LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Members of the Woodside Presbyterian Church gathered on the grass outside of its original chapel on Edgewood Road to mark a special milestone - its 75th Anniversary as a congregation.
Founded as a mission of the Newtown Presbyterian Church, the Church was chartered by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on April 28, 1946. It has since grown into a vibrant, mission-oriented church known for its outreach in the community.
To mark the special day, eight children from the congregation rang the church’s original bell eight times - a single toll for each decade of living ministry.
Forged in Philadelphia in 1854, the bell predates the 1881 chapel, where it once hung in the belfry and was used to summon worshippers to church on Sunday mornings.
Following the bell ringing, everyone joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to Woodside, “a song that many of you know and love from Adventure Club,” said Pastor Doug Hoglund, who led the gathering in the special song as he strummed out the melody on his guitar.
“Seventy five years ago 80 people had a vision of God’s plan for this community we call Woodside,” said Jane Read, director of classic worship, who continued the service with the hymn, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.”
“Today as we celebrate the past, serve in the present and look to the future we ask God to open our eyes and our hearts to the plan he has for us,” she said.
In honor of its 75 years and in support of Family Promise and its campaign to establish a static center in Lower Bucks County, Pastor Hoglund made a special announcement.
The church’s elders have pledged $50,000 from the church’s reserves and is challenging the congregation to boost its gift up to $75,000 - $1,000 for each year in the life of the church.
“Please pray about how you will be part of that challenge in providing a place of hope and homes for these people on their way to be self-sufficient,” said Hoglund.
The money will be used by Family Promise to help establish a static center where homeless and low-income families can achieve sustainable independence.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful to Woodside for supporting our families and the program itself,” said Jessica Schwartz, director of Family Promise of Lower Bucks County. “Woodside has done more than we could ever expect to support this program, but we are asking you to stick with us, hang in there and support us in this new venture.”
The static center, she said, would be a place that would not only encompass its day centers and offices, but also have space for families to stay overnight.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have our volunteers involved. We would keep connected with our support congregations,” she promised. “Not only would there be opportunities to drop off dinners, there would be opportunities to come and teach families different recipes, sit with them so do arts and crafts and things like that.”
While looking ahead and celebrating its future, the members also took a look back on what brought them to this point.
The gathering heard from charter member Richard Hahn, of Lower Makefield, and the church’s third pastor, the Rev. George Hollingshead, who served Woodside from 1964 to 1978.
Hahn was around 13 or 14 years old when the church was chartered 75 years ago. He lived just a few doors away from the chapel on Edgewood Road.
“There’s been a lot of changes,” said Hahn, remembering his former school, Edgewood, that once stood next to the chapel before it burned down.
“The town was owned by the greenhouses and everybody worked for the greenhouses. It was just like a factory town,” he said. “There was a store and houses where the workers lived. There’s been a lot of changes. Now we’re going to have a Wegmans just down the street. That’s what you call progress.”
Today the only reminders of the Heacock greenhouses, known for growing exquisite roses, are in the names of the developments where they once stood - Heacock Meadows and Rose Hollow - and in the road that bears its name.
“This was all farms,” said Hahn, recalling trips on Sunday afternoon down to Kings Farm in Falls Township where they would hold services for the migrant workers tending the fields.
He also remembers piling into the back of a pickup truck for the drive over to the Newtown Presbyterian Church to attend Vacation Bible School.
The church’s third pastor, the Rev. Hollingshead, shared memories of leading services inside the chapel and life inside the manse, which still stands directly behind the chapel on Yardley-Langhorne Road.
He recalled that the choir would practice in the basement of the manse on Sunday mornings in preparation for services. “And if you needed to use the restroom during the worship service, you had to go into the manse,” he laughed.
While at Woodside, he married his wife, Roberta, and saw the construction and opening of the new Woodside Church across the street and the subsequent sale of the chapel.
“I have no idea how that happened. I guess the Philadelphia Presbytery decided to build a building and I guess the elders decided before I got there where it would be and what it would look like. I didn’t have to worry about it. And I didn’t have to raise any money for it.”
Having come from a large church in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was an associate pastor, and moving on from Woodside to the much larger Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, worship inside the Woodside Chapel was an entirely unique experience in his ministry.
“That was a real gift,” he said of the chapel. “Not only was it the community together, you were close together. It was a close community in that regard. I think you could have seated 40 or 50 in there,” he said. “The thing I noticed right away is while I was preaching up there, when someone came in I could greet them at the door and show them to a pew without leaving the pulpit,” he laughed.
Some of the names he remembered from the past included Roger and Bunny Johnson. Roger worked for the General Assembly of the Presbytery and handled the money for the entire denomination. “He was a wonderful man,” he said.
He also recalled Clara Lemon, who he said took care of he and his wife “like nobody else,” and Ruth Wright, who joined him as they knocked on the doors of newcomers to the township and spread the word about Woodside.
“I have received many gifts in my life. One of the things we must always remember is who is giving the gifts. It is our Lord. He is the one who gave me the gift of coming to Woodside,” he said. “And one of the things I’m going to be thankful for today is being with you here today. Just looking at you is a gift to me.”
Pastor Hoglund had another special gift for Hollingshead. It was an old Bible he found in his office belonging to the former pastor. It contained a photo of Hollingshead, Ruth Wright, Sharon Kimmel and Hoglund on the occasion of Hollingshead’s installation as moderator of the Presbytery.
In his remarks to the gathering, Hoglund recalled one of the many student pastors who served as Woodside’s original ministers. His name was Charlie Brackbill Jr.
“We had student pastors from 1917 to 1953 from Princeton Seminary. They would stay one or two years at most and a new pastor would come,” said Hoglund.
Brackbill arrived at Woodside in 1946.
“Charlie loved the people here and they loved Charlie back. Charlie called himself an agitator. He couldn’t understand why this chapel wasn’t a full fledged Presbyterian Church since it’s been around here since 1881.
“He said, ‘Some day, just some day there might be a town at this crossroads. So Charlie convinced the Philadelphia Presbytery to charter Woodside Presbyterian Church. It was this night - April 28, 1946.’”
Later, Presbytery Executive James Galey was invited to Woodside to be the guest speaker. But just before the service Galey felt an urgent need. So members frantically looked for the key to the Grange Hall across the street so he could fulfill his need.
As a result, in a unanimous vote, the church decided that the second building at Woodside would be a two seater outhouse. “And Charlie got to work. He cleaned the weeds for the outhouse and threw the weeds into a fire. But he discovered too late that it was poison ivy. Two weeks later and after many bottles of Calamine lotion, he learned his lesson never to stand downwind of burning poison ivy.
But Charlie drew a spiritual principle. He said, “I was the itch, the agitator, that helped the tiny seedling of Woodside grow.”
Charlie left Woodside in 1949 and became a Presbyterian minister. He got involved in religious broadcasting. He eventually returned to Woodside 61 years later for the dedication of its new building in 2009.
“Who could have possibly dreamed in the 40s that this little crossroads, this farming community and this church would become what it is,” said Hoglund.
When Hoglund interviewed Charlie, he shared the key of his amazing 60 year ministry. “He said, ‘I was not afraid to challenge the system. I had a vision. And I was able to motivate others. My frustration was waiting for people to catch up. The crowd would say, ‘But we never did it that way before. Why do we have to change?’ I would say, ‘Why not?’”
“It’s rare to find anyone in the Presbyterian Church today who asks, ‘Why not?,’” said Hoglund. “I think we should all be like Charlie. When it comes to being a church of Jesus Christ, let’s not ask why. Let’s ask why not? Tonight, on the very day our church was born, is a great time to ask, ‘Why not?’
“As we look to the future let’s ask why not be the church Jesus wants us to be,” said Hoglund. “The church is not a building. It’s not an institution. It doesn’t stay in one place. It’s a movement. It spreads. It scatters to every city and town.”