St. James UCC History

In 1821, people of Fishing Creek Township came together to worship in private homes and the schoolhouse that is located near the old Pealer and Bellas graveyard in the vicinity of New Columbus. In 1825 a log church, under Lutheran and Reformed auspices, was built near New Columbus. Here these people worshiped until 1841, when another move was made, this time to the place known as the Creveling Crossroads, where services were held in a schoolhouse until 1852.

In 1851 a gift of land, the present site of the church, was given, and consequently, in the latter part of the year, the cornerstone for the church was laid and the building completed sometime in 1852. Until this time all services had been in German. In 1852 the desire for English preaching brought the Rev. H. Funk into the area to assist the Rev. Isaac Shellhammer, who preached in German. In 1858 the transition from German to the English language was completed. When the congregation was incorporated it was a member of the Bloomsburg Charge, which included Bloomsburg, Heller’s, Catawissa, Orangeville, Zion and St. James. In 1865, acting upon the suggestion of the Rev. Mr. Goodrich, the latter three congregations became a separate charge. In 1869 the Rev. Alfred Houtz came to Orangeville to begin his long pastorate, which lasted until he retired in 1909. A constitution and articles of incorporation were granted on Dec. 18, 1878, in the name of the St. James Reformed Church.

In 1902 a mysterious man from Scotland who called himself “Gypsy” Smith - and who probably was the renowned evangelist of that name - walked through the area with his son and in deep appreciation of the beauty of the church and its surroundings offered to a paint a mural in the church vestibule of “The Old Hundred,” a metrical arrangement of Psalm 100, which was well-known in churches that used the Scottish Psalter. This painting added richly to the beauty and history of the church.

In 1944 an alter and new chancel furniture were added. In 1950 the interior of St. James was completely renovated in preparation for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church’s founding, in November of that year. The old wallpaper was removed from the walls and ceiling and blended colors of yellow, white and pale green were painted in place of the wallpaper. All woodwork was refinished. The painting on the wall of the vestibule, which had been covered up for 15 years with wallpaper, was uncovered and restored. The floor of the church auditorium was sanded and refinished. All carpeting, draperies and hangings were cleaned and restored.

In June 1975 a new community hall near the church was dedicated, which replaced an older hall. It was built by the St. James Cemetery Association to serve the needs of the church and the community. Later a small storage building for equipment, designed in the architectural style of the church, was erected behind the church on the cemetery grounds.

Renovations again took place in the 1990s with new carpeting of a soft blue-gray, which matched the color of the church’s new hymnals. In 1997 the sanctuary and the vestibule were re-plastered and painted white. When the plastering was done, the original “Old Hundred” mural was inadvertently covered up. Fortunately, a small color photograph on a Christmas card sent in 1968 was found, and also a black-and-white newspaper photo from 1971. This made it possible for artist Dorothy Wilson, a church member, to determine the original size and accurately copy the mural on canvas. It now hangs in the sanctuary.

Further major renovations were completed in 2019 and 2020. Upstairs, in the Sunday School room, a bathroom was added, along with two closets. New flooring was laid and the area was repainted. Downstairs, the fellowship hall was repainted, a new floor installed, the bathroom and closets upgraded, and new lighting added. Also in 2020, the church roof was replaced, a project funded jointly by the church and the cemetery association. In 2022, new gardens and landscaping were added along the west and south sides of the church.

St. James is known as one of the most picturesque churches in the area and has one of the most beautiful cemeteries. Located by Zaner’s Bridge Road near Bendertown, it is situated on a hill beside a grove of oak trees, and overlooks farms and fields and Jonestown Mountain. Many of the present members of the church are descendants of those who built the church and whose families have lived in this area for several generations. They and new members appreciate the spirit and work of those who have gone on before, many of whom are at rest in the cemetery beside the church. Here is truly a family church, where devotion never tires and service never lags. God’s rich blessing surely must rest upon St. James Church to have upheld it through all these years. May this blessing continue in the future and sustain us as we near the church’s 175th anniversary.


Ministers who have served at St. James:

John F. Deffenbach, 1815-1824
Joseph LaRose, 1824-1830
Isaac Shellhammer, 1832-1835
Daniel S. Tobias, 1837-1851
Henry Funk, 1844-1851 (assistant); 1851-1854
William S. Goodrich, 1854-1865
Elijah B. Wilson, 1866-1868
Alfred Houtz, 1869-1909
William S. Gerhard, 1909-1914
Alfred M. Schaffner, 1914-1920
David W. Kerr, 1921-1924
C.H. Kichline, 1926-1932
Chester L. Brachman, 1932-1940
George A. Smith, 1940-1944
John M. Light, 1944-1949
Francis X. Pirazzini, 1950 (supply)
Mervin S. Gerhart, 1951-1953
Henry C. Meiss Jr., 1954-1958
Clinton Beaver, 1960-1968
John Dech, 1969-1972
Bruce Walthour, 1973
Karl Jones, 1974-1980
Glenroy Wolfsen, 1981-1984
Charles Kellmer, 1985-1989
Harry Bump, 1990 (interim)
Aaron G. Hastie Jr., 1990-2002
Darryl Kensinger, 2002-2013
Nancy Light Hardy, 2014-2017 (interim)
Mark Rowell, 2017-present