Centenary Church History


In 1734, the first permanent settlers came to Adams County. Being of German and Scotch-Irish descent, they brought with them a variety of interests, backgrounds and religions. One such religious group was led by Philip William Otterbein who came to America in 1752 to serve as a missionary to the German Reformed people in Pennsylvania. Otterbein, like Wesley, stressed the personal experience of salvation by the redeeming grace of God through his Son. He served in Pennsylvania for many years, coming in contact with Martin Boehm, Jacob Albright, Christian Newcomer and others of similar thought. From this fellowship grew the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, formed in this country in 1800.

Fifty years after its establishment, the United Brethren Association of Biglerville was organized on January 10, 1850, by the Rev. Isaac C. Weidler. At this time interested families began meeting in their homes. Work on Centenary, the first church to be erected in Biglerville, began in 1872.

The completed church was dedicated on January 11, 1874; just one hundred years after Otterbein went to Baltimore to become the pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church. In commemoration of this event, the leaders agreed to name the Biglerville church the Centenary Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The Rev. Issac C. Weidler served as its first pastor.

When the church was complete, it measured only 38 by 40 feet. At that time, it was customary for women to sit on one side of the church and men on the other side. Hence, there were two doors, both located on the west side of the edifice, one for women and the other for men. The pews were square in form and uncomfortable. A wooden partition, low enough to see over when seated, divided the room down the center. The pulpit was in the center of the church, allowing the pastor to clearly see the people on both sides of the partition.

In 1908 disaster struck. On February 1, a windstorm of hurricane proportions passed over Biglerville, lifted the roof off the little church and left the sanctuary exposed to the storm. The church was almost completely demolished.

Led by their pastor, the Rev. W.J. Marks, the people rallied and began the task of rebuilding. The inside of the church was completely renovated, with new furniture and coal burning stoves being installed. The bell tower was added and the two front doors became windows. The church was rededicated on July 26, 1908 by the Rev. Dr. William H. Washinger, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Conference.

In 1929, under the leadership of the Rev. Charles M. Ankerbrand, the congregation decided to renovate the church that had been rebuilt years before. The kerosene lanterns were replaced by ten light bulbs and three light switches and two receptacles were added to the building. The walls of the sanctuary were papered and a new hardwood floor was installed. On Sunday, March 17, 1929, the remodeled church was dedicated by the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Fultz, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Conference. A series of five services were held in celebration of the event, followed by an evangelistic campaign.

Centenary experienced hard times during the depression years of the thirties. Treasurer’s reports from this period frequently reported insufficient funds to meet expenses and missionary quotas. At times there wasn’t enough many to pay both the pastor’s salary and the other bills. Rev. Harold Sipe often returned five dollars of his salary to help. The congregation didn’t lose faith though and after the depression the church again began to blossom.

Under the leadership of Rev. Sipe, the small congregation began plans for a new church and in 1943 a group of members inaugurated a building fund. On Rally Day that year, 73 of the total membership of 83 were present. A piece of land in the rear of the church was donated for building purposes.

Because of World War II, there was a shortage of ministers in 1945. The charge was served on a part-time basis by Vernon Fickes, a student at Lebanon Valley College. In 1946, the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The name of the church became, Centenary Evangelical United Brethren Church, a part of the new denomination of approximately 800,000 members.

In the fall of 1946, Laverne E. Rohrbaugh, another Lebanon Valley student, was assigned to the Biglerville charge. Under his leadership, an evangelistic program was undertaken. Inactive members were re-enlisted and new members joined the church. An all-time high Sunday School attendance of exactly 100 was recorded on Rally Day 1948. By 1949, the small church was so crowded that permission was sought from the school next door for Sunday School purposes. Four classes began meeting at the school.

In 1949, Pastor Rohrbaugh announced his decision to remain in the Biglerville charge while completing his theological training at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. A youth fellowship was begun and the building fund continued to grow with the congregation engaging in a number of fund raising projects. The following year saw the formation of the Women’s Society of World Service. Midweek prayer services began and a choir was organized.

On January 15, 1950, the Church Council appointed a Building Committee and on March 5, they decided to build a new church on the present location. A “Buy-a-Brick Campaign was started in June with a goal of $2,000, or 20,000 bricks to be sold at ten cents each. Over $2,800 was collected.

In the spring, an all-out evangelistic effort was planned with a round-the-clock prayer band for three months in advance. The crusade lasted three weeks with the Rev. Donald T. McIntosh, of Union Bridge, MD as the evangelist. The church was crowded every night. Over 600 attended the closing ceremony held in the community auditorium. On Easter Sunday, 36 new members joined the church, bringing the membership to 172.

Plans for the new building were completed in 1951 and the ground breaking for the new church took place on June 17. The final service in the old church saw 171 people in attendance. The old church was demolished and work on the new building began in July 1951. The cornerstone was laid in a special service on August 26.

The new church was completed in August of 1952 and a week of nine dedicatory services began on Sunday, August 24. Bishop George Edward Epp of the Eastern area of the Evangelical United Brethren Church was the speaker at the dedication service on August 31.

At this time, Pastor Rohrbaugh also served the Bethlehem E.U.B. Church at Center Mills. Because the Bethlehem membership was so small and the church building was in need of extensive repairs, Pastor Rohrbaugh and the Bethlehem Church leaders decided to close the church and transfer the twenty-five members to Centenary Church. Following the dedication of the new church and the merger with Bethlehem, the membership at Centenary was 412 with an average attendance of 230 for worship and 272 for Sunday School.

In 1955, an organ was installed as a result of individual contributions and funds collected by the Ladies Aid Society. Interest in building a parsonage for the pastor’s family also grew. On May 6, 1955, the new parsonage at the corner of Rice Avenue and Franklin Street was dedicated by the Conference Superintendent, Dr. Paul E.V. Shannon.

In 1956, there were 14 classes of the Youth and Children Departments meeting in the social room. Conditions were crowded and a third building program was undertaken. Plans were drawn for a three-story addition to be erected in two stages. A first floor consisting of three department rooms, closets, restrooms and storage space was undertaken in May 1959. The property on the south side of the church was purchased for parking facilities and the house was the residence for the janitor until 1974 when it was torn down.

The Education Building was dedicated by Dr. Simpson B. Dautherty, Pennsylvania
Conference superintendent on November 8, 1959.

A Dial-A-Prayer ministry sponsored by the E.U.B. men was begun in December of 1960.

In 1964, Pastor Rohrbaugh was called to Hagerstown, MD to pursue his ministry. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Witmer.

Again in 1968, as in 1946, Centenary became part of a merger, this time with the former Methodist Church, now to be known as the United Methodist Church.

Some of the programs begun or continued during Rev. Witmer’s time at Centenary were two Sunday morning services, at 8:30 and 10:40 a.m. and an evening service at 7:30 p.m., the Wednesday evening prayer meeting, the Saturday morning radio ministry on WGET and Dial-A-Prayer.   Annual Vacation Bible School, Bible Conferences, Evangelistic Crusades and Missionary Weekends were held.

The year 1970 saw the arrival of the Centenary Special, a retired school bus to be utilized in transporting the United Methodist Youth Fellowship to youth activities, residents from Quincy Home to the Apple Blossom and Apple Harvest Festivals, carolers to the homes of shut-ins and other church excursions.

Pastor Witmer was called to Altoona in 1971 and Pastor Charles Kuhns came to Centenary. He brought with him an impetus to resolve the long lasting indebtedness so we might utilize our gifts to the church for Christ’s work in the world. To this end many groups were formed, each using their special talents to reduce the financial burden. The ladies sold baked goods and a variety of handmade items such as yarn covered coat hangers, pin cushions, aprons and pot holders. The United Methodist Men started an annual Apple Butter Party, making homemade apple butter in copper kettles. These activities brought in significant funds, but also created a closer fellowship among the church members.

Pastor Kuhns was called to Altoona in 1974 and Rev. Colin J. Shaffer came to serve Centenary. He continued to encourage the congregation to pay the debt that remained. Special “In-Gatherings” were held in which special gifts and offerings were given to reduce the principal as well as the interest. The church had a Rally Day/Pillar Sunday celebration the last Sunday in October each year. Additionally, the congregation was encouraged to have special Christmas giving, rummage sales, bake sales and craft sales as well as the World Penny bank offerings. In December 1975 the $90,000.00 debt was paid. On April 25, 1976 a mortgage burning celebration took place at the altar in the sanctuary.

The congregation entered a float in the bicentennial parade on July 10, 1976.

The Upper Adams Community Senior Center began meeting at Centenary in February 1977. In 1985, the annual New Year’s Day breakfast was started.

The 1980’s saw continued improvements to the church. Ceiling fans were installed in the sanctuary. New pews, carpeting and drapes for the sanctuary were also installed. A handicap ramp was added in back of the church leading to the Sunday school level. In 1990 a handicap ramp was built for the entrance at the front of the church. A closed circuit T.V. was donated for the nursery for the convenience of those caring for children during the worship service.

The United Methodist Women had cookbooks printed as a fund raiser. They also began making and selling ham and cheese hoagies on the second Thursday of each month during the fall, winter and spring. A Father & Son Social was held every year and the Mother & Daughter Banquets continued each May. Candlelight services were held every Christmas Eve.

The annual Rally Day celebrations were held in October with all former pastors invited. There was special music and a luncheon followed the services.

A food pantry was opened for those in the community who were in need of food. A clothing bank was also available.

The “Living Alone Banquet” was started. This banquet was held each December for those in the Upper Adams community who live alone as a way to brighten their holiday season.

Rev. Dr. Colin Shaffer served from 1974 until November 17, 1991. He was assigned to Shippensburg Christ United Methodist Church. Rev. Robert Karalfa, who lived in the Quincy United Methodist Retirement Village, became the interim pastor until January 1992.

Maurice Black was assigned to Centenary in January 1992. Pastor Black was a native of Upper Adams and had served Cline’s and Iadaville United Methodist churches on a part time basis for many years until also being assigned full time to the Biglerville Charge. Serving the three churches along with Pastor Black was his assistant, Rev. David Deatrich. Pastor Black died suddenly in January 1992 after having a stroke while leading a worship service.

Pastor Deatrich led the three church charge through June of 1992. Many members of the congregations assisted Pastor Deatrich with the day to day activities as he worked full time in Waynesboro.

July1, 1992 brought a new relationship to Centenary. The Central Pennsylvania Conference recommended that the churches of the Bendersville Charge, consisting of Bendersville, Mt. Tabor and Wenkville combine with the three churches of the Biglerville Charge, Centenary, Cline’s and Idaville to form one parish. The three pastors assigned to this experiment were Rev. Doug Eberly, parish director and lead pastor for the Bendersville group, Rev. Stephen Knitter, assigned to the Biglerville group and Rev. David Deatrich, who was assigned to rotate through the six churches.   Each pastor would preach at two churches each Sunday.

On July 1, 1996 the six churches of this experimental parish arrangement agreed to officially become the Upper Adams United Methodist Parish, with full involvement financially on January 1, 1997.

During the initial four years, the six churches began developing programs in which all the churches were involved. The first venture was the Lenten services. The services began on Ash Wednesday and continued each Wednesday through the season of Lent. The service location rotated through the six churches. A light meal was provided before the service which allowed people from the various congregations to get to know each other.

The second venture for the churches was the Summer Concert Series held in the amphitheater at Oakside Park near Biglerville. For six consecutive Sunday’s a different gospel music group performed. Proceeds from the free will offering were shared between the musical group and a local charity. The concert committee was made up of members from all six churches and each church took a turn being the host for the concert.

In June 1995, the parish formed a food pantry supported and run by representatives from each of the six churches. The food pantry, which was housed at Centenary, was open the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month.

Beginning July 1, 1997, the formal covenant to officially create the Upper Adams United Methodist Parish became effected. The six churches were setup in three groups of two churches with each pastor assigned administrative responsibilities to a group. The groupings were: Rev. Doug Eberly leading Bendersville and Wenksville; Rev. Stephen Knitter leading Centenary and Cline’s and Rev. David Deatrich leading Idaville and Mt. Tabor.

A new ministry, the Before School Breakfast Program, began October 6, 1997. Free breakfast was served to students from the Biglerville Middle and High schools next door. Each school day morning from 7-7:30 a.m. students could receive a hot or cold meal before school.

Through the 1990’s church membership declined partly due to the passing of a number of long-time members. Worship attendance held fairly steady though with more and more regular worshipers being families with young children.

Pastor Knitter had a gift for communicating with children. During his years at Centenary a focus was put on children’s ministry as well as children’s participation. In 1992 there were only six children on the church roll. By the end of the 90’s this number had increased to 30.

The Before School Breakfast program continued with the average number of students growing from 4-6 in 1997 to 16-18 in 1999.

In 1999 the church began the 5th Quarter Bonfires after the Biglerville Canner home football games. The proximity of the church to the football field made this an ideal opportunity to reach out to the students and the people of the community. A bonfire was lit in the churchyard and free snacks and drinks were provided. Christian rock music accompanied the festivities.   The bonfires were a great success with hundreds of people of all ages attending.

Children’s Rally Day was held each fall. The children took part in worship serving as greeters, acolytes, liturgists and ushers. Each year, the New Beginnings Sunday School Class gave Children’s Bibles to children reaching age 8 and Youth Study Bibles to those entering 7th grade. They also raised money to refurnish the nursery, purchase furniture for the children’s Sunday school rooms and Christmas decorations for the sanctuary windows. The Dove Club, children in grades 4 – 8, was involved in a number of activities such as serving dinner to couples who attended the Valentine’s Day supper.

Clown and Puppet ministries were started. The children dressed as clowns and handed out over 700 book markers at the Biglerville Fireman’s Flea Market in 1998. They also provided puppet plays for children during the flea market.

In 2001, Pastor Knitter was assigned to Osceola Mills, PA. Rev. Matthew Loyer came to the Upper Adams United Methodist Parish, serving as the new minister for Centenary and Cline’s churches.

A new, lighted church sign was installed. Uplifting messages are posted on each side of the sign, which was positioned so it can easily be read by those traveling north or south on Main Street.

Looking for ways to attract new members and reach out to the community, Centenary had a stand at the Biglerville Fire Company’s Fall Festival. There were stories, games, face painting and balloons for the kids. Centenary brochures and pens were given to the adults. Members of the church also worked at the applesauce stand at the Apple Harvest Festival. The money earned at Apple Harvest was used for youth programs, including annual trips to Christian music festivals – the Alive! Festival in Ohio, or Creation in western Pennsylvania.

During this time, because of financial problems and the small congregation, Cline’s United Methodist Church closed. Pastor Loyer, being fluent in Spanish, started holding a Spanish language worship service at Centenary as a way to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in the Upper Adams area.

Contemporary Christian music was introduced to the Sunday morning worship services. The music was played on DVD’s with the aid of a movie screen and projection equipment so the congregation could sign along to the words. The service now included a combination of traditional hymns and contemporary songs to appeal to younger people.

2011 was another transition year for Centenary. The PPRC members from Wenksville and Bendersville approached the District Superintendent, Rev. Timothy Baer and expressed their desire to form a separate charge. After much discussion and many meetings the Upper Adams United Methodist Parish was dissolved and new charges were formed. Centenary was to become a single point charge again. But later, the Mt. Tabor and Idaville churches requested to be joined with Centenary. The ultimate plan approved by Bishop Jane Middleton was two three-point charges: Centenary, Mt. Tabor and Idaville would become the Upper Adams Charge. Wenksville, Bendersville and Mt. Calvary, which had become part of the parish, would become the South Mountain Charge. The District Superintendent Baer strongly urged the six churches to continue to work together in serving the Upper Adams area and continue the projects they had been doing – the 5th Quarter Bonfires, Summer Gospel Concerts, the Food Pantry and the Lenten services.

As a result of the restructure, Pastor Loyer was assigned to a charge in the Dillsburg – Dover, PA area. Pastor John Estes began serving Centenary, Mt. Tabor and Idaville churches in July, 2011.

Pastor John brought renewed enthusiasm to Centenary and urged the congregation to become on active. The Food Pantry was reorganized and was now open every Monday night. As a result of the poor economy and high unemployment more and more families were being served. A new program called Neighbors Helping Neighbors was also formed so serve those in need. A hot meal was served every Monday evening and was available to anyone who wanted to come.

In 2012, air conditioning units were installed in the church, making it much more comfortable in the hot, humid summer months. A chairlift was also installed making it much easier for those with difficulty climbing stairs. They no longer have to exit the church and walk all the way around to use the outside ramp.

In 2013 a close bond was formed between the church and Biglerville High School’s football team. The team came to the church for a hot meal and a message from Pastor John prior to the home football games. The church provided bagged meals for the team for away games. Pastor John was also present on the sidelines at the home games.

Centenary began to grow, with several new members joining and more young families in attendance. A greater effort is being made to reach out to the community and especially to the students at the school next door.

In July 2014, Pastor John Estes was reassigned to a church in Dillsburg, PA.  Centenary’s new pastor, beginning July 1, 2014 is Gary Fanus.  Pastor Gary came to Centenary from Calvary UMC in Dillsburg.  This is Pastor Gary’s first ministerial position.  Existing programs are continuing but Pastor Gary also brings new ideas for growing the church and reaching out to unsaved members of the community.  He assures us that God is not only involved in the big things in life, but the little things too.  God is with us every step of the way.


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