1720: Middletown Presbyterian Church, Media, PA
Middletown Presbyterian Church pre-dates the birth of George Washington by 12 years and the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence by one-half century. The church is recognized as one of the oldest places of worship in the country, standing a mere 5 miles west of where William Penn landed.
It was first constructed as a small log structure by Scots-Irish settlers who met in 1720. Most likely the worship meetings were held in the home of landowner Robert McClellan. Originally, there were no musical instruments or choir. For singing, a tuning fork was used. In 1735, Dr. Isaac Watson sent Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory and a book of hymns from London to the “dissident congregation at Middletown”.
In the beginning, the church was part of the New Castle Presbytery. In 1816, Middletown Presbyterian was moved from the New Castle Presbytery to the Philadelphia Presbytery. In 1729, a frame building was constructed, and replaced in 1766 by a stone building, which remains today as Martin Chapel. The first Sunday school was established in 1835 and continues today for all ages. The large stone colonial sanctuary was added in 1924.
The cemetery is a resting place for patriots and soldiers from every war. For example, two well-known soldiers are Brigadier General Persifor Frazer (Revolutionary War) and Brigadier General Charles Leiper (Civil War). In addition, slaves and notable parishioners (e.g., Habbersetts, Howarths, Leipers, Riddles, and VanLeers) are interred throughout the cemetery grounds.
In its nearly 300 years, Middletown Presbyterian Church has had just 15 ordained pastors. In the early years, MPC was the only Presbyterian Church for 15 to 20 miles and used itinerant pastors to administer to parishioners’ needs. Seven of the 15 pastors are interred in the cemetery.
Interesting Historical Facts
1787 – Isaac Snowden, Esquire (the father of Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, MPC’s fourth pastor), was elected treasurer of the Synod. In 1788, a committee of Isaac Snowden, Dr. John Witherspoon (former Synod treasurer), 9 ministers and 3 elders adopted “The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church.”
1790 – Parishioner Dr. Bernard VanLeer, died at age 104. He rode his horse until age 100 and practiced medicine until age 102.
1846 - 1871 – Rev. James W. Dale, MPC’s sixth pastor, helped establish 6 other Presbyterian churches in the area: Media, Leiper Memorial, Marple, Bryn Mawr, and First and Second Chester.
1873 – Parishioner James Howarth, Esq. requested a copy of the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation from President Grant. These proclamations are read yearly at the Thanksgiving services (8 readers to date).
1952 – A new education wing was built.
1966 – The current sanctuary was enlarged and an administration wing was added.
1983 – A bus ministry was started which now services 4 retirement homes.
2009 – Church renovations were completed (e.g., ADA accessible restroom, elevator, lift, and ramps).
Middletown Presbyterian Church continues to be an innovator in outreach and missions. We support missionaries worldwide. Two of our own parishioners are presently in Thailand. Others MPC programs include:
· Aid for Friends
· Be the Church Day
· Boy Scouts and Brownies
· Colonial Dancers
· Colonial Day
· Cookie Walk
· Chester Eastside Ministries
· Deacons’ Sole Fund
· I Village
· MCW Ladies Tea and Advent Breakfast
· Operation Christmas Child
· Prayer Shawl Ministry
· Prime Time Plus
· Release Time for children in an adjacent public school
· Sticks and Strings
· Stop Hunger Now
· Substance abuse groups
· Trevose Weight Loss
· Vacation Bible School
· Youth mission trips
(More details at www.middletownpres.org)
This brief history was recently updated as a part of the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s 300th Anniversary Year of Celebration and Witness. The story of the congregations throughout the Presbytery were revised to remind us of our past even as we live into the present and move towards God’s promised future. Read more about the 300th Anniversary: www.presbyphl.org/300th-Anniversary.