker fell ill. But, church members worked together, and held the meetings with Steve DeLong standing in, welcoming 450 attendees on opening day. Thirty-two people decided to be baptized during that event.
Eight churches have emerged from Harrisburg First’s original congregation: Pleasant View, Hershey, York, York Springs, Carlisle, Shermansdale, Capital Area and Harrisburg Eben-Ezer Hispanic. In addition, the following former members have entered pastoral ministry: Mark Heisey, DeWayne Boyer, Brad Cassell, Brian Cassell, Skip Dobson, Ariel Roldan and Chuck Holtry.
Harrisburg First has become an international church boasting members from around the world. It is active in ministry and hosts a monthly cooking class, prison outreach ministry, youth/young adult worship services, county nursing home visitation, a food pantry, a weekly Fellowship Meal, various Men’s and Women’s Ministries events and personal Bible studies, led by volunteer instructors.
“It is my hope that this church will continue to grow deeper as a loving, accepting and affirming congregation,” says Sanner.