Orchard Park Presbyterian Church History

The Orchard Park Presbyterian Church (OPPC) has a remarkable history of sustained growth from modest beginnings. It has been marked by inspired pastoral and lay leadership, and service by members of the congregation to the community and one another. Its central theme for the past 167 years has been faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The story begins before the Civil War in 1853 with the founding of the First Free Congregational Church of East Hamburg. An impressive fourteen Articles of Faith were adopted, which contained an unqualified promise to work together as a church to observe “all the ordinances of Christ.”

The founding minister, Rev. David Powell, served until 1854. Supply ministers filled the pulpit while the congregation reorganized in 1859 adopting the Presbyterian form of government.

In 1872, a manse was moved next to the church because Rev. Ephraim Taylor required one for his family. Following Rev. Taylor’s departure in 1876, supply ministers filled in until Rev. S. N. Robinson came in 1881 and was followed in 1886 by Rev. Edwin Robinson in 1886, who stayed until 1904.

Rev. John Black served as minister from 1904-1924 when he was fatally injured by a hit and run driver. He was an outstanding speaker, and church attendance increased substantially. Rev. Ernest Eels proved to be a very effective pastor from 1925-1930.

Since many families joining our church were former Quakers, on the first Sunday in May our church closed and the congregation met with the Friends at the Quaker Meeting House, a practice that continued until 1946.

In 1931, the Rev. Norman Irving became pastor for the next 32 years. He led the congregation through the depths of the depression, World War II and the Korean conflict. A fire set by an arsonist devastatingly burned the church on May 21, 1938. Rev. Irving vowed on the Sunday following the fire, that he didn’t know how, but with God’s love and help we would rebuild by the next year. Church services were held during the interim at the Quaker Meeting House and the Grange building. Exactly one year later, on May 21, 1939, a new church was dedicated. At one point in Rev. Irving’s tenure, membership grew to 1149 communicants. In 1958, the education wing was added. In 1960, Althea Langworthy was ordained as the first female elder. Rev. Irving was instrumental in founding the Park Parsons group, which has always had enthusiastic Presbyterian participation.

Rev. Jack Bolens guided our church from 1963-1971. He led us through a change from three governing boards to a unicameral organization, with the session as the sole governing body. He is credited with increasing our sensitivities to a rapidly changing world. During Rev. Bolens’ tenure, Associate Pastor Rev. Ken Wood marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama.

Rev. Bruce Porter became pastor of our church in 1971 for 12 years of great growth in church programming and membership. It became apparent that a larger sanctuary would be needed to fulfill God’s call to meet the needs of a growing church and community. Ground was broken on June 4, 1978, and the new sanctuary was dedicated on May 13, 1979.

Rev. Porter was succeeded by the Rev. James Flemming, who served from 1984 to 1986. He was followed by Rev. Jack Smiley, who was a steadying influence, serving as interim pastor from 1986 to 1989.

The Rev. Harry Winsheimer served as pastor from 1989-1998. A Stephen Ministry program was added which offered one-on-one confidential counseling and faithbased support. Also, what is now known as the Family Promise program began, offering temporary shelter to homeless people in participating churches. The program, which has grown and flourished, now has its own building in Buffalo.

Rev. Lincoln Richardson was interim pastor from August 1999 until January 2000, and later that year, Rev. Elena Delgado was named pastor for the interim, serving until January 2002.

In January 2001, Rev. Allyn Foster, a retired Methodist minister, became our pastoral assistant. He continues to serve, coordinating pastoral care services, including the Board of Deacons, Stephen Ministry and the Community Faith Nursing program.

Rev. Dr. Richard Young was installed as pastor on January 27, 2002 and served until August 2019.

His tenure was marked by the development of a highly unified sense of community, excellent staff morale and inspiring preaching. A few of his major accomplishments were:

• The Board of Deacons was re-established and approved at a congregational meeting in February 2003.
• A major construction project, exceeding $1.5 million, was dedicated on January 25, 2009. It added administrative offices, a conference room and kitchen. A tunnel connecting Fellowship Hall and the Undercroft was completed, and other building improvements were made.
 • A building formerly used as a custodian’s residence was converted into the Southtowns Family Center. It opened its doors in 2011 as the home of the Southtowns Satellite of the Family Justice Center of Erie County, providing help, counseling and resources to the victims of domestic violence.
• In 2016, a “Blessing Box” was installed to make food available to anyone whose grocery budget was being stretched thin. Proposed by a member, and enthusiastically supported by the congregation, the Blessing Box has been extensively used by the community. It was dedicated to Rev. Young.
• A Faith Community Nursing program and Health Ministry Team were initiated.
• A church-wide Access Control System and other safety programs were developed.
• He led the session to develop the church’s mission statement affirming that we are “A thriving faith community engaged in compassionate service.” Rev. Young helped us make that mission statement come alive.

Our past is a compelling story of faith in Jesus Christ. We can be proud of it, and now we must prayerfully consider the present, so that we will be able to realize the kind of future that is possible for the followers of Christ at Orchard Park Presbyterian Church.