PETERSBURG Church marks its bicentennial

A country church with a long history is still changing.
PETERSBURG -- Old Springfield United Church of Christ has much for which to give thanks.
The church will have a Service of Great Thanksgiving at 4:30 p.m. Sunday to celebrate its bicentennial, the 100th anniversary of its sanctuary, and the dedication of a new electronic organ, carillon and steeple.
The sanctuary's beautiful stained-glass windows were just restored, and soon a new atrium and welcoming area will replace the foyer between the church and its classrooms and offices. The project will include a ramp to make the building accessible to the disabled.
The building at 11957 Youngstown-Pittsburgh Road uses a New Middletown mailing address but has always been considered part of Petersburg, said Old Springfield's pastor, the Rev. Karl Bucey, who is a history enthusiast.
Old Springfield is living American history, complete with a small mystery.
History: The church's founders were German-speaking immigrants from Pennsylvania. Many of the church's early records were handwritten in German and have already been donated to the Arms Family Museum of Local History in Youngstown.
The first church was a log cabin with no windows, which was replaced with a log cabin with windows, which was replaced with a Federal-style building that 100 years ago was replaced with the existing sanctuary.
"We've been in the same location for 200 years," the Rev. Mr. Bucey said.
Just south of the church is a cemetery where veterans of the American revolution and Indians are buried, said the pastor.
Congregation members have been translating church records for upwards of 40 years.
"The same names still show up in the congregation and cemetery," said Mr. Bucey.
Still, he said, the records over the years also show the Americanization of the names, such as Pitz becoming Pitts.
The congregation then, like now, is made up of farmers and other people who live near the church. The church has about 150 members.
Members of the congregation will do some of the work on the atrium, as they have done on earlier church projects.
Shared the building: Early church records show that Old Springfield, then a Reform congregation, shared its building with a Lutheran congregation, although they had separate pastors. There was a written agreement between the two congregations.
Still, the baptisms in the one church were recorded chronologically but do not state to which denomination the children belonged.
The Rev. John Mahwenschmidt, the first pastor of Old Springfield, served 14 churches in the area. Many of his possessions are also in the Arms Museum, said Mr. Bucey.
The Lutherans eventually built a church very similar to Old Springfield on the south side of the cemetery. The church fell into disuse and was torn down in the 1970s, Mr. Bucey said. The Lutherans from what was known as St. Mark's were absorbed into St. John Lutheran Church in Petersburg, whose pastor, the Rev. Roger Marlow, will be attending the thanksgiving.
Pastors: A plaque in Old Springfield gives only "Rev. Sonnedecker" as the name of its second pastor, whose trial sermon was also copied into church records. Presumably it was a good one since he stayed at the church for 20 years.
Mr. Bucey said Old Springfield's pastor from 1975 to 1979, the Rev. Neil McClelland from New York, will return for the service, as will a representative of the United Church of Christ, the successor to the Reform church.
A 100-year-old Communion cup has been taken out of storage and will be used in the service.
The minor mystery is that early maps give the word Subrose for the area around the church. Mr. Bucey said that could be translated as "under rose" or "under burr," but its meaning wasn't clear.
Banners made by the current confirmation class hang in the church, stating the church's work: Sacrament, wisdom, word and mission.
The congregation is taking those words to heart, as it has done for 200 years.
"They're planning for the future now," said Mr. Bucey.

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